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Breathwork is a term covering various focussed breathing techniques. By freeing the breath one learns to breathe through difficult or uncomfortable experiences and feelings where the tendency has been to hold one's breath. Energy from a denied experience can be freed up and released. The after-effects of this can be an enormous sense of relief. Old patterns of holding begin to gently break up and a new sense of aliveness enters as the breath anchors one's self in the present. You can have a sense of being 'reborn' - hence the term Rebirthing.

Breathwork comes in many forms, each form having a different aim. Many of the organisations listed on this site work with Rebirthing or forms of 'breath release'. When referring to Rebirthing this is the breathing technique. (Do not confuse this with the constrain form of 'Rebirthing' . Rebirthing mentioned on this site is a Breath Release Technique and does not constrain in any way.

Below is an edited version of an article, by Dr Joy Manné PhD, (author of Soul Therapy), that was first published in Breathe Issue 85. It is reproduced here with permission of Dr. Manné. Click here to download the edited version.


Breathwork is not (Leonard Orr’s) Rebirthing, and (Orr’s) Rebirthing is part of Breathwork
Breathwork is not meditation, and meditation is part of Breathwork.
Breathwork is not martial arts, and martial arts are part of Breathwork.
Breathwork is not yoga, and yoga is part of Breathwork.
Breathwork is not gymnastics, and gymnastics is part of Breathwork.
Breathwork is not breathing work, and breathing work will never work fully unless it is combined with breath work.
Breathwork is not osteopathy, hands-on-healing techniques, reflexology, chiropractic, a relaxation technique, … and so forth; and all of these work better when combined with breathwork.

So what then is Breathwork?

Breathwork is Psychoanalysis (without the theory)
Breathwork does psychoanalysis. Yes it really does. Don't faint, don't say ‘Oh no it doesn't,’ too quickly, and please don’t stop reading – I'm purposely starting with the most controversial! Breathwork does psychoanalysis – but without its cumbrous theory. Breathworkers and their clients are not obliged to have Oedipus complexes or penis envy … but they may! ...

Breathwork is Awareness
Now this won't surprise any of Breathe’s readers. All Breathworkers know this, but in other fields of therapy, people like Eugene Gendlin (Focusing, Bantam Books, 1978) have worked out through painstaking university level research that therapy does not work for many people because they don't have sufficient awareness of their body, feelings or thoughts. ...

Breathwork is Analytical Psychology – with or without the theory
Jung (whose work is called Analytical Psychology to distinguish it from Freud's Psychoanalysis), would have loved Rebirthing and Breathwork. Never mind dreams and the Royal Road (Jung said dreams were the royal road to the unconscious) – Breathwork is the Concord to the Unconscious.

Breathwork is Body Work
Well, it has to be, hasn't it. Our breathing takes place in our body. Through breath awareness we can find the blockages in our body and by taking our breath to them, work with them and release them. There is no body work that can succeed without using the breath to support it. ...

Breathwork is Spiritual Practice
Breathwork is spiritual practice. Well of course it is. How could it be otherwise when trances take us into states of Oneness and contact with the Divine. The Buddha (around 400 B.C.E. and the Jains (perhaps 500 B.C.E. or earlier) used the breath as spiritual practice. Yoga does the same. The martial arts use it to get energy flowing before ever starting the body movements. Chanting in church, synagogue and mosque is a form of breathwork.

Shamanism and the Breathwork Process
Breathwork has its own process which tends to develop as follows:
Most clients, and certainly all who have never had any experience in therapy before, come to us 'loaded'. They are loaded with their emotions, pain and suffering, and usually these come pouring out in the first conscious breath: Breathwork is conscious breathing. I ask a new client, 'Put your attention on your breathing and tell me what happens,' and immediately the tears that were uncried in childhood or other traumatic experiences flow, and the sorrows that were unfelt then become to conscious, felt and integrated.

Afterword: Breathwork is not connected with torturing people
I have frequently mentioned Orr & Ray. Theirs is the first book on Rebirthing, as readers of Breathe use the term, and contains many ways of working with the breath, some of them using completely soft and gentle ways of breathing, others using more energetic ways. It is the book that gave Rebirthing to the world. ...
The term 'Rebirthing' did not originate with Leonard Orr. The practice of making people push their way through bodies forming a tunnel was used by R. D. Laing and called 'rebirthing'. He learned natal therapy, which was originated in 1969 by Elizabeth Feher, from her daughter Leslie. 'Rebirth' is part of the process of natal therapy. I know of no physical harm occurring either through Laing or Feher's methods. Janov became interested in inducing birth in 1972. In his Primal Therapy, he had the client crawl through a rubber vagina. (Feher, p. 15) Primal therapists in Zurich have used pillows in a dark room for the same purpose: pushing them against the person who was supposed to make his way out of them and become reborn. This practice killed someone a few years ago! To prevent such confusion of terminology occurring again, as far as one can, I propose that Rebirthing is henceforth referred to as 'Leonard Orr's Rebirthing' or 'Rebirthing Breathwork'. The term as we have used it previously is not precise enough. The Rebirthing we do has no relationship whatsoever with the dangerous and irresponsible practice in Colorado which goes by the same name and which has now been banned in that state.

Joy Manné PhD

I thank Catherine Dowling for her very useful suggestions.

• Feher, Leslie (1980), The Psychology of Birth: The Foundation of Human Personality. London: Souvenir Press (E & A) Ltd.
• Fodor, Nandor (1949), The Search for the Beloved: a Clinical Investigation of the Trauma of Birth and Pre-Natal Conditioning. New York: Hermitage Press Inc.
• Gendlin, Eugene T. (1981), Focusing. Toronto: Bantam Books
• Joy Manné (1994) Rebirthing, an orphan or a member of the family of psychotherapies? Int. J. of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Medicine. (1995), Rebirthing, is it marvellous or terrible? The Therapist: Journal of the European Therapy Studies Institute, Spring 1995. (1997) Soul Therapy (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books)
• Orr, Leonard & Sondra Ray (1977/1983), Rebirthing for the New Age (revised edition 1983). California: Trinity Publications
• Taylor, Kylea (1994), The Breathwork Experience: Exploration and Healing in Nonordinary States of Consciousness. Santa Cruz, California: Hanford Mead.
• Taylor, Kylea & Joy Manné, Dialogue on Hyperventil-ation between Kylea Taylor and Joy Manné, The Healing Breath: a Journal of Breathwork Practice, Psychology and Spirituality,’ Vol 1, No 2, 1999.
• Rank, Otto (1924) The Trauma of Birth. New York : Dover Publications, 1993 edition.



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A complete version of this text is available in Breathe Issue 85. See back issues page.
Conscious Connected Breathing is another more literal term for the breathing method taught by Leonard Orr. Others call it Breath Therapy

Soul Therapy is a book by Joy Manné and is available through Breathe. Go to Books page

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