Written by Milena Screm
For the majority of people who try BreathWork, sessions in water are a special experience, often involving strong and pleasant reactions. It is very common to hear expressions like “ecstatic” “oceanic feelings” “cosmic fusion” when people describe their sensations.
There is no “golden rule” (I believe there isn’t one in the whole practice of BreathWork) for the exact time when it is most suitable to insert one or two sessions in water in the practice of deep and continuous breathing. For BreathWorkers it is a matter of letting their intuition decide, based on their valuation of their client’s ability to handle it. Working with people, I have sometimes felt I could suggest a session in water just after a few dry sessions. In other cases I have preferred to wait longer. For some people, although very rarely, I have not suggested it at all.
Rarely people are indifferent to water, especially if they have to breathe in it…! Some people are afraid of it, others are terrified by it, some fear they “will not make it” they “can’t”, and some are entranced by water. Very seldom the reactions have been “tepid”. As in all experiences of life, sometimes catastrophic or insecurity-based expectations are quickly dissolved after few minutes of breathing. At other times when the mind creates a “movie” in advance for what may happen the disappointment is guaranteed!
In both dry or water sessions, the attitudes that guarantee satisfaction and well-being are always the same: little and flexible expectations, high capacity to accept what happens – whatever it is – and as little as possible of intervention and “judgment”. In my personal and professional experience these three factors are also the ones that determine a constructive relationship with life and with what life brings day by day. Part of the discomfort many people complain about stems from their approach to life. In short: the challenges that life brings to us during our existence cannot be changed, while our approach to them can. This factor, that I am briefly introducing, is part of the BreathWork experience. Nobody literally taught me this, it emerged spontaneously from my consciousness; it is a piece of my path to personal growth, that I love to share with people who choose me as teacher and guide.
The sense of life, the sense of BreathWork.
The word “philosophy” comes from ancient Greek and literally means “love for knowledge”, but also “way to choose one’s life style”. In ancient times the Mediterranean area was the cradle of important schools of philosophy, whose thoughts still influence our culture. But over the last decades something has changed. For example, a growing number of people have been realizing that attitudes and ways of thinking affect people’s perception and relationship with reality. Reality is not a totally objective factor. As a matter of fact there are many different realities. I would say as many as there are people.
The sense of existing; the meaning of our being in the world, the vision of life and the relationship between human being and life, the vision of God and spirituality. These are some of the questions mankind has changed its views on. The slow “revolution of thinking” that is now happening is growing in a fertile ground of “alternative” spheres (as opposed to traditional). Unfortunately views from the “alternative” and from the “new age” spheres are not always considered as reliable in the western world (sometimes justly, sometimes wrongly).
But, in recent years, other spheres of thought and culture, more scientific and reliable from a traditional point of view, have been starting to spread the same principles. For example, one of the most recent changes is the massive production and distribution of books, written by prestigious researchers and academics. All these books deal with a new approach to emotional life. Medicine, psychology, philosophy, culture, schools: all these spheres nowadays show a common trend: the definition and spreading of new educational models, particularly referring to a person’s emotional life.
Personally, I believe that this has been a necessary step that I have hoped for. We come from a historically “dark” period in this sense. We have been mistreating our emotional life in many ways, restraining it, inhibiting it, rationalizing it and diminishing it. All this was to the detriment of our capacity to feel and have a natural and vital exchange of energy flow within ourselves and with the others. According to some sociologists and psychologists, many existential discomforts, even many behaviour disorders, derive from this factor.
A new way of feeling, living, expressing and managing our emotions is consequently necessary. Presently, BreathWork is one of the possibilities we have to realize these changes, not only in theory, but in practice, in our day to day life. The philosophy of BreathWork and its approach to our inner life and existence is supported by tools that allow us to explore the countless facets feelings and emotions can have in total security.
This inner “journey” is physical, not mental, and is guided by the breath. But in session after session something naturally also happens on the mental level. The mind that earlier tended to be ruled by thoughts and therefore, in some cases, to cause an excessive detachment from bodily feelings, becomes an important aspect in the integration of the whole being.
