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Why choose breathwork or 'alternative' healing methods over traditional therapy?

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

Most of us have been there at some point. Life serves some challenges, and during a particularly tricky or difficult phase, we seek healing. In the West, the usual go-to's are either talk therapy, pharmaceutical medication, or a combination of the two. For some people, this works. And for others, there is a nagging sense that an integral part of the healing equation isn't being addressed. That a shortcut is being taken; one we may pay for over time in more ways than one.

The last time I stepped into a traditional therapist's office myself, selecting someone covered by my health insurance at the time, I left convinced there had to be a better way to heal. After sitting for an hour across from a woman reading off a list of typical 'psychological assessment' intake questions, making no genuine attempt to connect with or understand me, it clicked: being a licensed marriage + family therapist by no means makes someone a skilled healing practitioner. You can have all the recognized, 'fancy institution sanctioned' credentials in the world, but if you aren't inherently emotionally intelligent or truly passionate about helping others, your services will not be effective. I walked out of that office knowing I had to create my own healing toolkit to rely upon. One that didn't draw on a limited psychological handbook or an outdated questionnaire to lay the foundation of the healing process.

This experience served as an important turning point in my own healing journey. Shortly after the pandemic hit, I left a job and a romantic relationship. These situations were not aligned with the true essence of who I am; I stayed in both a bit too long due to fear and self-doubt. Add an unprecedented global crisis to that mix, and my body's immune system eventually mounted a response to the chronic stress I'd allowed to build up. I developed debilitating gut/hormone issues; my sense of vitality plummeted and my ability to quite literally digest life dried up. The toxicity that had accrued in my emotional and mental bodies finally pushed my physical body to scream for my attention, so that I could get back on my correct path. "I'm only giving you the energy to heal; that's it", Spirit seemed to say. It was as if Source made the choice for me.

As luck would have it, I first tried breathwork around this time. To this day, that first session remains one of the most impactful healing experiences of my life. The clearest message that came through? That I'd completely fallen out of touch with the fire element. Not only my digestive fire, but all the wonderful aspects of life that stem from fire: ambition, passion, sexuality, adventure, expression. And how did my breathwork session happen to end? As I lifted myself to an upright position and began to regain my bearings, describing to my teacher where the breath had taken me, I realized she was distracted. Sure enough, she asked me to pause: "One sec; I need to take your mat outside. It's on fire." Somehow, through the abalone shell that had cradled the sacred herbs she burned, the flame made its way down to the mat— and singed a wide circle right next to my head. When she re-entered the room, I said "Not gonna lie, considering the message you imparted to me right before we started, that strikes me as pretty uncanny." "Yep," she said. "That's never happened with a client before. Message received!"

From there I was off to the races, enrolling in every training my teacher offered, assisting at trainings whenever possible, and hosting breathwork gatherings of my own. Studies in human design, Jungian psychology, transcendental meditation and medicine card interpretation followed. And without fail, I've witnessed these tools create healing, self-acceptance and clarity for clients on a level that traditional therapeutic methods never came close to achieving. As products of a capitalist culture in the information age, it's easy to buy into the notion that we can think our way toward any goal. But healing is an innately multifaceted process; it is quite simply not possible to heal wholly if one works solely on the conscious mind.

If we do not already identify as spiritual, alternative or holistic methods may seem far fetched or overly idealistic. But if we can come to somatic and/or psychospiritual practices with an open mind— and find a knowledgable, 'real deal' practitioner to guide us— remarkable change can occur. One of my favorite things about breathwork is the mystery of it; sometimes it may not be 100% clear what exactly has been released or transmuted, but the feeling that something heavy has been given up still lands in a palpable way. Any practice that works on or with the subconscious possesses some degree of mystery, inevitably. And to me, that is the ultimate metaphor for the human experience. We may have some sense of why we're here, what we're meant to do. And yet, the unknown is something we dance with every day.

So, I figure, we may as well learn to boogie. And who knows— maybe even have some fun along the way.

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