Breathwork is Trancework is…

One of my primary goals in scaling back the number of hours I “work” has been to create the space necessary to read and learn more, time to reflect, and time for embodied practice. Lately there has been a lot of synchronicity in what I’ve been reading and seeing, mirrored by my embodied experiences. The initial thoughts for this piece began last spring while I was listening to an episode of Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness where the guest, Professor Beronda Montgomery, was speaking to the genetic connection between humans and the surrounding trees (in a beautiful story of ancestral connection she shared while reluctantly visiting a plantation site with her children), and it added a deep layer of reverence in my Breathwork practice to think about this reciprocal relationship with my nearby plants. I had been sitting with that for a while until this past week when I was watching several presentations in the Breathwork Summit. In a session on Breathwork and the quantum field with Dan Seigel, he shared his own process of shifting between searching for answers as to why we experience a sense of universal connection/god/oneness during Breathwork practice in the brain to looking for it in the concept of energy, and that leading him to quantum physics. He described it beautifully when he said “energy is the movement from possibility to actuality.”

I don’t think the shift from science to mysticism is unusual at all, I read it all the time in various writing of folks doing healing work who came from a more skeptical or “evidence based” background. I can relate to it personally too. Honestly the first part of his presentation was a bit hard to watch, as he is trying desperately to frame in objective, quantifiable terms this phenomena of how the mind can shape one’s reality- and especially justifying the science behind oneness.
The need to frame this work in a Eurocentric lens rooted in the “scientific method,” focused on individual integration as the norm for health, tremendously limits the potential for grasping the expansiveness of these deeper levels of consciousness. Because there are so many paths that lead to this mind-space. And the more creative we can be in finding our way there, the more routes we develop, the easier it is to drop into whenever we wish. In another session Dr. Angel Acosta pointed out that interconnectiveness coexists with the specificity of personal identity and experience (he was speaking to racial and cultural identities in particular), and that especially for folks of privilege it is important to intentionally hold those realities simultaneously- which he described as “critical humility.” Oneness doesn’t mean we all have the same experience, perspective, advantages, or even that we share the same “reality.” When we connect to oneness we can hold that there are many realities side-by-side, some intersect and some do not.  Embodied knowledge helps us hold these truths simultaneously.

In my own experiences with altered states of consciousness that were not induced by a substance, it’s actually key to be able to move between states of awareness rather than having them all integrated, because interacting with the physical world often involves filtering information. As much as I love being able to shift my dimension of presence and (for example) see little waves and threads of energy between the leaves of a tree, that is not helpful when I’m trying to order a sandwich or do my taxes. Also, if I can only get there after 45 minutes of meditation, during a massage, or in a beautiful physical environment then I’m not actually living in that interconnectivity on an ongoing basis. The ability to shift allows us to primary be in that expansive quantum space, but also shift into “3D” to do things we need to do. Similarly, it allows us to hold multiple realities of the beauty and the pain of the human experience. Over time it becomes as straightforward as shifting our visual focus from something we’re reading up close to a street sign in the distance.

In The Disordered Cosmos (a great interview with the author can be found here), the author states that the universe is queer, and cosmology is storytelling. Which is to say that science is not separate from social and relational contexts, and it’s more expansive than it sometimes appears. And I think in that sense trance could be described as quantum field work, and in that space we can hold the stories, the oneness, individual paths and collective ones together even as they may be in tension or contradiction with each other. Getting into deep trance on your own can be challenging, unless you use the breath. The breath is the foundation for all the other work: you can’t practice meditation, do energy work, or drop into the somatic body without breath awareness. While this can lead us to the transitional space of consciousness, a challenge emerges in the “letting go.”

