by Julien Devereux, Ph.D., LCSW, LCDC
Edited and posted by Alysson Troffer, The Inner Door Editor, InnerDoor (at) ahbi.org
[Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the May 2008 issue of The Inner Door. Julien is a practitioner and trainer of Integrative Breathwork. Although some of his opinions might not reflect the principles of Holotropic Breathwork, we wanted to offer you this insightful view of integration.]
Here is an example of how encountering an archetype in breathwork can become a way to heal and integrate. A woman who had been in therapy for several years had difficulty asserting herself in her life in many ways. She often expressed this difficulty as not being able to find her power. She had also been suicidal and depressed during this time. During a breathwork, she had a vision of a lioness whose head was covered with blood. The lioness was killing all kinds of animals and at one point turned on her. She had a moment in which she communicated with the lioness, this powerful part of herself, and wondered if the lioness would kill her. It did not. She felt a healing around her suicide and depression, and never again experienced a suicidal depression at the same level.
I had a vision at the end of a breathwork session that was unmistakably Michael, the Archangel of the Lord. Michael was completely foreign to my religious upbringing as a non-mystical Methodist who had a passing acquaintance with saints. He announced who he was and said he was here to “help me fight evil.” In spite of my cynicism, I felt lifted up physically and experienced a strong sense of power with a distinct feeling that God was on my side. This feeling has never left me. A participant who had been raised as a Catholic asked if Michael had a sword. I said he did. She said that he is the only armed angel.
To the inexperienced observer, this encounter might sound like the fruits of an overactive imagination. However, when such encounters occur, they feel more real than ordinary consciousness. After such an encounter, the power of the archetype is available to the experiencer and must be acknowledged and integrated; otherwise, the experiencer is at risk of this powerful energy reverting to and hiding in a shadow version of itself.
The truth not only needs to be understood, it must be withstood.
~ Ravi Ravindra
Integration after breathwork is as important as closing the incision after surgery. Breathwork opens and awakens so many unused and atrophied aspects of our consciousness, and breathers might be unaware of how these new aspects of consciousness are operating in their lives. As described in poetry and sacred texts, these transformative experiences make all things new. Everything the eyes see looks different. The body feels new and revitalized, or just born, uncoordinated and out of control. Trapped and frozen emotions released or expressed in the breathwork might produce a feeling of emptiness, openness, or vulnerability, leaving the breather feeling insecure; or, emotions are suddenly at the surface and easily triggered by events that previously had no impact.
Habits, relationships, work environments, and daily routines that were acceptable before the breathwork might suddenly seem like a surreal or scary movie that the breather has difficulty relating to, or these aspects might take on a new and sacred meaning in the breather’s life. Acting on these new perceptions must be done cautiously after several weeks to allow full integration of the experience. Quitting a job, filing for divorce, or making major purchases must be done with a normal waking consciousness.
Tools of Integration
The first tool of integration is the silent savoring of all the sensual, physical, emotional, and spiritual healing from the experience without the premature involvement of the intellectual process of analyzing the experience. For many breathers, the intellect is overly valued, and analysis of the experience seems urgent. However, analysis might truncate other aspects of knowing through the senses, the body, and the emotions. Remaining in the breathwork space and enjoying the peaceful music played at the end of the session allows the psyche to drink up the healing and form new neural pathways in the brain. This time I allow for myself is the most delicious part of my experience, and I cherish it.
Creating a visual representation of the experience in the form of a mandala allows expression of precognitive processes from an intuitive part of the psyche. It also allows symbolic and archetypal images to manifest without the conscious intention of the breather. These images can be discovered, explored, and identified during the group process and through the breather’s relationship with them over time. I have saved all my mandalas with the intention of assembling a scrapbook of my spiritual journey.
A major component of the integration process is the group sharing of the mandala. Allowing the breather to tell the story of her experience and assign her own meaning and significance to the mandala within the context of a safe, supportive group grounds the experience for most people. Even those who are unsure of the meaning of their experience can benefit when they hear the perceptions of others in the group as they respond to the breather’s artwork and story, and as they share their own. Whether through identification or disidentification, the breather begins to define and integrate the experience in collaboration with the group.
After the breathwork session or workshop has concluded, bodywork, yoga, meditation, and other forms of body-centered, experiential processes can aid integration. Specific foods that are in line with one’s own dietary discipline can also provide essential physical grounding.
Continuing to view the mandala, journaling about the experience, and further engaging in the expressive arts can also help, as can traditional therapeutic tools. Follow-up group and individual sessions with a therapist with a transpersonal perspective, twelve-step meetings, or twelve-step work with a sponsor can continue the sometimes difficult process of integrating this powerful experience that has expanded one’s worldview or rattled one’s paradigm. Inventories of specific biographical events or relationships or behavior patterns can also assist in extracting meaning and making significant changes in attitudes and behavior. Exploration of feelings about the experience through empty chair work, creative visualizations, non-dominant handwriting exercises, or self-regulating meditation exercises can help integrate feelings.
Julien Devereux, Ph.D., LCSW, LCDC, is a consultant and coach in clinical practice, organizational development, and program management. A certified facilitator of Satyana Institute’s Gender Reconciliation program, he serves on the senior staff at Eupsychia Institute in Austin, Texas, where he leads training programs in Integrative Breathwork. He completed his Ph.D. at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco in Human and Organizational Transformation.
Supporting Holotropic Breathwork and the Association for Holotropic Breathwork International (AHBI). You can help support Holotropic Breathwork and AHBI by joining as a member or donating. Please help us get the word out about Holotropic Breathwork and its benefits, especially at this time of decision on our planet.
Spread the Word on Your Networks. Please let others in your networks know about Holotropic Breathwork and AHBI. Use the buttons by this post to spread the word. It only takes a moment and can have a major effect. Thanks!