“Be ready for the best kind of trauma you will feel,” when a friend recommended a shamanic breathwork session she attended in Goa, I was intrigued. Unlike the kind of breathing I’m used to doing every morning when I meditate (inhaling and exhaling from the nose), shamanic breathwork follows the Wim Hof method—taking long deep breaths in from the nose, releasing them from the mouth unforced—in a connected flow, like smooth waves running through your body. It releases you in many ways. Was I ready for a three hour session to reach that liberated state of mind?
Balance of breath and body
“Shamanic breathwork is a guided circular breathing technique incorporating the use of breath retention and toning (making the sounds of the chakras) where participants lay down whilst listening to rhythmic music, guided by a facilitator,” explains Hazel Joanna, who led the session I attended. If done regularly and correctly under a guide, this method can increase circulation and red blood cells, detoxify and energise the body, regulate the nervous system, strengthen the respiratory system, and also help fend anxiety and depression (best avoided for those with heart conditions or epilepsy). “You can also enter the theta brainwave state, where you can heal subconscious patterns and various things that may have caused you problems in life,” says Joanna. We were a group of 6 in a sheltered space surrounded by abundant trees, filled with the smells and sounds of morning dew and sprightly birds, and calming smoke that lingered in the air. Facing a beautifully adorned altar that Joanna was adding finishing touches to, we settled on our mats. “Each session is very ceremonial,” she says. “I set the space with crystals and flowers and cleanse it with sacred smoke. The altar helps to create the highest vibrations in the space and the crystals help in transforming any heavy energies which may arise from anyone's processes.” This ritual before beginning the session helps her focus on her intentions, and connect to the elements, the earth and the highest frequencies of divine light to be present and to create a tight container for people to journey in. We were asked to set an intention of what we would like to work on—and we could choose to share it. We shared, surprisingly not so hesitantly. It felt like a safe space. Joanna began the session by warming up our bodies with a combination of yoga, qigong and dance, followed by a set of pranayamas to prep our lungs. At a point we all danced like no one was watching, something that everyone should do more often. Once Joanna was sure we were ready, we laid down, closed our eyes and it began—the circular, connected breathing, under the rhythmic influence of meditative shamanic music and our teacher. Due to Joanna’s constant motivation and encouragement, we went on and on, breathing in life force deeply, releasing tension freely, without drifting off. She also made bodily adjustments to help us move effortlessly.
The connected movement of breath restores and enhances equilibrium between the mind and body, and creates a balance in our internal systems. “It is common for participants to enter altered states of consciousness; they may have visions or 'aha moments' (get insights to certain issues in life),” explains Joanna. Five minutes into it, and my body and breath aligned, making this feel like the most natural thing to do; in the last few minutes, I felt light as a feather, joyous and ‘released’. I could hear one of the participants crying on my side, a vague, distant sound. “Various emotions can arise, from laughing to tears to sheer bliss. It's not uncommon for trauma to come up to be released. You may also experience cramping like sensations in the body, particularly the hands which is an indication of energy beginning to move,” says Joanna. Finally, we all languigly opened our eyes and thanked Joanna, collectively and heavily oxygenated. I didn’t realise my body and lungs’ potential to simply, only and really breathe freely for fifteen minutes, non-stop, until I did it.
As I write this, I am glad I know that sometimes when I need to ‘feel free’, all I need to do is breathe.