Different Breathing Strokes for Different Breathing Folks!
There are some big differences in philosophies and approaches to breathwork—always have been. Two methods that seem to run counter to much of what is generally taught and practiced today immediately come to mind. The first is the Buteyko Method.
When I first went to Russia in 1990, you could not mention breathing without someone mentioning his name. He was somewhat of a legend in the USSR and I knew we were destined to meet for one simple reason: it seemed that our philosophy and approach to breathing could not be more different.
Buteyko believed that people breathed too much; I believed that people didn’t breathe enough. I encouraged people to practice deep breathing. His mantra was “deep breathing is death!”
At one of our meetings, after hearing him repeat again and again how dangerous “deep breathing” was, I asked him to show me what exactly he meant by a deep breath. He then proceeded to take one of the biggest breaths I’ve ever seen—as if he had been practicing deep breathing his whole life! His lung capacity, even at an age approaching 70 was very remarkable.
On my first visit, he told me about his life, his early days as a medical student, and how he began to develop his ideas. He observed and studied people’s breathing as they died. He talked about being criticized by his peers and harassed by the medical authorities because of his views and theories. He even survived several assassination attempts.
His method can be considered diametrically opposed to rebirthing specifically, and many forms of yoga breathing as well. However, the results he got spoke for themselves. In healing people with chronic asthma, he had an extraordinary 80% to 90% success rate. (I usually add jokingly “if you survived his training!”)
As much as I questioned and joked about his approach, one cannot ignore or argue with success. From the level of physiology—of biological and chemical reality—his approach is perfectly on track. In fact, the majority of people who currently depend on asthma medications could easily wean themselves of these expensive drugs in a few weeks of disciplined training.
Mainstream medical authorities and institutions, and the drug companies that own or control them, continue to ignore and suppress the research on the Buteyko method, despite overwhelming proof of its effectiveness, and for one simple reason: it threatens to kill their profits!
However, as successful Buteyko’s and similar methods are in healing physiological conditions like asthma, I like to point out that we are not just physical beings. We have an emotional body, a mental body, an energy body, a light body. We are spiritual beings, and breathing is meant to serve us on all these other levels as well.
In fact, when I looked closely at his work, and watched him with several patients, I could see that although our strategies differed, we were actually applying the same basic principles. When I weighed his approach against my “Formula for Transformation,” I found that it aligned perfectly.
1) He taught people to be more aware of themselves and how they were breathing in certain moments and in certain situations.
2) He taught people to relax more, especially when it was the last thing they would think to do or seemed able to do.
3) He taught people to control their breathing—to change their habitual pattern of breath, to breathe in certain specific ways.
He also had utter certainty about his method and great confidence in himself, and he had a very healing presence. His patients had a lot of faith in him and his method, which certainly helps get results. I have few people who teach his method, and I cannot speak about their abilities or their results. However, there is no doubt that his techniques and exercises are tremendously effective and easily learned.
There are a number of things he recommends, but his training basically involves working with breath-holding—gradually lengthening the pause after the exhale. (Remember in the practice of Rebirthing-Breathwork, we do the opposite: we eliminate the pause.) This simple practice of extending the pause is brilliant and extremely beneficial for people suffering with asthma.
My Chi Kung teacher Hu Bin started me on the same practice during my visit to China in 1985. He called it “Postponing the Inhale.” I have a very funny story of about that lesson and acquiring that skill. You will find it in my Chi Kung/Qigong Manual: “A Brief Introduction to Chinese Medical Breathing Exercises.”
Many if not most people, sitting at rest, experience uncomfortable feelings of air hunger after only fifteen to twenty seconds of breath-holding (after a normal inhale and exhale). This is a sign of “over-breathing” or CO2 imbalance… Not a healthy situation!
TRY IT NOW. Test yourself. Sitting relaxed and at rest, take in a normal inhale and then let out a normal exhale. Now close your mouth, pinch your nose, and wait before breathing in again. Time yourself.
How long did you go before you felt a sharp urge to breathe, or before you felt some uncomfortable feelings of air hunger? In other words, how long was your “comfortable” pause?
NOTE: If you had to take in a big deep ‘recovery breath’ after the pause, then it doesn’t count. You cheated. You forced yourself beyond your comfortable pause.
