In short, Rebirthing Breathwork is a cyclic breathing technique that allows the participants to access their unconscious negative thinking about themselves and the world. This unconscious negative thinking is usually caused by some associated trauma.
Before we go further, we need to move back to how these unconscious negative thoughts are created and stored in the brain. A very good starting point is to observe the kind of breath we take when we get a fright. Generally, we would tend to breathe sharply and then hold our breath at the top. What usually happens in those moments is that our primal brain (reptilian/survival brain) takes over through the fear response of flight/fight/freeze mode, our adrenal system kicks in and floods our body with adrenaline and other hormones that cause our muscular system to become stronger. We become more alert.
Our cognitive brain (limbic and neocortex brain) is put on hold, our focus is into survival. Being focused on survival in a way numbs all other senses in the body. The senses still function properly, sending messages to the brain, informing it about everything, but most of the information is partitioned by the mind. That means that the primal brain keeps available at the moment only the information that it deems necessary in order to survive, to overcome the problem, the confrontation, the threat i.e. the car coming from the opposite lane, the fight with our partner, the family lunch on Sunday and of course the tiger hunting us not so many years ago. The rest of the information received by the senses is stored in compartments for later processing and use. And all the feelings, sensations and emotional energy that came up are suppressed for the sake of ‘survival’.
Breath-wise, during those moments, we have a thought, something in our DNA says, aha, by holding my breath I survive.
Of course, the optimum state of the human condition is balance. The body wants to come back into balance, into its natural state as soon as possible. So, after the ‘threat’ passes, the adrenal system starts producing melatonin, oxytocin and other relaxing hormones. The process of healing begins.
Unfortunately, the primal brain has a different idea. The primal brain cannot tell the difference between a real danger and an imaginary one, that is between the fear caused by being actually threatened and the fear by imagining that threat. Hence, the primal brain believes that re-visiting this experience means re-living the trauma. Re-living all those feelings, sensations and emotional energy we had to suppress in order to survive. Along with the associated thoughts about ourselves and the world i.e. it’s my fault, I’m stupid, he/she is bad, this is not safe, I shouldn’t have done that, etc.
The main reason we don’t want to revisit a traumatic situation is because every uncomfortable or threatening situation engenders fear. Fear is usually the most important emotional energy suppressed during any incident in order to survive. But fear is the biggest paper tiger, fear is the biggest illusion of the human mind.
It’s human nature to want to avoid anything that makes us feel uncomfortable. The only problem is that all these thoughts are still there, unexpressed in our unconscious minds: Hidden but very powerful. We think we are making conscious choices, but in reality it’s our unconscious thoughts and the attached emotional energy what actually steers our thought process. To better depict that, think of people with phobias and how irrational their behaviour can seem to the conscious mind. On a much more subtle level all our suppressed, unconscious thoughts and feelings drive our behaviour in many complex ways. Gradually, for example, we don’t want to drive a car, we prefer taking a taxi. We clearly don’t remember of that incident with the big accident we saw down the road, when we were 5 years old. So we just believe that it is a conscious choice, that we just like taking a taxi, save ourselves from the trouble of parking, from other expenses etc. But maybe there is an unconscious fear, some unexpressed emotions that actually make the choice for us.
What Breathwork does is that it uses the same primal reptilian brain technology to access those unconscious thoughts. We use our breath to activate the survival system, re-activate and express any emotional energy and unconscious thoughts associated, and dig out the seed of negative thought and make room for a more self-loving one.
The Rebirthing Breathwork technique originated from Leonard Orr in the US, in the 1970s and it has been expanded upon by many practitioners and scientific studies into the process of how the breath functions as a trauma release mechanism.