Sufficient unhappiness pushes us to action. I had sufficient unhappiness and that led me to Vipassana meditation and then to rebirthing. There are times when sufficient unhappiness is a positive blessing.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Shamanic Breathwork? Really? But I requested this book almost for that exact reason. In the description it talked about how the author had used Vipassana and Zen meditation along with rebirthing and Holotropic Breathwork™ so I figured there would be at least some good information on meditation in general and how to incorporate it into my daily life.
The book isn’t quite what I expected. It’s basically a textbook on all things related to breathwork, complete with case histories and over 30 pages of notes/bibliography/resources. Did you know there is an International Breathwork Foundation? As well as a Breathwork magazine? Me neither (yes, I just answered for you. Suck it!). I really had no idea this whole area of expertise existed in any sort of organized fashion. There are plenty more resources found in the book as well, so read it!
On to the book. Author Joy Manné describes some of her personal experiences with breathwork at the beginning of the book, as well as her struggles with Vipassana. The rest of the book deals mostly with the different approaches to breathwork, how to ground one’s self before/after a breathwork session (as well as some safety precautions), and the different levels of breathwork. Just about every type of breathwork is described in detail along with what it’s application is. There are a ton of “case histories” using real-life examples of people who have used breathwork to discover something about themselves and alleviate their suffering. They are detailed and specific, and whether dealing with past lives or past trauma, the breathwork sessions described here seem to stir up a lot of hidden emotions and feelings. People walk away from these sessions with a better understanding of what it is that is making them tick. I hear people talk about removing layers of “themselves” during meditation, and this seems to be a direct approach to that. If you have even a passing interest in breathwork (how to do it, facilitate it, what to expect) then you should definitely grab this book. She also introduces Vipassana meditation as “advanced” breathwork, and that the other forms mentioned earlier in the book would help one to practice Vipassana more easily.
The inner skeptic in me had some reservations about some of the content in this book at first glance. First is in her dealing with the Buddha:
Shamans have psychic and magical powers and so does the Buddha. …This includes shamanic elements such as levitation, clair-audience, and thought-reading….He sees past lives.
Okay, so, this stuff does appear in some sutras, but personally I have a very hard time taking this literally. I also feel that it devalues Buddhism as a religion when you make the Buddha into something other than an awakened man. One of the things that drew me to Buddhism was the fact that the historical Buddha wasn’t a god, and didn’t have magic powers. He was an (extra)ordinary man who was able to awaken to the true nature of reality. If he was anything but, nibbana wouldn’t be possible for anyone else. He led by example so that others could (and have) followed in his path.
Then from the Womb Trauma Case History 1: Elaine
I feel as if I have been it on the head with a stick. Why? I don’t know where I am. I feel and see a phallus. I get the impression I am a fetus. I am in my mother’s belly. I am frightened. … Someone is forcing my mother to make love. It is my father. She was nine months pregnant with me…
There isn’t much in the way of science provided in this book as to the specific effects of what this type of breathwork does to the brain, and I feel that it detracts from the academic-ish nature of this book. There was a brief mention of peptides, but this book and approach would benefit greatly from some scientific evidence backing up some of the claims made here. Reading through some of the histories, I wondered if what was going on was more neurological than spiritual (or having to do with the ‘mind’). But who knows? These people seemed to be accessing some very deep, intense emotions and memories. Maybe through the breathwork they were tapping into some hidden memories that their brains had attached to these powerful emotions? I think it would be interesting to see some studies done like the ones we’ve seen regarding meditation in Buddhism and the brain.
I’m not one to disparage another’s attempt to alleviate their suffering. If it’s Judaism, breathwork, Buddhism, Yoga, whatever; I have no issues with it (as long as you don’t force it on others or use it to harm another). Manné does also talk a little about the dangers of spiritual materialism, which is something you might not expect to find in a book like this. I absolutely don’t believe the author is just trying to sell us something here. Shamanic Breathwork has clearly worked for her, and she has had success facilitating sessions with many people, all of whom have been able to deal with some troubling issues in their life. She also cautions about making sure you are ready for a breathwork session, as well as recommending that you seek out an experienced breathworker. I’m not sure it’s an approach that speaks to me, but I would be willing to give it a shot.
All in all, this was a very interesting take on just how powerful the breath truly is. Breathing is so simple, yet it is something we tend to spend very little time with! This book was yet another reminder of how little ridiculous that we have to actually go out of our way just to touch our breath because we are so conditioned. And for that, I am quite thankful.