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Rebirthing-breathwork is a breathing technique that claims to heal suppressed emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, etc. It shares a common belief with various other therapies called rebirthing, with both groups believing that certain events during human birth are a traumatic event and that reviewing or revisiting this event, in some way, can have therapeutic benefits. However, the actual techniques utilized in rebirthing-breathwork are quite different from those used by these therapies. Also, rebirthing-breathwork claims that it can heal suppressed emotions regardless at what point in one's life they became suppressed.
Rebirthing-breathwork grew out of the work of Leonard Orr. The name rebirthing was first used by Orr and his followers to describe the technique and became the subject of the book Rebirthing in the New Age, which Orr co-wrote with Sondra Ray. When Orr first started experimenting with these breathing techniques, he noticed that he would often have what he described as memories of his birth. He believed that by reliving his birth experiences through connected breathing, he was in fact healing the trauma of his own birth. Although he was at that time unaware of the practices of kriya yoga and pranayama, Orr further developed the rebirthing process between 1962 and 1974 and discovered for himself that modifications in breathing practice appeared to bring about improvements in health, mental clarity, and emotional well-being.
Development of rebirthing as a therapeutic modality in its own right started in 1974 and has been further developed from that time. Together with fellow researchers, Orr refined it into a system that can be practiced in the context of a therapy session and taught to clients over a series of sessions.
Proponents estimate that, since 1974, more than ten million people worldwide have learned the process, with more than one hundred thousand people completing practitioner training[according to whom?]. It became a popular alternative treatment system in the United States, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Israel, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, and Venezuela.
Description of the technique
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The main breathing technique consists of not pausing between inhaling and exhaling. According to practitioners, this causes a build up of oxygen in the blood and a build up of prana or life energy.
Breathing sessions are done individually (and occasionally in groups), lying down, and usually last one to two hours.
Beliefs and perceptions
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According to some critics; the idea that rebirthing is intended to solve – that human birth is traumatic and that humans never forget their birth, just repress the memory – is due to ignorance and misunderstanding on the part of a few medical professionals (and parents/family). The idea of 'birth trauma' followed by Leonard Orr was written about by Otto Rank as far back as 1924, via his book The Trauma of Birth (although there is no evidence that Orr was influenced by Rank's work). Rebirthing-breathwork practitioners believe that in addition to cerebral memory (based in the brain), humans also possess cellular memory, which is distributed amongst the body's cells, tissues, organs, etc.
Rebirthing-breathwork practitioners believe that the trauma suffered during a painful birth, and the specific nature of this trauma, has a deep effect on one's psyche and shapes one's perception and experience of life, self, and the world in ways of which one is mostly unaware. (For instance, someone born by forceps delivery might rely on others to pull them out of destructive situations.) Rebirthing Practitioners believe it is possible to gain recollection of aspects of birth, gestation and early childhood and to release the accompanying emotions through conscious connected breathing; such release can generate a positive paradigm shift and life transformation based on a change in the experiences they believe one unconsciously attracts.
In addition to cellular memory of the birth trauma, practitioners believe that individuals make fundamental, albeit pre-verbal and subconscious, "decisions" about how the world operates during the course of the traumatic event of birth (For instance, someone born breech may make the decision "I hurt people" or "I hurt women".) It is believed these decisions operate subconsciously and may be enacted repeatedly throughout a person's life until the decision is recognized and changed. For instance, the breech baby who decides "I hurt women" may, as an adult, avoid intimate relationships with women out of fear, or alternatively, may act out the decision in a series of relationships where the woman is indeed hurt emotionally or physically. The decision (sometimes called the "personal lie"), practitioners believe, can be accessed easily in the unconscious, and changed using an affirmation that is the exact opposite (sometimes referred to as an individuals "eternal truth").
A current branch of rebirthing breathwork in Australia contends that all traumatic events in our gestation, infancy, and childhood (including, but not limited to, birth) can be sources of unconscious decisions and beliefs. In this school of practice, breathwork sessions can take the client back to re-experiencing these events and healing the associated pain and corresponding beliefs lodged in our soul and physical memory. Importantly, this approach opens rebirthing to addressing all events that form our belief system about ourselves and the world.
Alakh Analda who has been a breathworker practitioner since 1987 states that she cannot guarantee that someone will go back to a traumatic past event in breathwork sessions. Alakh works in Australia and delivers some training overseas. She directs a government-recognized accredited training programme for a Diploma for breathworker practitioners that has been running since 1998 
Alakh states that her clients may go to a traumatic past event for a few minutes of a ninety minute cycle breathwork session. However, in her practice, clients in the last decade or more have also released and resolved traumatic past events through the automatic process of bringing themselves into a state of present time focus by breathing consciously. The instructions for breathwork mastery sessions are “full, conscious connected breathing in and out the nose until or unless the nose closes”. In this state, the relaxation, and sense of wellness and positivity can become so deep, that clients create a new reference point for dealing with the same issue or circumstance that was traumatic in early life, for example for a tiny infant. Even the simple deep realisation that the event was traumatic for a dependent, helpless infant but it does not have to be true for a healthy, walking, talking adult can start to change the cognitive approach to the client's current world and circumstances. In some of these sessions, there are just conscious breathing times with awareness of changes in the body sensations. They result in changes in behavior after the breathwork session. Alakh's assertion is that the conscious breath factor is the most important part of integrated changes in perception and reality, rather than any sort of oxygenation. She points out that humans do have the mechanism to hold down feelings (and memories) with a breath hold, so connecting (not holding) the breath in a safe, supported environment is also important.
