In 1993 I attended the Association for Humanistic Psychology Conference in Indianapolis. I was exposed for the first time to two powerful healing modalities: Breathwork and Inner Bonding. Little did I know at the time that I would go on to use both of these for my own healing process and eventually integrate the two in my work with clients. As a psychotherapist and a breathworker it is my deepest desire to assist clients in listening more deeply to their authentic self. The voice of the authentic self is a subtle voice that can so easily be crowded out by obligations or pushed aside until later (many times later never comes). Inner Bonding and Breathwork are two of the best ways I know of to reconnect with this authentic self.
Inner Bonding was developed by Dr. Erika Chopich and Dr. Margaret Paul. It was first presented in their book Healing Your Aloneness. The process evolved and Dr. Margaret Paul went on to publish Inner Bonding and her latest book Do I Have To Give Up Me To Be Loved By God? One of the sayings we so often hear and say is “You really have to love yourself before you can really love another”. The question is, how do you do that? What does it look like to really love yourself? Do we have role models for what it looks like to be loving towards ourselves? If we did not have parents who loved themselves it is difficult for us to learn how to do this. Our parents may have been loving to us and others but unloving to themselves.
Inner Bonding offers a road map on how to create an internal relationship that is loving and supportive. It is based on a six step process that can be used throughout the day to more deeply connect with the self and one’s spiritual connection. One of the goals of Inner Bonding is to develop an internal loving Adult who cares for the authentic self. In Inner Bonding the authentic self is referred to as the Child. We tend to be more open, caring and compassionate with a part of ourselves that we view as a child than as an adult. Also viewing this part as a child helps us to understand that this is a tender part of us that needs our attention, love and protection. Many people do not have an internal loving Adult because they themselves never received loving care from their parents and/or their parents did not love themselves and didn’t role model this. Most people tend to operate from a wounded child-adult aspect, a part of them that is modeled after their parent’s behavior towards them. This wounded child-adult has hundreds of false beliefs that were learned from parents and other caregivers. The six major false beliefs that tend to be most prevalent are:
1. There is something wrong with me. I’m unlovable, unworthy, inadequate, defective in some way.
2. I am powerless over how I feel. Other people or outside events are responsible for making me happy or unhappy.
3. Other people’s feelings are more important than mine, and I am responsible for their feelings.
4. I can control what others think of me, feel about me, and how they treat me.
5. Resisting others’ control over me is essential to my integrity.
6. I can’t handle pain, discomfort, fear, hurt, grief, anger, disconnection from others, boredom, disappointment, shame or aloneness.
These false beliefs of the wounded child-adult create a lot of pain both internally and in relationships with others. When there is no internal loving Adult the wounded child-adult is in charge of the system. If you can imagine your internal system as a bus and the wounded child-adult (who tends to be the age that it learned the false belief, let’s say 7 years old) is driving the bus and the Inner Child, the authentic self, is curled up in the back seat holding on for dear life! Many people are living their lives this way, operating from a wounded child-adult perspective. Another consequence of operating out of the wounded child-adult perspective is that people tend to recreate internally the same dynamic that they themselves grew up in. Let’s say someone was criticized constantly and told they were not good enough. There is a good chance that today in their inner relationship their wounded child-adult is critical of their Inner Child in the same way. This causes the continued low self-esteem and self-worth that was started in that person’s childhood. They may look to their parents as the cause of their low self-esteem without realizing that they are continuing it on the inner level.
It is a creative process to develop an internal loving Adult. Many people have a grandparent or family friend that was loving to them that they use as a role model for developing this. Sometimes they have a spiritual image that provides a loving role model. It is our job to make the choice to develop this loving Adult and then parent both the wounded child-adult and the Inner Child. This loving Adult can bring through the truth about the false beliefs that cause so much pain if they go unchallenged. When there is a loving Adult present the internal relationship is loving and supportive. Going back to our image of the bus, imagine a loving Adult entering the bus and tapping the wounded child-adult on the shoulder and saying, “I’m here now, you don’t have to do this big job. I can drive and take good care of both you and the Inner Child. You can relax and let go.” Sometimes people will balk at doing inner child work and think it is silly. It can be helpful for them to think of the child as the authentic self. I find that the people most resistant to the idea are often the people who need it the most. Inner Bonding facilitator Nancy Weston shared with me the following statement: “It is by going into the softness that we grow strong.”