This letting go is a gateway into deep realms of knowledge, but our bodies often stiffen against it and our minds become fearful. In psychedelic experience we might describe this as the dissolving of the ego, and in hypnosis the shift into deep trance is often reported as a feeling of “falling” into or through something. Sometimes we need to use the breath a bit more aggressively to get this effect, such as Multi-part Fast-paced Breathwork, but again in time we can do this with our focus, leading with the mind-body and letting the somatic body follow. In Multi-part Fast-paced Breathwork the sensations of the body can become overwhelming and seemingly independent of the physical body, and also stuck in the physical body. This phenomena might describe the common experience of having strong physical tension in the hands (the well-known “lobster claw”), accompanied by fear, often managed well by squeezing or holding stones/crystals in the palms, breathing into the heart space and tracking the accompanying emotions. Often there is emotional movement that begins to eclipse the physical sensation and incredibly the physical sensation resolves OR continues but ceases to matter. We can feel the parallels and paradox of the physical and energetic systems. Both are present, we are deeply embodied while also experiencing expansive consciousness beyond physical form- beyond this lifetime even.

The concept of Dark Matter (I’m paraphrasing here!) refers in part to the unknown, unseeable aspects of the universe that help explain aspects of quantum physics that don’t make sense otherwise. In the books and popular HBO series His Dark Materials, after traveling to the dimension that resembles our world Lyra shows a particle physicist that is possible to commune directly with dark matter/“dust”, and in turn the physicist uses the I Ching to learn that this force is actually angels. Meanwhile in the tragically cancelled series The OA (slight spoiler here so skip to next paragraph if you don’t want it!) the ability to move between dimensions is achieved by a series of movements enacted in “perfect” emotion by at least five people (a pentagram) and also had a tie-in with “angels,” time travel, and multiple selves/versions existing simultaneously.

So what’s my point in telling you my TV habits? What does this have to do with Breathwork?  I guess contemplating this curious synchronicity between “fact and fiction.” It’s not surprising that there are many common themes among the best works of science fiction because they are frequently responsive to the most mind-bending ideas in quantum physics, among other things. I often remark in reiki groups and with students that the more you practice the more it feels like science fiction. I wonder about some of the more spiritual similarities that are easily observed in trance and ritual experience, as well as centuries of indigenous wisdom, and if the realm of fiction just presents a way of folks sharing that experience without sounding “crazy.” There’s some affirming about knowing that other people are trying to imagine what this really looks like, illustrated with rich allegory and the complexity of human relationships. Maybe that’s an obvious thing to say, and yet we often draw a hard line culturally between what is known and unknown, and see fantasy as a genre that fosters escapism. But perhaps it’s also a connection- in a form that is more predictable and safe.

I’ve always enjoyed some good fantasy media but if I’m honest my interest in it grew in tandem with trancework exactly because it captures much more effectively the elusive questions that emerge. It’s not easy to discuss questions about the nature of the universe these days, especially when the impacts of denialism and anti-science sentiment are so ever present and dangerous. I don’t see mysticism and science as being in conflict necessarily, more the people who hold unshakable views as being in conflict. Some healthy skepticism is important in talking about spiritual matters, just as curiosity about the unknown is necessary in the realm of science.

All this being said, Breathwork doesn’t need to be as intense spiritually as I’m describing! It works equally well within the tangible matter of our lives and relationships. And it’s beautiful even in it embodied practice with no meaning or questions applied to it at all.

Personally I choose to take an active approach to Breathwork practice because I find it enjoyable. Working actively creates a renewable resource and charts new pathways of understanding. In self-hypnosis we often choose a destination, which is then the “beginning” of the trance and I use this concept in Breathwork. Often I will start with a childhood memory I rediscovered in trancework, I wait in this place for any “guests” to join me (past selves, animals, other energies), and then travel through my memory of the woods behind my childhood home to a house I constructed in my mind where all is possible. (Some of you have heard me speak about this concept of “a home within.”) 

I allow myself to engage in a lucid way in this space, sometimes receiving messages or interacting with a future self, other times I have an agenda and do a healing session or ritual with myself while I’m there.  I allow my physical experience to inform the trancework as well.

Sometimes I revisit a dream that needs resolution, working it through to a new end. Other times I visualize into the future, asking for vision to see clearly what is possible. Or I send support to myself at a future time, or receive support from that future self. I let that carry into the rest period of breathwork practice.

There are endless ways to approach it, these being just a few that I’ve done often.

If you’re in a process of harnessing the breath to shift your consciousness, where do you want to go?

What are the burning questions, the points of confusion or tension that call out to you?

Where does the sense of oneness arrive, and what will you do with it?

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