From what I was told, the benefits of rebirthing are numerous - from expelling past traumas and curing depression to alleviating chronic asthma. In fact, it was this last benefit that lured me to attend my first practice session. I was in a hopeful frame of mind, and curious about how I was going to access the ‘core' of my being through correct breathing.
The concept of rebirthing has attracted a great deal of controversy and misperception. However, I soon discovered that the therapy is tried and tested, conceptualised by one of the fathers of modern spiritual awareness, Leonard Orr.
Contrary to popular belief (as I discovered from talking to friends), rebirthing does not pull us back into the quagmire of our murky past, so that we are drawn into the pain or ‘drama' of that given moment. Nor do we regress through a semi-hypnotic state to the primal ‘trauma' that we all apparently underwent the day we were born.
Rebirthing is all about learning to breathe deeply in a flowing rhythm, enabling us to merge inhalation and exhalation in a single breath. Orr described it as ‘unity of being experienced physiologically'.
Lamia Hariri, House of Chi's resident rebirther and meditation teacher expands on this more clearly. “The optimum healthy breath rate is six to eight breaths per minute, but the average person's resting breath rate is much higher than this, breathing 12 to14 times per minute. This is much above the optimum level and occurs because most of us tend to take shallow rather than deeper breaths, which results in a reduction of our oxygen intake and our body's ability to expel carbon dioxide.
“If you consider the amount of years we breathe at this increased but reduced quality rate, you can begin to imagine that it has an effect on our body. In actual fact, we spend most of our lives sub-ventilating and therefore reducing the level of oxygen in the blood”.
So, Lamia's task for the day was to begin to work with me and help alleviate my shallow and sometimes laboured breathing – exacerbated by asthma - by teaching me deep, diaphragmatic breathing. I was told this would “cleanse my energy field from so-called ‘psychic dirt', the mind from negative ‘mental mass' and the body from physical tension and illness”.
As I unfurled myself on the couch, I found that it is actually impossible not to feel instantly relaxed in what must be one of the calmest corners of Bur Dubai, most certainly designed with Feng Shui principles at its core.
This atmosphere was ideal as all systems of breath power work, such as rebirthing are based on the premise of achieving greater inner stillness as opposed to forcing outer ‘action'. This is reached by merging the inner life force or ‘chi' with the outer breath, or ‘air', so as to bring about a more uniform breathing mechanism.
Why is this conscious process of slowing down the breath so vital and energising? Because with the right facilitator at hand to guide us through the ‘meanderings' of our breathing, it will immediately bring down stress levels which can be caused by ill health, lifestyle, work - or even all three.
After the initial session that lasted well over our initial one-hour allocation, I felt relaxed to the point of inebriation. My seratonin or endorphin ‘feel-good' hormones were sky high. The breath work session had definitely altered me on all levels, not least on the biochemical front. I was also breathing more steadily, without rasping or coughing as I often find the norm.
Lamia recommended that I go for ten such sessions, each of which would eventually teach me the quick re-energising techniques necessary to help me overcome feeling drained and ill. In the process she claimed that I would also begin to automatically start eating healthier, feel more confident, in control and require less sleep. Apparently this is because with proper oxygenation to the blood, all the bodies' faculties work more efficiently. We are therefore calmer, happier and sharper.
So how do we take our breath work deeper? Although it is not necessary for everyone, rebirthing can also serve as a psychologically curative process. The healer takes us back into the inner recesses of our consciousness, to painful or traumatic moments in our lives that are subconsciously impeding us from living to our maximum potential. I was told that rebirthing can force out these past negative memories by literally ‘shoving' them out via our breath.
Does this sound scary? It doesn't have to be. Lamia explained that a ‘release' is obtained followed by an immediate improvement. The person may cry, but they do not actively relive the horror of their often-suppressed memory. This type of therapy is often suggested as an adjunct to psychotherapy in cases of physical or childhood abuse for example.
But fortunately for me, all I wanted was a bit of a break from my inhaler. And rebirthing certainly got me breathing calmer, deeper and altogether better.
Lamia has a word of caution on group breathwork for those experiencing rebirthing for the first time. She says, “According to Leonard Orr and even my own personal experience, group breathwork is of the lowest quality as you are bound to take in a lot of negativity from others in the group and one facilitator is physically unable to attend to more than one person, no matter how qualified he or she may be. It is preferable to opt for private sessions, whereby the client has the full attention of the facilitator, especially in the event they experience a ‘release'.”