Breathing has been used for thousands of years as a path of personal and psycho-spiritual development. One of the oldest yoga Textbooks dating back 4000 years is the Shiva Sutras. It is a manual on how to breathe to become centered. Pranayama is the yoga term for Breathwork. Prana means life energy and yama means to lengthen. The practice of pranayama is a means to enhance life energy through lengthening or deepening the breath. The ancient yogis probably were the first to discover the relationship between breathing and mental/emotional states. They noted that certain forms of breathing evoked corresponding mental states. Irregular, shallow breathing was seen to result in disturbances of mind, emotion and body. Full, relaxed smooth breathing was seen as an accompaniment of a quiet mind.
In the west, German psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich emerged in the early part of the last century as a pioneer in the field of psychology with his therapeutic use of breathing. He was an early associate of Sigmund Freud and pioneered the entire field of body centered therapy. One of Reich’s observations was that people tended to develop what he called body armor. Body armor is when we protect ourselves from painful feelings and experiences by withdrawing ourselves and erecting defenses. These defenses can take the form of chronic muscular tension. He noticed that when a client had a significant breakthrough in analysis there was often an accompanying release in muscular tension. Reich noticed that muscular armoring reduced the full range of vitality. Reich observed that breathing was always compromised when a person erected armor. When feelings were held in, the breath was held in. He had his patients lie down and breathe deeply through their mouths. As the breathing deepened and the muscle tensions released, often there were corresponding releases of deep emotion. Clients would cry, yell, laugh or shake in fear that had been held in the body.
One of the most recent outgrowths of Reich’s pioneering efforts is Rebirthing. Rebirthing was developed by Leonard Orr through his own personal experiences as he breathed in his bathtub. As he practiced deep breathing in warm water, he found himself activating birth memories and experiences (Hence, the term “Rebirthing.”) Over time, he discovered that the technique could be used on dry land with similar results. In Rebirthing people do not always go back to their birth experiences. They may go to childhood experiences or process recent emotions. Rebirthing can still be a fitting title for these experiences because people will have such transformative experiences that it feels like they are rebirthing into a new self.
Modern day Breathwork is diverse with styles including Holotropic, Integrative and Radiance to name a few. Many of these styles integrate Reichian aspects as well as Rebirthing techniques. They also may integrate work from different body centered therapies as well as psychological theories.
In the work that I do with clients I have the client lie down and breathe in full connected breathes. As they breathe they will have various body sensations. Examples could be a pain in a leg, tingling in hands, tightness in the chest. The body may feel warm or cold, with numbness or streaming sensations. As they continue to breathe and become more present to what is happening in their bodies, emotions may surface. This may be sadness, fear, grief, loneliness or anger from the past or present. The client can then breathe into the feeling and allow it to be fully expressed. They may express the feeling by crying, yelling, shaking their body, hitting a cushion, verbalizing the unexpressed feelings etc.
Each person expresses him or herself in a different way. It is important to continue to breathe while expressing the emotion so it can be fully released from the body. It is at this time that they are connected to their authentic self, their Inner Child. The child speaks to us through the body. Often at the end of the session people are surprised with what has surfaced and say, “I never knew that was inside of me.”; This can be an example of the disconnection with the Child/Body/Authentic self. If there was an ongoing true connection there would be no surprises.
When we ignore the child (the body) we tend to get louder and louder messages: the minor back pain turns into our back going out and we are unable to move. It takes time to learn what the message is and it is well worth the effort. The child/body wants us to be healthy, whole and in balance. It is important to utilize processes like Inner Bonding and Breathwork, any process that can bring you closer to your authenticity in the moment. It is through this deep listening to the body/child/authentic self, and responding to what is learned, that we build an internal loving relationship that nourishes us. It is from this connected, loving place that we are truly able to share love with those around us and contribute to a more loving world.
Credit goes to Carol Lampman for providing the background history of Breathwork.