In recent years, various forms of alternative therapy have emerged into the mainstream.
Whether it’s Forest Bathing or Laughter Yoga, more and more people are willing to try less traditional methods of gaining insight into the mind and body and tackling mental and physical health issues.
One method designed to do both those things is Rebirthing Therapy.
In this article, we’ll give you a complete guide to Rebirthing Breathwork, explaining these key points:
- What is Rebirthing Therapy?
- Origins of the method
- Uses of Rebirthing
- What a typical session looks like
- Does it really work?
- The risks of rebirthing therapy
Ready to dive in? Let’s get started.
What is rebirthing therapy?
Rebirthing breathwork is a form of alternative therapy that can be used in a number of different contexts. Centred on manipulating the breath over a sustained period of time, the technique is designed to help participants let go of suppressed emotions and feelings.
The Irish Times describes Rebirthing as “a breathing technique used principally as a psychotherapeutic tool to gain access to blocked experiences and emotions. It involves the individual doing a form of shallow breathing under the guidance of the rebirthing therapist.”
As the practice’s name suggests, this method is often used to revisit and resolve negative experiences and trauma from birth, infancy, or childhood.
However, Rebirthing therapy can have a number of other practical uses. We’ll get into them in more detail in a short while. But first, it’s worth addressing why people believe in this technique’s ability to help relieve suppressed trauma and emotion.
The thinking behind Rebirthing therapy is that our original entrances into the world are often defined by trauma, pain, and instability.
By participating in a kind of “re-birth”, one can do over those negative experiences and process blocked emotions, thus promoting healthier relationships throughout our lives.
So who came up with this idea? Let’s dig a little into the roots of the practice.
Where Did the Practice Come From?
New age spiritual guru Leonard Orr was the original inventor of Rebirthing breathwork.
The practice stemmed from a series of personal experiences. After noticing that spending long periods of time in the bath caused him to gain fascinating and revealing insights about himself, Orr began regularly taking extremely long baths on a regular basis.
During these bathing sessions, he would fight the urge to get out, a feeling which has been described as the Emotional or Psychological Urgency Barrier. According to advocates, pushing through in these moments is what leads to greater clarity and insight.
After developing his ideas throughout the 1960s, he began facilitating hot tub rebirths for willing participants. By 1975, a training system had been devised to expand the pool of qualified Rebirthing Therapy teachers.
So what exactly can this alternative therapy be used for? Let’s look into the main functions of Rebirthing breathwork.
Uses of Rebirthing
Due to its purpose of tackling repressed trauma, Rebirthing is often used to treat Reactive Attachment Disorder. However, there are a number of other mental and physical health issues that are sometimes treated using Rebirthing breathwork. These include:
- Depression and Anxiety
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Chronic Pain
- Low Self-Esteem
- Behavioural issues in children
- Self-destructive patterns and tendencies
- Drug or alcohol addiction
You’ll notice that this is a very wide spectrum of mental, emotional, and physical health issues. And while advocates of the practice cite its efficacy in dealing with a whole range of problems, health experts generally do not agree.
More on the scientific perspective shortly… first, let’s take you into a Rebirthing session and explain how this form of therapy works in practice.
How does rebirthing work?
The exact make-up of Rebirthing sessions depends on the individual and their treatment goals. However, there are a few things that can be pretty much guaranteed.
- Sessions will be led by trained instructors
- Generally, these will be one-on-one sessions
- The main technique used is Conscious Energy Breathing (CEB)
Here’s what a typical session might look like:
- First, you’ll settle into a comfortable position; this could be lying on a bed, wrapped in a blanket or submerged under with breathing apparatus attached — a trained instructor will guide you.
- You’ll begin to practise ‘circular breathing’, which involves taking quick, shallow breaths without any breaks between inhale and exhale. Often, this will be done for 1-2 hours (you can take breaks if needed).
- During this time, you’ll be told to expect a release of emotions, or the triggering of difficult childhood memories. You’ll aim to breathe in energy as well as oxygen.
- Breathwork exercises could make up the entirety of your session, but other techniques can be incorporated too.
