Written by Lloyd Lalande: Developer of GRMT
It has long been recognised within Buddhist psychology that one does not heal or gain insight into the nature of reality by rejecting and defending oneself against current and emerging inner experience. Blocking awareness of aspects of the felt internal world demands and traps one in the need for ongoing vigilance in order to maintain suppression of the emergence of those aversive experiences into consciousness. Particularly in the case of trauma, and psychopathology more generally, the disowning of undesirable aspects of self-experience prevents movement toward an integrated synthesis of internal experience. It is the ongoing integration of experience and resulting synergy of functioning, which enables the establishment of a new level of stable self-organisation out of which new possibilities can emerge and set the stage for further development. Rather than being derailed, personality development and consciousness are free to evolve. The targeted rejection of certain aspects of one’s experience interferes with the ability to meet inevitable change and paradoxically reinforces repetition of existing unhelpful patterns of responses and defence.
When conditions as described above impinge on the dynamic flow of whole system interaction, psychosomatic processes become repetitive and are unable to flexibly adjust to emerging needs and possibilities. As defensiveness increases, self-regulation tends more and more toward protection and management (conservation) of functions that seem vital to the continued existence of the organism, fostering personality organisation more orientated toward risk avoidance than embracing aliveness. Awareness is constrained in an attempt to reduce contact with frustrating or threatening stimuli. The result is diminished receptivity to internal somatic experience and lost capacity for flexibility, adaptation and mastery. Unfortunately this is a ‘natural’ response and happens largely outside of awareness.
The empirically supported theory underlying Guided Respiration Mindfulness Therapy (GRMT) suggests that a central mechanism through which suppression or avoidance of troubling somatic and psychological experience is achieved is the habitual inhibition of breathing1:
“The need for ongoing control and defence against awareness of troubling somatic and psychological experience (necessary to maintain a sense of psychological balance) results in a habitual, abnormal breathing pattern that becomes a more or less permanent feature of physiological functioning. Breathwork, therefore, assumes a link between the defensive adaptation of inhibited breathing, the presence of unintegrated psychosomatic experience, and the development and maintenance of psychopathology. The approach aims to bring rejected somatic experience into conscious awareness through the removal of breathing inhibitions, and then integrate those experiences into the general flow of consciousness by applying detailed somatic awareness, acceptance and relaxation.” (Lalande, et al. 2012)
The GRMT therapist2 does not aim to directly change the client’s specific thoughts, feelings or behaviour. The GRMT therapist guides the client in learning to breath in a spontaneous, uninhibited and natural way (as defined in the respiration literature) while at the same time applying mindfulness characterised as full accepting contact with the most subtle details of his or her own actual lived somatic experience, as it emerges in each consecutive moment. The result is integration. Integration of (past and present) somatically held experience is the most fundamental aspect of the GRMT approach and the key to successful human development and the achievement and maintenance of wellbeing. In the absence of integration, growth becomes progressively more skewed, retarded and distorted. When the ongoing capacity for integration is present, healing takes place spontaneously, and we become free to move on to a quest for developing the human spirit, which in turn evolves into a desire to serve humanity in whatever humble way we can.
Keywords: breathing, mindfulness, trauma, wellbeing