Breathing in a Circle
On the last Tuesday of every month, around the world, small groups of people gather themselves into circles. They come together not to debate an issue, form a committee or follow a 12-step program, but to do what we all do every minute of the day: Breathe.
The Breathing Circle movement began in 2011 as the brain child of British breathworker Natalia Brown. What started off as a group of Natalia’s friends has, with her support, spread around the globe. Today breathing circles can be found throughout Europe and North America, in Mexico, Australia, Lebanon, the Ukraine, India and Kenya. When asked why, in just three years, her circle of friends has become a world-wide phenomenon, Brown is quick to respond.
“They’ve discovered the power of their own breath,” she explains. “Once you find out what breathing can do, you want more of it.”
When Brown talks about the power of the breath, she’s referring to the therapeutic psychological and emotional effects of breathwork. We all inhale and exhale around 20,000 times a day without paying much attention to the rise and fall of our lungs. In contrast, Breathing Circle members are acutely aware of their breathing. They focus their full attention on the movement of air into and out of their body. They also create a seamless connection between inhalation and exhalation by eliminating the natural pauses that occur in the breathing cycle. This particular form of breathwork is called conscious, connected breathing or CCB. And to anyone who has not experienced CCB, the effects are both powerful and unexpected.
“It takes you into yourself. It takes you to places you don’t go every day,” Larry Davis, a veteran of many breathwork sessions, explains. Davis suffered from depression since childhood. He tried medication, support groups and other forms of therapy with some, but limited, effect. In his 40s, he discovered breathwork.
“You experience another side of yourself,” he says. “You really experience it — the part of you that can be happy. You learn to let go of anger and loneliness. You let go of that way of thinking. It’s not easy to face it all but you grow out of it. In the breathwork, you grow out of it.”
CCB, as experienced by Davis, generally takes place either in one-to-one sessions with a breathwork therapist, or in groups such as a Breathing Circle which are facilitated by a trained breathworker.
Breathers can sit but generally they go through the session lying down. The session begins with a conscious focus on the movement of air into and out of the body. Breathers gradually eliminate the natural pauses in the breathing cycle and because of this, breathing becomes a little faster and fuller than normal. From here the breath takes on a life of its own, sometimes flowing placidly, sometimes vigorously, at times high in the chest, at others deep in the belly. The breather feels like they are being breathed, yet at the same time, they feel fully in charge of the experience. Some breathers move about, some lie perfectly still, some weep, some laugh, some do both.