Sunday, July 18, 2010
The above diagram is a kind of mandala of the rebirthing breathing process. The core of the process is the infinity symbol embedded in the interlocking triangles. Leonard Orr described rebirthing breathing as "breathing from the breath itself". The key elements are removing the pauses between the inhale and the exhale so that you have one smooth continuous cycle of breathing and never forcing the exhale, never pushing the exhale out. The belly naturally relaxes on the exhale and the natural contraction of the belly, like a rubber band that you have already stretched, simply shrinks back to its usual size when you let go of the efforting to inhale. Jim Leonard later added an understanding to this process that he called "the five elements of rebirthing". He later on called his version of rebirthing by the name "Vivation".
Rebirthing started out as simply doing intense breathing in a hot tub until memory of the "birth trauma" surfaced. Diane Hinterman, during one of these early sessions, remarked, "Maybe its the breathing [rather than the intense hot water]". This observation later on caused Leonard Orr to experiment with "dry land rebirthing". Rebirthing came to be known as an "American Pranayama" (breathing technique), though there is some hint of the method in the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra (the 112 techniques of Shiva that may be the essence blueprint of all the meditation methods humans have ever used in all the religions). Techinique number 2 is "As breath turns from down to up, and again as breath turns from up to down, through both these turns, realize". The first nine methods of Shiva relate to breathing and mostly focus on the place where the in breath and the out breath change into each other. Some breathing meditations focus on noticing the pause and dropping into the space between the breaths to feel the eternal. Rebirthing focuses in generating pranayama through removing the pauses and staying within a continuous flow of breathing. There is a theme that I have shared in previous blogs that the phrase "holy spirit" is better translated as "holy breath" in various New Testament passages and may indicate a method similar to rebirthing was used: "rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), "pray at all times in the breath...be on the alert with all peseverance" (Ephesians 6:18), "the breath also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray [in words] as we should, but the breath itself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words" (Romans 8:26), and "pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1). These are samplings of verses, scattered through out the NT, have these themes, "in the breath", "with rejoicing", "not losing heart", "with gratitude or thanks giving", "with alertness", and "with groanings too deep for words". It shows that there was a kind of wordless level of prayer that was "in the breath" and "at all times" (aka continuously). It is meant to persevere through a period where one is tempted to lose heart and give up. During this time, a person may deeply groan and move through some kind of emotional pain. When we break through this zone, then there is a rejoicing and gratitude that is also in each breath. There is a blissfulness that appears. It is very important that we are conscious of every breath, staying alert in the process.
I found later on that the inhale needed to be intentional, a choice to keep on living, to keep on experiencing. The inhale is intentional and the exhale relaxed. The inhale is receiving each new experience (with thanksgiving) and the exhale is letting go and surrendering (all attachments aka "sell all that you have and follow me"). The inhale and exhale flowing together has the feeling that receiving without resistance and letting go without clinging are really the same. They are about being in the flow of life (kingdom of god).
The place in the infinity symbol where the lines intersect (the middle "x") is the place where the switching from inhale to exhale and exhale to inhale happens. The infinity symbol is a good symbol for rebirthing, because it is meant to be continuous, always flowing, without pause, and yet it keeps gently and smoothly switching between inhale and exhale.
Although I like the formulas that both Leonard Orr and Jim Leonard both used to describe rebirthing (with Jim Leonard being more systematic). There is a living feeling when the breathing is done rightly. I have found that people spontaneously do this breathing when I have given a Reiki energy healing session to them and they are deeply feeling the energy flow within them. In this energy flow, emotions naturally surface, are gently processed, integrated, and released. The key to keep this process going is "not clinging and not resisting" which is a main theme in Buddhist meditation. You do not try to push the process too hard (resistance). You do not feel anger, fear, or sadness with the intention to get rid of them, but accept them and breathe through them until they are complete. If the emotions are fully felt without resistance, then they usually do not last very long. It is our resistance to feeling them that sustains them. If we can be grateful for the experiences that we are having when under "tribulation", then they integrate faster. The wordless petition is to ride through the difficulties in our process and not lose heart.