At this point the logical and rational thinking that is favoured in our culture has begun to give proper space to other ways of thinking, for example intuition and creativity, when this is more appropriate. This represents the balance between reason and fantasy that we should all long for, when both brain hemispheres
cooperate with each other instead of dominating one another. When this state is present on the mental level, it is easier to teach listening, acceptance and appreciation of feelings and emotions.
I appreciate and use every different capacity of my mind, from the logical to the creative; I feel good in my body, I take care of it and appreciate it; I accept anything I feel with no prejudice at all, and I manage it with common sense and spontaneity. This is a truly magical formula for feeling good and living well. Making every possible effort to let this approach be our inner reality generates well-being and harmony within us, with others and with the environment. Any sphere of our existence can greatly benefit from this.
By now you must be wondering what all this has to do with water and breathing. I guarantee there is a link. As M. Odent writes, water has a great re-balancing power; its natural tendency is to make a circle, the form of unity and completeness. BreathWork sessions in water have this potential. Even better, they increase a similar process that is generated in a different way by deep, circular and continuous breathing.
BreathWork is a wide and differentiated experience. In my opinion it is difficult to systematize, because it is linked to extremely subjective aspects. This is one of the characteristics that make it so unique and fascinating. Working with individuals or with groups, I have had the chance to increase my knowledge of the method, in addition to expanding my understanding of human beings. This has been very useful for my professional experience. It has always been a source of motivation and it has allowed me to do exciting research. If we manage to have a curious approach, open and innocent as a child in front of new experiences, without denying the experiences we already have, well, we can meet joy, enthusiasm, wonder, much more often than we used to. Trying to practice this approach is a fundamental aspect of BreathWork.
The evocative power of water is enhanced by the breathing. Water tends to relax people and, for some, to trigger a state similar to meditation. This also happens often during sessions in water. But in general, before and more frequently than the meditation state, water and breath tend to work at emotional and sensational levels, releasing variegated life experiences of all kinds. Often, the emotional experiences are not connected to the memory of the actual events they are associated with. The body feels, the soul is involved, but mind does not remember. The “lack” of memory is not relevant to the benefits that it is possible to reach through the process. Instead, in this way it is possible to avoid inappropriate rational thoughts.
This is not easy to accept for everyone. People with an analytic approach, for example, feel frustrated by this situation. Trying intentionally to give meanings and explanations to what is happening to us during a BreathWork session has a negative effect since it privileges that part of mind that is already excessively appreciated and considered by western culture. This part of mind, that of course is effective and useful in many contexts, may in this sphere interfere and obstruct the natural awakening and release of consciousness, i.e. the state of consciousness where a deep and spontaneous understanding may happen.
There are deep differences between trying to understand the meaning of what is happening to us during the session, and letting go and trust, open to the possibility that the authentic understanding will emerge, if this is relevant for us.
The first of these two approaches is just a mental approach, while the second is universal. It involves the whole person. For people with a certain kind of intelligence understanding can be easy but this does not necessarily mean that they also comprehend. Understanding generally satisfies our minds, but is does not change our way of being, feeling, reacting i.e. a deep and universal comprehension. Instead it almost always causes natural and substantial changes, just because it goes through other levels, like for example the emotional level.
There are no exercises or techniques to train comprehension; the journey here is made through many small or great experiences that let us absorb different approaches. It is a real self-education, a continuous process that needs availability, trust and acceptance.
 Odent Michel., «The water and sexuality», RED, Como (Italy) 1991
Keywords; BreathWork, dry and water sessions, inner journey, consciousness
© Milena Screm 2014
About the author: http://www.insightformazione.it/chi-siamo/docenti-counselor-interni/milena-screm Supervisor Counsellor & BreathWorker Founder and President INSIGHT School of BreathWork Counselling – Milan (Italy) Author of fourteen books in psychology, published in Italy, France and Spain, among which we denote: “BreathWork” (1998), “Autogenic Training” (1989, 2012), “Rebirthing & Water” (1994), “The history of Rebirthing” (1992 ), “Rebirthing, breathe for renewal”, the first book published in Italy on Rebirthing (1989, 1993, 2011) www.insightformazione.it