Rebirthing-breathwork teachings state that it can increase the client's or solo practitioner's human potential, inner peace, and mental clarity. The practitioner can manage the challenges of life more easily and those who practice rebirthing-breathwork can gain greater insight into the human condition and the purpose of their existence, a greater sense of their personal relevance to the world.
Human breathing, practitioners say[who?], is almost universally inadequate; virtually all people are suppressing large amounts of emotional, physical and mental "tensions", and require relatively high levels of CO2 in their blood in order to keep these tensions suppressed. They feel that the major causes of all human illness are these accumulated tensions; the practice of rebirthing-breathwork techniques, they believe, can detoxify the system and release such tensions. They[who?] profess that this can cause physiological transformation, to the point where prevention or permanent spontaneous remission from illness becomes possible.
Practitioners feel rebirthing provides a direct, replicatable, physical experience of Divine Love through the saturation of the body with prana.
The philosophies which accompany Rebirthing appear to be a loose, intuitive mix of western metaphysics, gnosticism, hinduism, buddhism, and (what some may argue to be) original Christian teaching. Early writings of Orr and Sondra Ray expressed belief in immortalism. Another way of describing immoralism is "life extension" or conscious transit of the individual by the point of death, a concept and practise for yogis. This capacity to rejuventate the body is key to the concept of immortalism, along with the capacity to create a lifestyle of "freedom to choose", instead of reaction to day to day events, which is at the heart of Rebirthing theory and practice. These concepts are now widespread and echoed in the philosophy of "law of attraction" and non-victim consciousness, as well as "Mindfulness".
While it is clear that prenatal events can have an influence on the subsequent development and life of the child through developmental or hormonal factors, and there can be physical complications of birth, there is little scientific support for the claim that the birth process is inherently psychologically "traumatic". Studies comparing children born by caesarian section to those born through the birth canal have not found statistically significant differences.
Scientific evidence to support the idea of cellular or other "non-cerebral" memory is not widely acknowledged, although proponents in such theories have presented cases some find convincing.
There is no scientific evidence that any birth memories can be recovered. In fact, the available research strongly indicates that the human brain is unable to form conscious memories until approximately the age of two. There is, however, strong evidence that false memories can be planted (either inadvertently or deliberately), as in false memory syndrome.
Currently no well-controlled studies demonstrate the effectiveness of the technique, but there is psychotherapy research underway at the University of Queensland School of Medicine, evaluating the effectiveness of Breathwork in treating depression and anxiety.
The rebirthing-breathwork therapy founded by Leonard Orr and promoted by Sondra Ray and others is one of the practices critiqued by Margaret Singer and Janja Lalich in the book Crazy Therapies: What Are They? Do They Work?.
Other largely unrelated therapies which are sometimes called Rebirthing also go by the names compression therapy and holding-nurturing process. Rebirthing is considered by such practitioners to be an appropriate strategy for treatment of attachment disorder.
The term "Rebirthing" drew unfavorable attention in 2001 when several therapists using techniques strongly opposed by most rebirthing-breathwork practitioners, were sentenced to 16 years in prison for suffocating a 10-year-old Colorado girl during a 'rebirthing' session that was part of a two week attachment therapy intensive. Among other techniques, the session involved wrapping the girl in a sheet and having adults sit on her to simulate contractions and motivate the girl to "emerge from the womb".
Practitioners of Leonard Orr's rebirthing now often use the suffix breathwork, naming their technique rebirthing-breathwork, to differentiate themselves from these other therapies.
- Orr, Leonard and Ray, Sondra. "Rebirthing in the New Age", Celestial Arts, Berkeley, CA, December 1977.
- Lieberman, E. James; Rank, Otto (1993). The Trauma of Birth. New York: Dover Publications. pp. ix–xiv. ISBN 0-486-27974-X.
- Jaan Jerabek - Rebirthing Breathwork
- Alakh Analda - Qualifications in Rebirthing/Breathwork
- Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine - Candace Pert (Simon & Schuster, 0684846349
- Report of the APSAC Task Force on Attachment Therapy, Reactive Attachment Disorder, and Attachment Problems - Chaffin et al. 11 (1): 76 - Child Maltreatment
- Rebirth International Online: Sondra Ray News and Letters
- Guardian Unlimited | Archive Search