By Piotr Rajski
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed
into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. Genesis
Breath of life. Breath is something so natural that we don't think about it. But breath is what makes us alive, and the quality of life depends on the quality of breath.
I realized this truth only in 1982 when I met Leonard Orr for the first time. Orr is an American, who discovered the breathing technique known as Rebirthing, or Conscious Connected Breathing, or Intuitive Energy Breathing. One day, while immersed in warm water and breathing in a relaxed rhythm, in which inhalation connected to exhalation, Orr noticed that he was experiencing sensations and memories of his own birth. Soon he found out that it was possible to induce a similar state in other people breathing this way, even when it was taking place outside of a bathtub. Further, this way of breathing led to the sense of deep relaxation, peace and completeness so profound and pleasant that most of the people wanted to repeat this experience. This is how Rebirthing movement was born. Orr estimates that to these days over ten millions of people all over the world had at least one Rebirthing session.
Rebirthing in Poland.
Orr started coming to Poland in the beginning of 80s, invited by Lucyna Winnicka, a popular actress and a great enthusiast of Rebirthing. He was coming at his own cost. The currency exchange rates were so paradoxical at that time that it was not possible for him to make any money in Poland. More so, Orr supported financially other American instructors to go and train Polish rebirthers (and I was lucky to belong to this group). Similarly to Orr they were doing it for the love of this breathing and out of the sense of a mission rather than for money. We are greatly indebted to guys like Joe Moriarty, Bonnie Nixon, John Paul and Sharda Collard and many others who trained in Poland. Marrying beautiful Polish girls rewarded some of them, including Orr himself.
Polish Rebirthing community grew in the beginning informally as the communistic regime of that time refused to legalize a movement initiated by an American. Still, regardless many obstacles, we were able to maintain yearly conventions, which established and preserved standards of excellence in doing Rebirthing. What is worth mentioning is that in Poland many professionals embraced Rebirthing as a useful therapeutic tool. In the middle of 80s I started to offer treatment program for alcoholics based on this method, while my co-worker, Dr Jacek Przyludzki, psychiatrist employed this breathing in his work with neurotic and psychotic patients. We observed a lot of improvement in our patients due to mainly better contact with their bodies, which this breathing was bringing.
After the political transformation in 1989 Association of Polish Rebirthers was formed. Polish Rebirthing Center in Silna Nowa has been in operation since 1987.
Rebirthing in Canada.
I do not know the beginnings of Rebirthing in Canada. When I came to this country in 1989 I made a contact with many well-established groups. I was particularly impressed by the quality of rebirthers in Montreal. Les Association des Palingenegistes du Quebec grouped many excellent rebirthers, like Maurice Baudry, Claude Charlebois, Michelle Favroau, Georges-Henri Arenstein, many of them psychologists or other helping professionals. Toronto community evolved around Tamara Penn, who organized many seminars with the participation of Leonard Orr. There were also rebirthers in other major Canadian cities, such as Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary.
My First Rebirthing Session.
I will never forget my first Rebirthing session. I was a bit skeptical I have to admit. I considered myself to be a reasonably fit person. I wondered what could be achieved in this area beyond what one can experience through, for instance, jogging. I was mistaken. This experience was like nothing I could compare it to.
First of all, this was the experience of energy. With this breathing we intensify the circulation of oxygen in our bodies, and with it the circulation of energy. My body became alive. I felt energy, in the form of warmth, vibration, tingling, everywhere in me and around me. I felt how this energy flew throughout my body. I found out I could direct this energy with my attention to different parts of my organism. I realized that thanks to this energy my body vibrates and that this energy unites and integrates my whole self.
This experience was astonishing, amazing and unbelievably pleasant. It was also somehow scary as at certain point I had the feeling I lost my control over this process (and we do not like to lose control). That is why I was glad that there was an experienced instructor sitting next to me. His confidence and gentle encouragement helped me to maintain connected breathing until the whole process was naturally completed. I learned that letting go of control is as important part of the process as breathing itself. On a very deep (cellular I would like to say) level I became a more trusting, more open person. It felt good and was quickly noticed by others.
The last phase of my first session could probably be described as a sheer ecstasy. I had never been so relaxed and peaceful in my life. I had never felt my body so well. I felt unity with myself and the cosmos within and without my body. Orr refers to this stage as the "biological experience of God" and I don't think it is an overstatement. I loved myself, my own body, and all the people with whom I had a chance to do this breathing. And I surely loved God for the gift of life, for "breathing in my nostrils", for letting me to appreciate how it was wonderful to be alive.
My first session helped me to realize that I use maybe 15-30% of the capacity of my lungs in my daily breathing. Orr believes it is quite typical and most likely the result of so called "birth trauma". Our first breath, when air gets into lungs filled with the amniotic fluid, is most likely associated with pain. Many other unpleasant things happen at the time of birth. All this leads to the tendency to "breathe as little as possible". This unconscious tendency makes us to neglect the divine gift of breath. Maybe that is why the Bible and other scriptures recommend that we be "born again". We could probably be compared to a guy, who won on lottery a luxurious sporty car, but is too cheap to fill it with the appropriate gasoline. Under such circumstances the car will not only never achieve its full performance, but is likely to break down. On the level of our organisms it manifests in the form of disturbances and sicknesses.
