First, a brief personal history is in order: I’ve been challenged by a persistent cough for a (frustratingly) long period of time. With the help of my Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, who regularly treats me with acupuncture and Chinese herbs, progress has been steady, though glacial. It is a known fact by those familiar with alternative healing methods that real progress through the use of alternative medicine can indeed be slow. But although progress can be slow, it is also steady and deeply effective at getting to the core of the problem and solving it there.
Breathexperience is a therapy based on the teachings of the Middendorf Institute for Breathexperience (MIBE). Promising to be life changing, this healing modality presented itself to me recently for further investigation. Upon accepting an invitation from Toronto-based practitioner Valerie Galvin, I was introduced to this new form of breath awareness work. I explored the technique in a series of sessions with Valerie, one of five certified Breathexperience practitioners in Canada; the other four being in British Columbia.
Ilse Middendorf, founder of The Middendorf Breath Work, wrote: “Breathexperience is one of today’s leading somatic practices that develops the theme of allowing the breath to come and go on its own. Breathexperience offers a path for integrating emotional, physical, and spiritual aspects of being.”
What is Breathexperience?
Breathexperience incorporates two distinct, though complementary, techniques:
1) Breath Dialogue, a one-on-one session where the client lies on a low bodywork table and the practitioner engages, through her hands, in a ‘dialogue’ with the client’s breath and;
2) a second technique, called Breath and Movement, is conducted in a group setting where participants alternate between sitting on stools, and moving around in the available space.
Breath Dialogue Sessions
As a precursor to the sessions I was to embark upon, and in order to give me a sense of what Breathexperience involves, my first meeting with Valerie consisted of a hands-on Breath Dialogue session. The words that best describe the ‘dialogue’ that passed between my body and Valerie-as-practitioner include: dynamic, relaxing, and uncanny. ‘Uncanny’ in that the information passed from my body to Valerie did indeed prove accurate with regard to things I know to be true for me – issues of both a physical and emotional nature.
Both Reiki and massage are systems of natural healing that focus on body energy, and today, Reiki massage is a common and effective treatment. Unlike massage, Breath Dialogue sessions do not involve muscle manipulation. Instead, gentle touch and stretches are used to facilitate an awareness of breath.
In my Breath Dialogue session, I was fully clothed and lying on a low, padded table. Valerie worked with her hands on my body to connect with my natural breath. Through her hands I received ‘questions’ posed to my breath in its relaxed, undisturbed state. These questions invited breath to develop throughout my whole body and being, allowing me to sense a new form of growth – a growth with the ultimate goal of bringing me closer to balance and well-being.
Of course, Breath Dialogue sessions offer a more precise and individualized approach to breath than do the breath and movement workshops. However, it is the case that both group work and individual hands-on sessions can be experienced – either on their own, or as two approaches that complement one another.
I was now ready, even eager, to join Valerie’s Breathexperience workshops.
A frequent phrase heard over the course of these workshops was: “Let the breath come, let the breath go. Now wait for it to return on its own, naturally.”
Breathexperience, which works by teaching us how to allow the breath to come and go on its own, takes some practice. We learn how, with our presence, we can participate in exploring and discovering the principles of natural breath by sensing the movement of breath within the body.
The good news I am happy to report is that, within the first few Breathexperience sessions with Valerie and the group, my cough had lessened considerably – both in frequency and intensity. With this new breath awareness, I felt that I had found a wonderful tool, and a partner to the work I am doing with my Traditional Chinese Medicine doctor.
“Breathexperience can bring you into an immediate and direct experience of our true nature, and the peace that comes with it,” says Ilse Middendorf. I can honestly say that, after every Breathexperience session I attended, I left feeling much more at peace than when I arrived.
With a new awareness of breath and its relationship to my entire being, I now see my breath as having a life of its own, moving according to my emotions, thoughts, and needs. My favourite phrase learned through the course of the sessions I attended: ‘I am not breathing; I am being breathed.” As I continue to practice Breathexperience in my determination to be finally free of this cough, I am now much more optimistic about achieving my goal.