What Does It Mean If You Don't Cry During a Breathwork Session?
Even after many breathwork sessions, some people continue to struggle to fully let go. The body is the warehouse of emotions, storing old memories, traumas, and anxiety and stress. We tend to think that our mind is the warehouse of emotions and memories, but our bodies hold a lot more than we realize.
Breathwork is a powerful technique that fosters cathartic releases of emotional and physical energy, but sometimes the energy can become stuck, and it is difficult to really let go and surrender into the experience. There are a few issues that come to mind when I think about cathartic releases and breathwork.
First, it seems that many facilitators, including myself, talk about and share experiences of full emotional and physical releases during a breathwork session that may have resulted in a total breakdown and crying. While breathwork can certainly foster this type of experience, it is important to remember that each person's process is different. I tend to believe that if you are not crying during a breathwork session, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe you are not ready to let go and that is ok! It is important to trust your body and not to force anything to happen. When we force the experience, the body's nervous system can become overwhelmed, resulting in either a re-traumatizing or negative experience.
The second thing that comes to mind is safety. If a person is holding trauma in the body, which many of us are in some capacity, it is important to be able to feel safe and also be supported in a safe container. The body will not be able to let go or let its guard down if it does not feel safe. When it comes to breathwork sessions, safety and creating a safe container are the most important factors. There are various approaches to breathwork, each has their pros and cons.
If you are doing breathwork alone ask yourself, "Do I feel comfortable to fully let go and surrender by myself?" or "Am I creating a safe container for myself?" Solo breathwork sessions can be transformative, but breathing alone may also come with the difficulty of fully surrendering to the process. Breathing alone can be great for short sessions, but the longer and fuller sessions should require a sitter, facilitator, or guide of some sort.
Longer sessions can sometimes foster the release of deeper emotions that may not be accessible during shorter sessions. In this case, the help of a professional can be extremely important as they are helping to create a safe space for the breather to fully express and explore her or his experience. There is a process called, Double Bookkeeping that happens in breathwork. Double bookkeeping is when the breather may feel like they are actually reliving a past memory or trauma but also knows that they are breathing in a room. This is why longer breathwork sessions are not advised or recommended. A facilitator can create space for the breather to fully engage in a holotropic state without needing to keep some awareness in the physical world. For example, if you live with people, you may not be able to fully pay attention to the process as your anxiety might peak thinking about someone entering the room or having something disturb you. Having a sitter or guide to assist can reassure that if anything comes up, the sitter/guide will be able to tend to the situation while you stay in the experience.
One solo breathwork session I did consisted of this scenario. I was going deep into my process - crying, moving around, screaming, and coughing. All of a sudden, the dogs began barking and I thought someone was coming home, so I slowed my process down to make sure I did not look "too crazy" if someone did come home. The dogs also interrupted my process and activated a stress response within me, thinking that they needed my attention or that someone would be walking in on my session.
I have created a safe setting and have been doing work with a sitter, but I still cannot cry or have a release
While I believe safety and having a safe container is extremely important for allowing the body and mind to let go, sometimes energy is still stuck and not able to move. There have been times when I thought I felt safe and able to really dive into my experience, but there still felt like something was stopping me. When we are dealing with old traumas or blocks, it often takes multiple times and a lot of work to move into that space. These might be issues that have been repressed so much that it takes a while to gain access because it might be too overwhelming for our body and psyche to process.
Tips on Working with Repressed or Blocked Emotions
- Take it slow: When we work blocks in the body and psyche, it is important to take it slow.
- Do not force the process and practice patience: Again, do not force anything to happen. Allow the process to unfold and trust it. Granted, there are times when action is needed, but it is important to really trust your body on this one. There have been times where I thought I worked through the blocks in a particular area of my life so much that I would be done exploring it, but the opposite has been true, I have just been peeling layers back. Each time I go into that space, I begin to learn a little more about the old wound, block, or trauma, that I learn to let go a little more. This may take time. When I say time, I am talking about months or years. The bigger the blockage, the longer it can take to work through the material.
- Tune into the body: During your breathwork session, pay attention to how your body is feeling. Do you notice any sensations or feelings in a particular part of your body when you breathe? For example, I can sometimes locate fear and anxiety in my stomach. When I locate it and focus on the feeling in that location, it makes my stomach feel like it is in knots.
- Breathe into the feeling or emotion: What does it feel like to breathe into that feeling or space? What happens when you breathe deep and fast into that space or emotion? Practice breathing into the uncomfortable feeling or sensations and be open to exploring it. As you breathe into this space or feeling, can you track how it shifts or what it is telling you?
- Make it bigger: As you breathe deeper into the sensation, feeling or emotion that you h ave located in your body, what does it feel like to make that feeling bigger? What happens if you let that feeling take over and spread throughout your body instead of holding onto it? Can you let go of the feeling and let it flow throughout other areas?
- Express it: If the feeling or emotion begins to move as it gets bigger, can you express it? Does it have a sound? Does it have a voice? Does that feeling or emotion want to say anything? Does it want to move? Or does it want to be released? If you feel safe, feel free to express that emotion or feeling by crying, screaming, laughing. moving,shaking, or etc.
If you feel frustrated that you are not crying or have a "deep" experience with breathwork, do not give up. It takes a while for our minds to trust our body and psyche. It is a slow process at times. Patience is key - even though we like quick fixes.
There is an assumption that techniques like breathwork can be transformative and be healing after a few sessions, but the years of practice and interest in healing, I am not just beginning to understand that it can be a much longer journey. Breathwork and other sacred technologies can open us up very quickly and show us quick insights, but the real work begins after the session ends.