Now, if this line of thinking is correct, then Rebirthing, by giving us a chance to re-experience and integrate our birth traumas, is an invaluable tool. It gives us an opportunity to rethink our conclusions about life, many of which originated at birth. We also have a chance to practically retrain and improve our breathing patterns. Breathing more fully we achieve fuller life.
Rebirthing and Somatic Disorders.
There is an overwhelming, though mostly anecdotal data that many somatic disorders improve when people practice Rebirthing. Many of my clients reported it to me. I especially remember a young woman suffering from cysts in her ovaries, which were supposed to be removed through operation. Not eager about this prospect my client decided to give Rebirthing "a shot". The metamorphosis she went through was so amazing that her very hesitant husband also requested a Rebirthing session for himself. After five or six sessions she was examined medically again. There was not a trace of her cyst and nothing to operate for.
Now, I will not claim that this improvement was a direct effect of breathing itself (one cannot exclude the spontaneous remission, for instance). Still, with the breathing came improvement in the energetical functioning of this person, which was accompanied by better emotional and mental functioning. Relaxed, she started to like herself more. She became more "positive", optimistic. She was obviously more confident and assertive (you are assertive when you are not afraid to say what you want or what you don't want). The relationship with her husband improved (maybe because his started his own process through breathing). They were able to preserve their marriage, which was at the verge of collapse. All of this had a positive impact on her health.
These dynamics are not unusual. Those, who understand that organism is not a separated system, are not surprised. Bodies, emotions, thoughts, our life situation - all are interdependent and interact with each other. Sickness most often is not something we are "afflicted' with. In most cases sickness is a result of many years of a certain life style, characterized by specific patterns of thinking, feeling, interacting and - why not - breathing.
Rebirthing and Stress.
Stress can unbalance our organisms and trigger dynamics that lead to sickness. That is why it is so important how we cope with stress. People most often use alcohol, cigarettes or drugs, but these things bring only a temporarily relief, and are known to cause somatic problems themselves. Better off are those who find courage to try new things - breath work, relaxation, massage, physical exercise, etc. Prayer and meditation are known to be effective means of coping with stress too.
Constructive actions to improve one's situation will always remain the key. A Rebirthing session may reduce, but will not remove the stress of unemployment, for instance. But breathing, through enhancing your general functioning and making you more positive, may improve your chances to find employment.
Rebirthing and Purification.
Purification is another way of looking at the benefits of Rebirthing. It is estimated that up to 70% of the body toxins is eliminated through breath. That is why Orr often compares this breathing to a "vacuum cleaner" of the organism. He recommends that breathing is complemented by other purification techniques, such as bathing (showering) twice a day, diet changes, periodical fasting, physical work or exercise, and contact with the fire. When practiced together all these techniques maintain the cleanliness of our body, which reduces the likelihood of a sickness.
I observed dramatic changes in this area in alcoholics I worked with. After practicing Rebirthing and other purification techniques for a few weeks, they reported surprising (even for them) changes in their habits. One person told me that he could not withstand his still drinking companions as they seemed "so ugly" to him. He cut his association with them. Another one could not enter his favorite bar without the feeling of disgust. Yet another informed me that he could no longer go to work without a shower first. Those man, whose spouses participated in the program and who practiced certain purification techniques with them, were able to maintain sobriety for long time.
Rebirthing as a Spiritual Path.
Finally, as the "breath of life" is a gift from God, Rebirthing can be seen as a nondenominational spiritual path. "Breathing is the bridge between the visible and the invisible" - says Leonard Orr. "Intuitive breathing constantly merges our body with its life giving and life renewing Source. (…) The miracle of Intuitive Energy Breathing is not a religion, nor dependant upon belief, faith, nor dogma, nor philosophy, but it is a biological experience of God, that is available to everybody." (All quotes from the pamphlet - "Intuitive Energy Breathing").
What it means? It means that a person from any religious path may come and have this renewing experience of breathing without changing his/her core religious beliefs. In my practice I had a chance to breathe with Christian priests, Buddhist monks, Muslim, Jewish and Hindu people. In many cases they not only enjoyed their experiences but also reported enhanced understanding of their own spirituality. Many saw Light, or were in touch with the Divinity typical for their respective traditions. They would occasionally say that Rebirthing helped them to feel what does it mean to "love your neighbor".
One of the interesting spiritual aspects of Rebirthing is that it can be conceived as a preparation for death. Birth and death are similar to each other in the sense that they constitute an irreversible passage into unknown, thus are naturally accompanied by fear.
My mother died of cancer in front of me. When I got to the hospital she was already unconscious. My connection with her, a communion one could say, was mainly through the breath. She was breathing and I was breathing with her. In a sense I gave her a Rebirthing session regretting only that this was the first one. If she breathed with me before, if she had integrated her birth trauma, maybe her agony was easier. This is one of the reasons why I recommend Rebirthing to terminally ill.
With the first breath we start our journey to God. With the last breath
we transfer into His bosom. "When you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust." (Psalm 104:29).
Piotr Rajski is a Chartered Psychologist in private practice in Edmonton,
Alberta. He has over 29 years of clinical experience, including 25 years
as Registered Rebirther. Leonard Orr, with whom he spent a few months in
a direct, daily contact, personally trained Piotr. Piotr conducted countless
individual and group sessions of Rebirthing, as well as numerous workshops
in Poland, USA and Canada. He may be contacted at Roche Miette Psychological
Services, 576, Lessard drive, Edmonton, AB, T6M 1B2, Canada. Tel: (780)