Conscious connected breathing, or Rebirthing as it’s also known, was discovered by Leonard Orr in the early 1970s, apparently in his bathtub! The story goes that as a result of being immersed in hot water his body spontaneously began taking short rapid circular breaths, which in turn triggered birth memories. From such unusual beginnings Orr, along with Sondra Ray, with whom he co-wrote Rebirthing in the New Age, a seminal work on the subject, went on to create this form of breathwork.
Not surprising then that the first Rebirthers breathed almost exclusively in water, through a snorkel. Being totally submerged can simulate the amniotic environment.
Warm water (not too hot) sometimes brings up womb-like feelings, or memories, while cold (never freezing) usually confronts us with fear. In my opinion, it’s best to start with dry rebirthing, at least until you get used to it. You may progress then to water if you choose. But it’s not really necessary, lying on the floor or a couch is equally as effective. Indeed you can do it sitting, or even standing-up.
I kid you not, I’ve experimented!
Conscious connected breathing means breathing through the mouth in a circular motion, that is without any pause between the inhale at the top and the exhale at the bottom.
It is clavicular, or upper chest breathing. Holding the breath at the top of the inhale can indicate suppressed fear or anger, unwillingness to let go of something; while holding at the bottom may imply sadness, or being stuck in an unwanted pattern.
Fast breathing is recommended at the beginning of a session as it keeps you in your body and out of your thoughts. You can temper it gradually as you go along. Everybody eventually finds their level. Remember, when we breathe as well as taking in oxygen we also take in prana, or life-force energy.
No. But I advise working with a trained Rebirther in the beginning.
Not because it’s dangerous, you just need to make sure you’re doing it right so as to gain maximum benefit. In time you can do it on your own. Also the process can bring up a lot of trauma that you may want help with. You don’t want to hit emotional overwhelm.
Another problem beginners often encounter is tetany.
Tetany is caused by hyperventilation, or over breathing, which in turn arises from resistance to unconscious material wanting to come to the surface. Thus we literally try to blow it out, or push it away with the breath.
Tetany is an involuntary contraction of the muscles leading to temporary paralysis of some part of the body, usually the hands, feet, face, or around the waist. It can be a little painful, but is perfectly harmless. It will pass as soon as you soften the exhale.
Tetany in the hands can mean you’re holding on to something. If this happens ask yourself, ‘what is it I’m holding on to’?
In the face ask, ‘what is it I am unwilling to look at’? Around the mouth usually is to do with speaking our truth. Another cause of tetany may be an unconscious need to control things, both in your life and specifically in the rebirthing session.
When we go into hyperventilation the body restricts the amount of oxygen released from the blood into the tissues, thus carbon dioxide levels get depleted. Relaxing the breath is always the cure for hyperventilation.
It’s important to note hyperventilation is not rebirthing.
Sometimes people experience an involuntary breath suspension during a rebirthing session, usually near the end. This is perfectly safe, it doesn’t happen every time and only lasts a few moments. When it happens it’s the body’s way of integrating the material that has just been processed. The body will resume breathing when it needs to. Don’t worry, you can’t die from rebirthing!
Holotrophic Breathwork, started by Stanislav and Christine Grof, has sometimes been compared with rebirthing.
Both techniques appear to have developed independently around the same time, and while there are some similarities; circular breathing, resolution of birth trauma, etc., there are also differences. For starters, holotrophic breathwork grew out of the need to replace psychedelic therapy (when drugs such as LSD were outlawed) with something else. Rebirthing breathwork is more organic.
Further, holotrophic encourages participants to act out their trauma, rebirthing discourages this, pointing out that ‘acting out’ can be a covert means of avoidance. There is a saying in rebirthing that “drama does not release trauma”. And I agree. Still, horses for courses.
However, the biggest difference between the two is hyperventilation. This is an integral part of holotrophic breathwork, while it is most definitely the wrong way to do rebirthing.
Vivation, a movement led by Jim Leonard and Phil Laut, attempted to strip rebirthing of its mythic timbre and move it into the realm of Rogerian psychology. Other forms of breathwork are the Buteyko method, the Presence Process, founded by Michael Brown, and Transformational Breathing Breathwork. With the exception of Buteyko these are all really variations of the original technique discovered by Leonard Orr.
The term ‘rebirthing’ is perhaps a bit of a misnomer, seeming to suggest some kind of re-enactment of the birth process. This, as we’ve seen, is not the case. It does a whole lot more.
I prefer the term “conscious connected breathing”. I think it’s more inclusive. More worrying perhaps is that ‘rebirthing’ is a generic name for other, totally unconnected therapies; some just plain silly, others maybe dangerous. Therefore, it’s probably good practice to refer to the work we do as ‘Rebirthing Breathwork’ so as to distinguish it from other, dubious practices.
Rebirthing Breathwork is one of the quickest ways of accessing unconscious material, releasing stored trauma, and re-connecting with our natural state of bliss.
Also in this series:
There is a voice that doesn’t use words - listen!
Reality is merely an illusion - albeit a persistent one.