Breathwork is a treasured tool in my therapeutic toolbox because it is such a versatile modality. We all have access to the breath, and with the right set and setting, we can use our breath to work on releasing trauma buried in our nervous systems, to address active trauma, or simply to curiously explore our own multidimensionality as humans. While the therapeutic trauma aspect is much of the work I do with clients, my own experience of the exploratory aspects of breathwork has brought enormous benefits in my way of being in the world.
Using breathwork for engaging with a mystical experience follows the same process as any other session in terms of preparing for a breathwork journey, settling in to a grounding experience, being aware of the felt sense in the body and then surrendering to allowing the breath to take over, resting our conscious minds and simply allowing whatever occurs to occur. It can be hard to explain this phenomenon, especially as our most primary form of human communication in oral language is our weakest link, as senses and embodied knowing give us a far richer record of the mystical experience and some things simply defy description, but I’ll attempt to explain how it feels.
My experience of breathwork journeying is that you are conscious and breathing and aware of the room and sounds around you until suddenly you are no longer part of that individuated consciousness.
You are elsewhere, out of your body, often in places and spaces which you knew without words, in conversations that you understood even though they could be delivered in a clairaudient, clairvoyant or kinesthetic manner. You are aware that you are lying on the ground in a safe space breathing, there is music and a guide with you, but that fades into the background of what is going on in the present moment of your journey. Sounds pretty wild? It can be.
The theory with breathwork is that the deep circular breathing causes an influx of oxygen into our bodies, changing the levels of carbon dioxide, which triggers a release of a compound known as the spirit molecule, dimethyl tryptamine or DMT which is endogenously produced in our pituitary gland. DMT is a powerful psychedelic compound, and creates a connection between our conscious and subconscious, dissolving ego and allowing us to access knowledge, intelligence – ours and others, and leave our bodies and our fixed mindsets behind.
This is only the theory of what happens. Scientists have been trying to pin down the exact role of DMT in the body for decades, they know it exists in higher quantities at birth and at the time of death and can be found in both the brain and the lungs of infants. That we have receptors in our bodies for this compound shows it has a biological function which perhaps is significantly linked to our capacity to manage situations of trauma and overwhelm by being able to dissociate with that which is happening in our bodies – makes sense for big events like birth, death and trauma and also why breathwork and this release of DMT gives us access to those types of experiences.
In one of my most profound journeys, I had a deep realisation of my relationship to the natural world, in more than the conscious understanding I had of the importance of our ecosystems. It was a full body and mind experience of the connectedness I had to plants and nature, that they weren’t ‘over there’ in some removed hierarchy of apex predators and plants down at the bottoms of the intelligence pyramid.
I knew that the plants had an intelligence that was operating at a level of sophistication that humans didn’t fully understand, that they were in a constant communication with their world in a network that was far superior to our tech advances. If we could just recognise their innate role in us being human, then we would have a very different experience of life, connection and our place in it.
When the journey finished, I didn’t quite know what had happened, but I knew I was different, that something within me had shifted. As I walked outside, I saw the trees and plants around me completely differently, brighter, shimmering, more alive. I had the urge to touch them, to sit and just resonate with them, to be part of their world and wisdom, to be mindful and kind to nature, to revere it, not just stomp over it. The impacts of breathwork have a long tail. Research has shown that the halo effect of experiences stay with the participant long after the session, bringing long term change sustainably. That journey was over two years ago, and I’m still in a love affair with breathwork and the natural world.
My heightened connection with nature brings me a sharper focus about my connection with all things, and the interdependences of my humanity as not a solo individual ego alone and struggling in the world, but a part of something bigger, something that gives sense and purpose and meaning to who I am.
The wonderful Buddhist writer, activist and theologian Joanna Macy said “To be alive in this beautiful, self-organizing universe – to participate in the dance of life with senses to perceive it, lungs that breathe it, organs that draw nourishment from it – is a wonder beyond words.” This wonder is beyond words, but not beyond sensing, feeling and breathing – and most importantly, it is available to all of us when we are ready.