With practice, you can extend your comfortable pause (breath-holding after the exhale) for forty seconds or more, without requiring a big recovery breath. If you have asthma, and you are able to work up to this level, then you will be virtually symptom-free and practically immune to asthma attacks—guaranteed!
It may take several weeks or even several months to build up to this ability, adding just one or two seconds to your controlled pause every couple days. You will need to practice for ten to twenty minutes at least twice a day. And you will need to combine breath-holding with certain exercises, for example while walking and counting your steps., Over time, increasing the number of steps you can take while holding the breath or postponing the inhale.
Buteyko’s teaching is really quite simple: learn to relax into your uncomfortable feelings of air hunger, gradually, persistently. Practice tolerating mild to moderate discomfort until your system adjusts itself to higher levels of CO2. By the way, this is also extremely useful for athletic training and for peak performance in sports and martial arts.
I love Buteyko and his method. I still smile at the image of him behind his desk, wearing old glasses with one lens removed, held together with tape and a paperclip! He died relatively young, and so to my mind, he was obviously missing something important.
In general, I came a lot closer to his views than he came to mine. I often use his or similar methods when I work with certain clients. And I have helped people heal their asthma using an opposite approach to his!
Another famous breathing teacher whose approach was opposite to many popular forms of breathwork was Carl Stough. He created SIMBIC (the Stough Method of Breathing Coordination). The remarkable results he got with serious asthma and emphysema patients in the veterans hospitals in New York and New Jersey are well documented and unarguable.
He worked with many athletes and became known as “Dr. Breath” when he assisted in coaching the Yale track team to Olympic victories in 1968. He also worked with some very famous singers, and musicians who played wind instruments. And he helped many people cure their stage fright and performance anxiety through breath control, or what he called “breathing coordination.”
I studied with Carl Stough in New York City in 1983/85. Again, we could not have been more opposite in our approach. At the time, I was quite religious about rebirthing—in fact, I was a missionary for the movement!
In Rebirthing-Breathwork, a defining aspect of the technique is an “active inhale and a passive exhale.” He taught the opposite approach: an “active exhale and a passive inhale.” This huge disparity in our methods was the main reason that I sought him out and studied with him.
He had an ear for sound and could tell when someone achieved optimum resonance and natural pitch. He used this ability in his coaching. He also built his approach on solid mechanical, anatomical, and structural facts in reality.
He described the breathing mechanism like a ball and socket joint: the ball being the diaphragm and the socket being the rib cage. He pointed out that most people use accessory muscles to breathe. That bad habit, together with bad posture and artificial or unnatural vocal habits, all acted to pull the breathing system out alignment, and destroy breathing balance and natural coordination.
He said whenever people “tried” to breathe properly, it only made everything worse. And so, he was against yoga breathing, rebirthing, and just about every other method but his own. And he scoffed at anything mystical.
His method involved counting out loud: a simple and clever way to get people to extend or lengthen their exhale. By focusing on the counting, a person can lengthen the exhale without trying or thinking about it. The counting is always done in such a way as to produce resonance and vibrations in the body, much like chanting does. He also incorporated massage and bodywork techniques into his sessions.
He once told me that no one would ever carry on his work or get the results he got because he brought together a combination of unique abilities that could not be taught. And actually, I have never met anyone who teaches his method. He also passed away quite young—barely into his 70’s I believe. And so again, it seems to me that he was overlooking something very important in life and in breathwork.
Working with Buteyko and Stough were truly a gifts. They caused me to approach breathwork in a much broader way. Because of them, I continually remove myself from every breathwork box I happen find myself in—no matter how certain I am of the proven benefits. I can only smile when others say that a particular method is the single best or only right way.
I have learned to respect and I practice many methods and approaches that other breathworkers were unable or are unwilling to explore. I have learned that different people can practice the same breathing technique and get opposite results. And people can practice opposite breathing technique and get identical results!
That is one of the reasons that I keep exploring and experimenting with different approaches to breathing and why I remain open to different philosophies of breath. It’s why I keep starting over from scratch, again and again! It’s also why I encourage, and in fact require my students to study with other teachers and masters in addition to me.
If you would like to attend any part of the 2013 International Breathwork Certification Training (April 1-October 31), or the 2012 Baja Open Breathing Camp (Dec 21-March 21), then contact the office or write to me directly.
Love and blessings to the all and the small,