Rebirthing breathing is a pranayama method. It generates energy in our bodies. It draws in Divine Grace as atmospheric prana into our bodies, collects it, and circulates it. Every single cycle of one inhale and one exhale, is a complete circuit of pranic energy. Even 20 cycles can give us a significant amount of energy and healing. In rebirthing, they recommend that you do 10 sessions of approximately one hour to three hours each with less than one week between sessions, and with a "breath coach". Assistance is helpful, because, in the beginning, you will forget to breathe consciously and lapse into unconscious breathing, stop breathing altogether, or push on the exhale to avoid feeling an emotion. You will also be tempted to "lose heart" or go "sansho shima" (a Buddhist term for quitting the process). Usually we are tempted when we are about to move through something very big. Gurdjieff also called this experience "the second conscious shock". The first shock is simply going from thinking about breathing to actually breathing. The second shock is to continue when we want to bail out. There is a third shock, too, which is to continue even when in bliss. Gurdjieff did not talk about this, because few people needed to learn this. They were busy with the first two shocks. Gurdjieff did not like to give people more than what was practically needed at the time. I hope to write more about the third shock later on, though it does take a fair amount to do so, since the other two shocks must be covered from several angles to make sense of the third shock. The Uttara Tantra and the Anthem to Primordial Consciousness both imply the third shock within their teachings. The third shock is also lightly touched upon in THEORY OF CELESTIAL INFLUENCE by Rodney Collin (a student of Ouspensky who was a student of Gurdjieff). However, none of the sources above put the third shock in process terms and in relationship to each other. I found that one Sufi group that I attended had people discussing the issues of the third shock without their realizing it. They were asking "how to stay in bliss". They had made it completely through the second conscious shock a few times and reached the bliss on the other side. This attachment to bliss is a barrier that must be sacrificed to continue. The secret is to willingly go into more stuff, to invite the remaining repressed emotions to come up, to stay in the attitude of receiving and not resisting that brought up the pain and allowed us to move through it, to continue the process. Most people stop in the bliss and try to cling to it. Some even succeed for a while, but this subtle clinging misses an important point. In one Zen koan, Buddha is reported to have said, "Nirvana is the last nightmare". Although nirvana is ultimate piece, it is also the ultimate attachment, especially in the form of sublime sexual ecstasy and loving communion with a perfect tantric or romantic partner. There is a point where it must be released and let go of, in and through the breath. The key is to stay in the flow whether pain (dukkha) arises or bliss (sukkha) arises. Somewhere, staying in the flow becomes our refuge and we relax into the flow itself.
If rebirthing is done properly, you will feel tingling waves of energy in the body. This tingling later on becomes warm currents. It is good to keep the mind free from distracting thoughts and away from day dreams. If we lose ourselves in them, then we "fall asleep" in the process and actually have stopped our practice. It is a subtle resistance to practice that needs to be released along the way. If you do not feel tingling sensations, some kind of noticeable energy movement, in the first three sessions, then you are not breathing correctly or some block is limiting your process. With some people, what I am sharing in this and other articles will be enough help to actually do the process and ride it into and beyond bliss. With others, some unconscious pattern may block one from actually doing the process correctly. My suggestion is to find some breath coach to help walk you through the process enough times until you go "autonomous" and produce successful results on your own. This will save you a lot of time. When I was first doing this process, there were not as many breath coaches around. I read and reread the one article that Jim Leonard had written that is found in CELEBRATION OF BREATH by Sondra Ray and also the excellent article by Eve Jones about the physiology of rebirthing breathing. I kept correcting and refining my process through studying and practicing. Buddhist texts helped immensely to understand aspects of this process. The Buddhist texts and the teachings of Krishnamurti focused on the "mental attitude" (bodhicitta) needed to move through everything. I was later able to work with Reymundo Menchaca (30 hours) and Jim Leonard (100 hours) to check my understanding. Both of these people gave some valuable insights. I also found it fascinating that both of them were willing to learn even more about the breathing. They had the attitude of "only don't know" of Zen Buddhism, where you stay in beginners mind and keep on learning. They did not present themselves as "experts" in one sense. I did also dialogue with Leonard Orr for about a year in letters (pre-internet) and did glean some valuable things from these conversations.
The diagram shares my own understanding and summarization of the process. I do consider that rebirthing breathing, or "breath of water", is complimentary to "kundalini breath of fire", and that alternating them is more powerful than doing one or the other. There is also "breath of air" (ujjayi pranayama), breath of earth (breath retention with awareness), and breath of space (pure witness of breathing without any ego control at all). Many of these are woven into the Tumo Yoga of Tibetan Buddhism and linked with visualizations, mantras, and dakinis. The hollow body note on the diagram is from the Tumo Yoga preliminaries. If you click on the diagram, it will appear in a larger and easier to read format.