“The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self.
Our task must be to free ourselves; by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Albert Einstein, 1954
Somatic Breath Therapy: An Overview
Somatic Breath Therapy is a highly sophisticated form of conscious breathing that teaches you how to breathe fully, getting more oxygen to your brain and body helping you:
- take control of your life
- recharge your energy
- reduce stress, anxiety, pain and panic
- focus your attention to have more passion for what really matters
- relax and sleep better
- recover from trauma
- become more aware of your body and feel good in your own skin
- worry less, feel more peaceful and connected
- integrate leftover “stuff” from your past that stops you from being authentic
It also helps you step back from emotional reactions and access the intelligence of your own body-mind, and establish new patterns and responses in your life. It offers an increased freedom of expression, and a connection to your true self as well as an overall feeling of personal empowerment.
Somatic Breath Therapy consciously utilizes one of the simplest and yet most efficient, balancing and integrative mechanisms of the body, the human respiratory system. Everyone breathes.
Somatic Breath Therapy is primarily used in a therapeutic context, but one of the lasting benefits is the permanent reclamation of what we call an open, healthy, breath (initiated in the diaphragm, utilizing the entire respiratory system with the exhale relaxed). We teach our students what an open, healthy breath is and feels like, which enables them to experience the ongoing physical and psychological benefits it can make in their daily lives.
Somatic Breath Therapy is founded upon the principle that the therapeutic container (relationship) is as important as what you put in it (the therapeutic tool or technique).
What Makes Somatic Breath Therapy Unique?
Somatic Breath Therapy evolved from the most efficacious aspects of Rebirthing, Holotropic, Transformational, and Therapeutic Breathwork.
Somatic Breath Therapy:
- Works in conjunction with Mindfulness as a beneficial tool for developing awareness, self-regulation and self-improvement.
- Can be delivered using touch, or not, depending on the client, provider and situation. SBT uses a one-size-does-NOT-fit-all approach.
- Supports our clients in re-engaging with their body’s stories in a safe, consciously-interactive, emotionally-supportive and integrative environment. We work through facilitated breathing sessions, each session customized by an experienced practitioner. We believe that healing does not necessarily require the client to re-experience any trauma.
- Our practitioners ‘walk the talk’ beginning with their own breath. We breathe – they breathe: we teach our practitioners to synchronize their body awareness with their clients’ by breathing with them during key moments in the session. This allows them to maintain an emotionally and somatically attuned relationship.
- Above all else, we embrace and collaborate with the presence of a “third thing”, which we call Body Breathing Interactive Intelligence (BBQ) (sometimes referred to as Spirit of Breath) as an integral aspect that guides the maximum healing benefit.
- Makes an important distinction between authentic emotional release and dramatic expression. Authentic emotional release coupled with relaxed breathing can produce lasting healing benefits; whereas dramatic expression only offers a temporary reduction of emotional intensity. We train our practitioners to feel and know the difference.
- Addresses both the clients’ state of consciousness – the ‘aha’s or insights that are triggered by therapeutic or growth inducing experiences – and the clients stage of development represented by the actual markers we all grow through. For example, once a child learns to walk, it can always walk. Once you reach a stage of development, you can always access the qualities of that stage. We believe the key to sustained healing and transformation comes from addressing both a person’s state of consciousness and their stage of development.
- Addresses therapeutic concerns such as re-traumatization, transference, countertransference, ethical practice standards, referral, and establishing a safe and empathic therapeutic container.
How Is Somatic Breath Therapy Done?
Somatic Breath Therapy is done either sitting up or lying down on the back, the breath is intentionally engaged in a conscious, connected and relaxed fashion. With no pauses between inhale and exhale, and can flow either in and out of the nose or mouth. By breathing this way your body naturally begins to release physical tension and surface levels of stress. Then, as you learn to breathe diaphragmatically and to relax your exhale, this type of breathing has the capacity to release deeper emotional and mental patterns.
By breathing in an open, relaxed way, your body begins to create an increased state of energy called Activation that helps to uncover, release and integrate physical, emotional and mental patterns. By establishing a firm foundation of relational safety and breathing in this somatically-guided way, your brain and body learn to integrate what no longer serves as healthy attitudes and outlooks on life.
Somatic Breath Therapy is learned in a series of one-on-one sessions with a skilled practitioner (usually two hours in length) and also by doing group sessions, classes and/or workshops utilizing several trained facilitators. The group work is done in a safe, confidential and intentional environment and utilizes the power of the group to effect deep, personal change. The individual work is ideal for deepening personal awareness, identifying core patterns and anchoring an open, healthy breath over the long term. Ideally, both approaches are used to fully incorporate the power of this tool to uplift lives and relationships to the outside world.
A Deeper View: The Core Philosophy and Principles of Somatic Breath Therapy
- Everything breathes: breathing is the inspiration of Life within all living forms of reality. All matter is in a continual state of particle exchange. In humans, breathing is a natural, self-regulating, biological function that renews life, initiates awareness and integrates mind-body functioning in time and space.
