Waiting to Exhale

Writer Danielle Parla | July 5, 2017

Consider for a moment the things that are absolutely vital to your existence. Perhaps food, water, mobility and a healthy heart featured high on your list because we are taught from a young age how important it is to fuel and strengthen our body. While indisputable, there is one process that is so vital and natural to us that we sometimes overlook our relationship with it – our breath.

We can live for weeks without food, days without water, but only minutes without air. From the moment we are born our lungs quite literally become the trees that receive each and every breath and connect us with everything. It is therefore unsurprising that for centuries people have sought spiritual awakening, self-healing, and meditative relaxation through breathing techniques that have long been rooted in Eastern practices like yoga, qigong and tai chi. Interest in breathwork is on the rise as we search for effective, empowering alternative methods to manage stress and health challenges.

Breathwork describes any therapy using breathing exercises with the aim of achieving greater self-awareness, an increased capacity for self-healing, and improvement in mental, physical and spiritual well-being.

In the 70s, the pioneering Rebirthing Breathwork of Leonard Orr and Holotropic Breathwork of psychiatrist Stanislav Grof led to the development of the unique techniques and methods that characterise and distinguish the various styles of breathwork today.


One of the most therapeutic and cutting-edge breathwork systems is Transformational Breath. Developed by Dr Judith Kravitz more than 35 years ago, it has been endorsed by respected integrative medicine experts such as Deepak Chopra and Christiane Northrup. Kravitz says, “Transformational Breath is a complete self-healing system using conscious breathing to facilitate the natural healing process for all types of trauma, to gain greater physical, mental and spiritual health, and maintain optimal well-being.”

In contrast to the reliance that our medical system engenders, Transformational Breath incorporates breath analysis, body mapping, sound healing and coaching to empower the client to use tools that they have learnt on their own. American psychotherapist Dr Henry Smith Rohrberg says, “One session is equivalent to about two years of psychotherapy.”

The notion of breathwork sounds both very easy and rather difficult. Our breath is always with us and yet the subtle movement of breath and the pranic flow (life-force energy) that accompanies it makes it easy to underestimate how powerful its influence is in our lives. Like our beating heart and many body functions, the respiratory process is so automatic and unconscious that even in our deepest state of sleep we continue to breathe. However, unlike other vital processes, the breath has the unique ability to be conscious and manipulated.

There are benefits to be gained from consciously applying control to the movement of the breath when we practise such techniques as yogic pranayama, however in our day-to-day lives we unknowingly limit and control the breath in response to intense physical, emotional and mental trauma. When this happens repeatedly over a lifetime, the quality and capacity of our natural breath becomes significantly contracted and altered.