The Breathwork Exercise That Changed My Life

The Breathwork Exercise That Changed My Life

“What are you looking to release?” the spiritual guide asked.

“I’ve had an overwhelming fear of abandonment for as long as I can remember.”

She scribbled on her notepaper. “And?”

I wanted to say: And, my dog’s dying, and it’s almost the twentieth anniversary of my mom dying, who by the way, I never grieved and I still hate to this day. But the words halted on my lips as all the memories of my abusive, neglectful mother percolated thick and heavy in my mind.

Instead, I rubbed my furrowed brow and said, “That’s pretty much it.”

She peered at me over her glasses for a long few seconds before dimming the lights and reclining my chair. She covered me with one of those fuzzy blankets that Oprah had on her Favorite Things list circa 2005 and told me to close my eyes and start breathing quickly.

I’d heard about her guided Holotropic breathwork from a friend. The breathwork was touted to help you heal past trauma by uncovering old, repressed memories. I’d heard it referred to as “LSD without the LSD.” Ever the trier of anything promising wholeness, wellness, spiritual awakening (or regular bowel movements), I absolutely had to try Holotropic breathwork. It may not solve my frequent constipation, but there were other things stuck in me that I knew I had to be released.

I closed my eyes and breathed in short, staccato breaths. In. Out. In. Out. Quicker. Shorter. With each breath, memories clicked on and off like a camera shutter.

Her voice brought me back to the room. “I will check in with you every minute or so while you’re breathing and your memories are churning. Most will come and quickly go. When one finds you and won’t let go, tell me. Stay with the quick breaths even when it gets physically uncomfortable, and it will. The only way out is through.”

My memories slowed a bit as if I were flipping through the pages of a book. The smell of Mom’s bedsores. My yellow rain boots. Holding my husband David’s hand. Whoopsie’s tear-stained fur. Dad’s garage. Bondo under my fingernails. Finn’s face. George. My roller skates. Kissing Will.





The ocean.

The ocean.

I gasped.

“Keep breathing,” she said. “Are you somewhere you can’t look away from? Stay right there. That’s our work” she said softly.

I flinched. Then moaned.

My stomach tightened like a clamshell, coaxing me to curl forward and close myself off from the memory.

“Where are you?” she asked. “I’m here with you. Talk to me.”

“The ocean. I’ve never been in this place before.”

“What do you see?”

A man. His dark, curly hair long and unkempt. His body was frail and dark with sun. I didn’t recognize him as anyone I knew in this life, but looking in his eyes, his spirit was familiar. And from the weight of my heart, I knew exactly who he was.

“My lover.”

“What’s happening?” she asked.

“We’re on the beach, and . . . ”

“And, what?”

“Don’t go!” A wave of panic flooded through me.

“Breathe,” the guide said. “Tell me what’s happening.”

“He’s leaving! He’s leaving me!”

My lover kissed me on the forehead and walked backward away from me.

“I love you,” he said. “I’ll always love you.” And then he turned and walked calmly into the ocean.

“Don’t go! Come back!” I yelled over and over. I was both in the room with the guide and on the beach with my lover. “Don’t leave me here. Don’t leave me alone.” I watched him swim far off into the distance and disappear below the waves, succumbing to death. I cried and shook with grief until I felt his spirit radiating above me until he passed into Universal light.

“Look down at your body and tell me what you look like,” the healer said.

“My feet are dirty and my body is emaciated. My hair is long, to my waist.”

“Why do you look like that?”

“I’ve been on that island a long time. And now I’m alone. He was sick. He left me—alone.”

“Were you deserted?”

“Yes. In an accident. We were there together for years. But no one came for us.”

“What happened next?”

“I walked the island each day patching together pieces of stories I remembered reading in books. What I couldn’t remember, I created and added to the story every day. And at night, I slept on a mat of woven palm fronds. I covered myself with the only remnant of our belongings—a once colorful blanket that was now faded and worn.”

“How long did you stay on that island?”

“For the rest of my life.”



“When does that life end for you?”

“Years later. No one comes for me and the loneliness is too much. I eat a handful of poisonous berries and wrap myself in my cherished blanket. I stare into the bright sky, feeling the sun warm my body until—”

“Until what?” she asked.

“My spirit…

My breathing resumed its normal rhythm and I opened my eyes. I was exhausted. The healer turned up the lights and sat back in her chair.

“Had you ever had a past-life regression?” she asked.


“They don’t always happen in breath work, but it’s what your soul needed to identify the fear you harbor.”

What she said felt right to me.

“What was your take-away? As your spirit floated above your body, how did you feel?”

“Eternally wounded. The loss was too much to bear.”

“Sometimes souls get stuck with karmic baggage on their way out—they take something with them that they should’ve left behind. And if they carry it with them into another life, the lesson repeats. You must let go of this fear of loss or you will face it again and again.”

“How do I let it go?”

“Look around you. The opportunity is always there. You may not like the form it’s in, but the Universe always gives you the opportunity.”

As I drove home, the external world appeared brighter. Colors more saturated. The air lush. My body felt purposeful and engaged. But my inner landscape—that’s where I felt the most freedom. I’m not saying that Holotropic breathwork saved my life, but it did help me untangle my story of abandonment.

Spiritual Tools Help Get Us Over the Threshold

Sometimes, we need more than traditional therapy to help us untangle our old stories. This was certainly true for me. Seeing a therapist did offer me some relief and clarity, but I knew my wounds were gaping and my stories more gnarled. I needed more. I needed to go deeper.

Holotropic breathwork did just that or me.

While breathwork of various types has been practiced for centuries as a way to alter mental and physical states of being, Holotropic breathwork was developed in the 1970s by psychiatrists Stanislav and Christina Grof as a therapeutic tool to help people heal from emotional trauma without the use of mind-altering drugs like LSD. With their trademarked Holotropic breathing, they forged a spiritual gateway to healing. The word itself is of Greek origin and means “moving toward wholeness.”

While past life regressions like mine are not guaranteed in this work, what can be expected is a greater awareness of yourself and the pain you carry. It assists in the untangling of your story because in that altered consciousness you sense that there’s a bigger explanation for the pain you carry. You also peer into a dimension of reality where you learn that you don’t have to carry the old stories anymore.

I was not completely healed after my first experience with Holotropic breathwork, but I did go back for more sessions and it opened me up to the idea that there is no one way to wholeness. The Universe offers a plethora of options for us to untangle our stories and find peace. We just have to be willing to try them.

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