- Breath communicates, inside and out. The natural rhythm of inhalation and exhalation promotes movement, function and energetic exchange within all the body’s major systems as well as within the surrounding environment. Your current rate and rhythm of respiration reflects your current state of health, the nature of what you are experiencing as well as the nature of your connection to life and the world at large.
- Your body doesn’t lie, and is a record of your past. In most situations during unpleasant or traumatic experience, breathing is mildly or severely limited in an attempt to minimize pain. Excessive and/or long-term (un-integrated) experience usually results in excessive or long-term restricted breathing patterns in the body (suppressions), which eventually get reflected as negative emotional and/or energetic dysfunctions within various systems of the mind-body.
- Conscious Breathing is a choice that elicits conscious awareness. Human respiration is either unconscious/autonomic or conscious/voluntary. Choosing to breathe with no pauses in a connected fashion (Somatic Breathing) propels an increase of awareness within the body’s physical, energetic, and perceptual systems, and inspires an increased interchange between a person’s conscious and subconscious mind; a state called Activation.
- Somatic Breathing is self-regulating and intelligent. The degree to which a person can consciously open and move their breath reflects their current ability to access and work with suppressed, un-integrated material. Somatic Breathing suggests the presence and engagement of a Body-Breathing Interactive Intelligence (BBQ) that appears in the space in between conscious relationship, breathing and awareness, and appears to self-regulate the course, direction and depth of therapeutic inquiry and integration.
- You can’t think your way through a breath session. Somatic Breathing initiates a physiological and energetic state of inspiration that causes a shift of consciousness transcending normal mind-body function and response. The result, called Breathwork Activation, is a dynamic and energetic process that cannot be fully comprehended or controlled by the cognitive mind.
- Your body naturally knows how to heal itself. Left alone, dysfunctional patterns of energy in the body, tend to reveal and intensify themselves through corresponding thoughts, behaviors, relationships and/or experiences in life for the purpose of awareness, resolution and integration. Somatic Breathing accelerates this process by drawing out past patterns to be met and engaged by the powerful presence of increased breath awareness.
- Let go and let gravity: complete relaxation of the breath provides for relaxation of the body and the mind. How you hold onto and/or control your exhale during therapeutic breathing largely mirrors how your mind holds onto fear-based beliefs that show up as tensions in the body. During therapeutic breathing, learning how to relax the entire physiology during exhalation promotes the softening and release of old energetic patterns.
- Breath awareness happens NOW. Breath awareness and technique sponsors the experience of being fully aware and awake right now. With the practice of conscious focal attention (Mindfulness), awareness seems to expand, thoughts and emotions become more regulated and there is a noticeable increase in a person’s ability to respond consciously and flexibly. With deeper practice, Somatic Breathing can offer the opportunity to energetically rewrite reactive patterns by encouraging a relaxed response within an engaged but safe present.
- Breath follows awareness, and awareness follows breath. The movement of the human respiratory system acts like an energy-awareness pump in the body. It’s as if you are saying with each breath, “Here, Now… Here, Now…” Somatic Breathing inspires a process within which wherever you focus awareness in the body, breath energy will follow; and wherever you focus breath energy in the body, awareness will follow.
- Let the Breath do the work. Healing in Somatic Breathing seems to take place when the breather achieves a Balance of Attention and Activation between past and present, emotion and breath, personal and higher will, i.e. when a sufficient level of breathwork activation meets the current level of emotional/energetic re-engagement. Above all, the breath is encouraged to be the primary catalyst of change, not simply the actions of applied thought, expectation or will.
- How a body breathes generally reflects how a person lives. The current amount and movement of uninhibited breathing within a person’s body, consciously or subconsciously, is a reflection of the current level of natural living or uninhibited response in a person’s life. The more a person’s respiration has been opened up, the better he or she can handle stress, remain present and achieve equanimity in their lives.
- Conscious Breathing leads to conscious living. Over time, long-term Somatic Breathing creates a sense of inner peace and well-being that tends to prioritize one’s values according to their highest purpose for being, healthy life function and meaningful interaction in the world. This prioritization of value supports the conscious choices that can ultimately lead to authenticity, fair exchange, compassionate living and peaceful co-existence.
- Conscious, connected breathing is the foundation of a conscious, collaborative community. Sharing the air with those in proximity to you automatically creates deeper feelings of connection that transcend all perceived separations and divisions. Over time, shared, Conscious Breathing in community nourishes the highest collaboration for the highest good of all.
Mindfulness Meditation and the Vagus Nerve Share Many Powers
Mindfulness and vagus nerve stimulation can optimize the default mode network.
Posted Feb 05, 2016
This morning, I noticed an exciting correlation between two new studies which separately identified that optimizing the functional brain connectivity of the default mode network (DMN) can have significant psychological and physical health benefits.
