I’m lying on the floor in a dark room with at least 20 strangers in a state of complete bliss. A tingly feeling courses through my body, but I feel it the most in my arms. They are pinned to the floor, seemingly paralyzed, although I’m sure I could move them if I tried. But I don’t want to. I’m afraid it might interrupt this feeling, and there’s nothing I would do to jeopardize that.
Minutes earlier I finished a vigorous breathing exercise known as breathwork that offers to Kondo your psyche by releasing stuck energy and emotions. Like reiki, crystals, and other forms of energetic healing, it’s hard to say how it works, but those who practice breathwork vouch for its ability to release tension and clear the mind. Plus, there is evidence it leads to positive changes in temperament, improved self-awareness, reduced anxiety and depression, and — if you’re lucky — altered states of consciousness.
I can’t say I met god in my euphoria, but they weren’t missed. I felt too good to miss anyone, including my ex-girlfriend, who I stopped speaking to three weeks earlier. The decision unleashed a torrent of complicated feelings and delayed grief over a relationship that officially ended nine months earlier, making me a strong candidate for a class called “Breathwork for Releasing Toxic Relationships.”
“Breathing can change you. Connecting to your body can change you.”
Held at the crystal-studded store and holistic healing center Maha Rose on a Friday night in Brooklyn, New York, the sold-out, two-hour class follows the same format as every other breathwork workshop I’ve taken over the last year: introductions, journaling, and 35 minutes of active breathing followed by 20 or so minutes lying in a Savasana-like state lapping up the endorphin-induced after-effects of the session. It’s similar to holotropic breathwork, a practice developed in the ’60s by a psychiatrist looking for a natural alternative to psychedelics, and it has made a comeback in recent years.
Regardless of the theme (which can range from forgiveness to self-worth to manifestation), the active breathing and relaxation stages are always the same, but what you’re asked to journal differs. In this case, we begin by writing a letter to the person who brought us to the workshop as well as a list of things about them or the relationship we’re grateful for. It is a task I find far easier than I imagined I would. While the point is pure intention-setting, it works me up just enough to feel ready to unleash pent-up anger, sadness, and fear.
I use the feeling to get me through the first few minutes of breathwork, which consists of a three-part breath done in and out through the mouth. You inhale into your belly, then transfer the breath up into your chest, exhale, and rinse and repeat nonstop for just over a half-hour. At first, it’s uncomfortable but not painful. It feels like work. Not breathing through my nose leaves me feeling congested within minutes, but I soon settle into a rhythm and am carried along by percussion-heavy, mostly lyric-free music designed to move you through the practice without getting caught up in memories attached to songs.
The playlist is curated by Regina Rocke, a dancer turned yoga teacher, Ayurveda practitioner, and breathwork facilitator, who is leading the workshop. When I ask Regina how much one session can really help a person move on from a relationship, she says she’s leery of telling people they need a strict protocol for engaging in breathwork, but like so many things, more is more.
“The more you do it, the more you will experience profound change and growth,” she explains. “Think of how you feel when taking in a deep, deep breath and then exhaling, consciously releasing tension from your physical body. Imagine doing that over and over for 35 minutes and notice how that changes you physically, emotionally, and energetically. Breathing can change you. Connecting to your body can change you.”
By the time I leave the class not a half-hour after I found myself in that euphoric state, the high begins to wear off. The next morning it is gone, but something has shifted. I can now see that I have an entire life that existed — and continues to exist — outside my relationship with my ex.
It’s now been a week, and in that time, I’ve struggled with all the same emotions and thought-spirals as before, but I’ve found myself increasingly able to pull myself up out of them. And for that alone, I’d say the class was worth it.