Blow the blues away
Intense guided breathing sessions are helping participants release their past traumas and feel rejuvenated
in just a span of four hours
In April, the media spotlight shone on Williamsburg, a trendy neighbourhood in New York City, where the ‘Füde Breathwork Experience’ was underway. The event blended guided breathing techniques with a vegan dinner, all while the participants were naked. While the media focused on the sensational aspects, halfway across the world in India, a more contemplative scene unfolded in heritage guesthouses nestled amid nature, minus the nudity, of course. Here, breath gurus imparted the wisdom of inspiration and expiration through sessions known as ‘Guided Breathing Journeys’.
One such journey was led by Samriddhi Malhotra in Bengaluru a week ago, drawing a full house of participants. With such workshops taking place across India, guided breathing journeys are rivalling the prominence of guided meditation workshops. But what differentiates the two? Malhotra says, “The technique I use is called circular conscious connected breathing. This 30-minute process comprises conscious and deep inhalation and exhalation by mouth, rapidly and without any gap or slowing down, while grunting out the breath. This breathing is known to trigger the limbic system, which releases past insecurities and traumas.”
Vasumathi Joshi (name changed), an HR professional based in Bengaluru, attended one of the sessions by Malhotra in her city. A year ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery and chemotherapy. While the disease went into remission, the spectre continued to linger, causing nagging pain in various parts of her body, particularly her back. “I had to remain strong throughout the treatment, not displaying my insecurities, fears, or uncertainties to my family, which was already burdened with my ailment and treatment,” says Joshi. She found solace in a breathwork session, which helped her release
a significant amount of trauma, pain and fear related to a cancer relapse. “During the session,” the 32-year-old says, “I felt a sense of relief and unburdening from many of these intense emotions.”
Although ancient Indian texts mention yoga, pranayama, and various breathing techniques, the conscious connected breathwork practised in these workshops does not have an Indian origin, says Malhotra. The technique was discovered by American psychiatrist Stanislav Grof in the 1960s in Europe during his experiments with microdoses of psychedelics for healing purposes. After substances like cannabis and ecstasy were banned, he sought an alternative method to induce the same elevated state of consciousness, which led him to discover specific breathing patterns. “Unlike meditation, which may take months to show results, breathwork offers more immediate benefits,” she adds. The practice entered India only five years ago. The Goa-based practitioner has received over 1,000 hours of training in yoga and meditation techniques to conduct classes professionally. The 33-year-old learned the technique from her Israeli guru Shiran Michaeli, a practitioner of breathwork for the past 20 years.
The workshops are like cleansing sessions for the psyche, akin to a spa for the soul. During the course of four hours, Malhotra guides participants into an intuitive space using sound (Tibetan bowls), art (doodling, coloring), and movement (freestyle dance), and then transitions into breathwork. Unlike yoga sessions, these workshops require the presence of a facilitator due to their intense nature, which could lead to self-harm in extreme cases due to lack of supervision. The best results are often achieved by participating in it once every two or three months, she states.
Traumatic episodes like death, harassment, or exploitation become stored in the limbic system, the ancient part of the brain responsible for triggering our fight or flight response. “While counselling and talk therapy may address the newer prefrontal cortex, breathing taps into the primordial and fundamental nature of our being, working on the limbic system. The technique allows us to access these deep parts of the brain and release emotion and trauma,” Malhotra says. She has worked with single mothers who have gone through abusive relationships, people who experienced sexual abuse and those addicted to smoking and alcohol.
Enrolling in guided breathwork sessions has minimal restrictions, but it is not recommended for pregnant individuals or those with glaucoma, epilepsy or schizophrenia. Participants attend the workshop with a yoga mat, comfortable clothes and a bedspread. During the sessions, students often experience a range of emotions, bursting into tears, laughing or even screaming. There are simple follow-up techniques that participants are encouraged to do to maintain the equilibrium. “Whenever I feel blue, I start breathing again,” said American fantasy book author Frank Baum about the power of conscious breathing. Here’s to blowing the blues away, literally.