The first study found that stimulating the vagus nerve dramatically reduces the severity of depression. The second study found that mindfulnessmeditation also optimized functional connectivity of the default mode network which lowered inflammation and improved the brain’s ability to manage stress and anxiety.
After reading dozens of new scientific studies over coffee this morning, I had an ‘aha’ moment when I realized that these two studies—both published in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry—are using similar language to describe very different research.
Both of these studies offer holistic ways to optimize the functional connectivity of the default mode network using non-pharmacological interventions that have the power to improve psychological and physical well-being.
Non-Invasive Vagus Nerve Stimulation Can Significantly Reduce Depression
The first study used a new non-invasive vagus nerve stimulator (tVNS) to improve functional connectivity of the default mode network which reduced symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD).
The February 2016 study, “Transcutaneous Vagus Nerve Stimulation Modulates Default Mode Network in Major Depressive Disorder,” was published in Biological Psychiatry. This research was a collaborationbetween the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences and Harvard Medical School.
Patients with major depressive disorder who volunteered to participate in this study either received the new transcutaneous VNS or a ‘sham’ VNS, which served as a placebo. Then, they underwent a functional neuroimaging (fMRI) scan both before and after one month of treatment. When the researchers compared patients who received real or sham VNS, they found that the patients who received real VNS showed significant improvement of their depressive symptoms
The real breakthrough of this new vagus nerve stimulator is that it’s inexpensive and completely non-invasive. The device sits in the ear like a pair of headphones. Traditional VNS is a neurostimulation technique that has been used to alleviate treatment-resistant symptoms of depression. Typically, VNS is costly and requires potentially risky neurosurgery to implant the device.
In a press release, lead author Peijing Rong concluded, “This non-invasive, safe and low cost method of depression treatment can significantly reduce the severity of depression in patients and shows promise for future use.”
Mindfulness Meditation Alters Default Mode Network Brain Connectivity
The second study identified that practicing mindfulness meditation improves the functional connectivity of the default mode network which lowers a biomarker for inflammation (Interleukin-6) while improving executive control and stress resilience.
The Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers identified how mindfulness meditation optimizes brain connectivity and lowers stress. The fMRI brain scans from this study showed that mindfulness meditation training increased the functional connectivity of the participants’ resting default mode network in areas directly linked to attentionand executive control
The February 2016 study, “Alterations in Resting State Functional Connectivity Link Mindfulness Meditation with Reduced Interleukin-6: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” was published in Biological Psychiatry.
For this randomized controlled trial, 35 job-seeking, adults—who were experiencing the stress of unemployment—were enrolled in an intensive three-day mindfulness meditation retreat program or a well-matched relaxation retreat program that did not have a mindfulness component.
The participants who completed the mindfulness meditation program showed changes in brain functional connectivity and reduced Interleukin-6 which accounted for the lower inflammation levels. Participants who relaxed, but didn’t practice mindfulness meditation, did not show similar outcomes.
In a press release, David Creswell, lead author and associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences at CMU, said,
“We’ve now seen that mindfulness meditation training can reduce inflammatory biomarkers in several initial studies, and this new work sheds light into what mindfulness training is doing to the brain to produce these inflammatory health benefits.
We think that these brain changes provide a neurobiological marker for improved executive control and stress resilience, such that mindfulness meditation training improves your brain’s ability to help you manage stress, and these changes improve a broad range of stress-related health outcomes, such as your inflammatory health.
Conclusion: Mindfulness Meditation and Vagus Nerve Stimulation As a Dynamic Duo
The most exciting aspect of these studies is the prospect of combining mindfulness meditation with the new non-invasive vagus nerve stimulator to create a double whammy that leads to a wide range of psychological and physical health benefits.
Currently, I listen to an ‘Om/Aum’ playlist from iTunes when practicing my daily mindfulness meditation. I can easily see plugging in the new VNS headphone-like device while meditating to reap all the benefits of both mindfulness meditation and vagus nerve stimulation simultaneously.
Both of these studies offer inexpensive and effective ways to improve people’s health without the use of pharmaceuticals or invasive surgeries. Stay tuned for more on the fascinating interconnections between the vagus nerve, mindfulness meditation, and the default mode network.
To read more on this topic, check out my Psychology Today blog posts,
- “How Does the Vagus Nerve Convey Gut Instincts to the Brain?“
- “The Neurobiology of Grace Under Pressure“
- “Psychotherapy Can Dramatically Improve Your “Gut-Brain Axis”“
- “10 Ways Mindfulness and Meditation Promote Well-Being“
- “The Neuroscience of Mindfulness Meditation and Pain Relief“
- “How Does Meditation Reduce Anxiety at a Neural Level?“
- “5 Neuroscience Based Ways to Clear Your Mind“
© 2016 Christopher Bergland. All rights reserved.
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