- Sometimes, instructors will create a womb-like environment to further encourage the experience of “rebirthing” — for instance, blankets and pillows might be placed around you to form an enclosed space, which you’re then coached to escape from. Other alternative therapies such as the gong bath also use this technique.
- Similarly, participants could also be submerged in a bathtub or hot tub, and given breathing equipment such as a snorkel so that they can stay under.
These are the fundamentals of the practice, and most sessions won’t stray far from these basics, if at all.
Hopefully, you’ll understand the practice a little better now. So, it’s time to ask the big question — is Rebirthing actually effective?
Does Rebirthing Therapy Work?
While a number of people who have tried Rebirthing Therapy insist it can have immense positive effects, there is no scientific data backing up its efficacy.
Neither the American Academy of Pediatrics nor the American Psychiatric Association recognize the practice. Other international health organizations have warned against the use of this alternative therapy.
According to Irish Times Medical Correspondent Dr. Muiris Houston, “Rebirthing psychotherapy may work in a non-specific way to reduce anxiety and stress levels. I am not aware of clinical evidence to support its effectiveness in specific medical conditions.”
However, that doesn’t stop Rebirthing Breathwork International founder Leonard Orr from touring the world and sharing his method with huge swathes of followers. According to his organization, tens of thousands of people have been affected by the technique.
Techniques such as Deep Breathing or Square Breathing (which are the opposite of the shallow circular breathing of Rebirthing) have been scientifically proven to improve:
- Focus & Concentration
- Stress Levels
- Respiratory Health
Other breathwork practices such as the Wim Hof Method also cite similar benefits. Advocates of Rebirthing Breathwork insist that the practice can lead to a range of positive effects; however, at this time there is no scientific evidence to reinforce their testimonies.
You can find out more about the efficacy of Rebirthing Therapy here.
One of the main reasons scientists are reluctant to show support for the practice is that there have been some tragic cases of Rebirthing therapy gone wrong.
In the next section of this article, we’ll consider how safe this practice really is.
Is Rebirthing Risky?
It’s important to note that Rebirthing therapy is surrounded by its fair share of controversy.
As we’ve touched on, there is very little evidence supporting the efficacy of Rebirthing therapy. In some cases, it’s been proven to be dangerous.
Despite the relatively low risk of a normal rebirthing practice, there are more advanced types of rebirthing that exist, and they can be riskier.
One more complicated technique involves pushing past a physical barrier that represents the birth canal, and this can create serious risks, particularly for children and adolescents.
This was demonstrated by the tragic case of Candace Newmarker, a 10-year-old girl who died in 2001 during a rebirthing therapy session that lasted for over an hour.
The controversy around rebirthing rose dramatically after Newmarker’s death. In Colorado, the state in which she died, and North Carolina, the state she was born in, the technique was banned. Other US states such as Florida and Utah have also considered banning the practice.
In addition, more physically involved simulations of the childbirth experience (such as the underwater submersion we mentioned earlier) may have damaging effects such as oxygen deprivation and brain damage.
For that reason, if you feel dizzy or light-headed, or you experience any other negative side effects during practice, you should stop immediately.
While there are some risks and there have been some extreme cases, Rebirthing therapy is usually relatively risk-free.
As long as you’re supervised by a trained instructor and you don’t have any pre-existing heart or lung conditions, it is probably just as safe as other types of breathwork practice. The problems are usually outside of these professionally-conducted sessions.
That being said, while Rebirthing can be a beneficial complementary practice within the field of psychotherapy, it isn’t deemed suitable for psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, manic-depression, or paranoia.
Similarly, if you have a history of respiratory issues, it’s probably not a good idea.
Therefore, it’s hugely important to weigh any risks against any potential benefits when considering whether to try out this alternative therapy. As you might expect, most medical practitioners and counselors would not advise using this method.
A few hours of properly supervised shallow breathing therapy probably won’t cause you any harm; however, there’s also very little evidence to suggest that it will lead to some kind of transformative experience.
If you do want to try out Rebirthing, make sure that you seek out a medical professional and ask them for their advice. And if you do go for a session, ensure your practitioner has a good track record, medical credentials, and an awareness of emergency procedures.
Interested in finding out about more forms of alternative therapy? Check out our article on Holotropic Breathwork.