Reichian Breathwork was developed by Dr. Wilhelm Reich, an Austrian psychotherapist and the creator of Vegetotherapy. Reich is considered the forerunner and instigator of what today is known as emotional dearmoring bodywork.
Aims of Reichian Breathwork
The goal of Reichian Breathwork is to support emotional and sexual healing by utilizing specific breathing exercises to loosen up and soften stiff and tensed body tissues (notably muscles) in order to achieve a state of deep relaxation and allowing vital energy — Reich called this energy Orgone — to flow freely through the body.
Wilhelm Reich’s idea was that we have a psychological protective mechanism that can build a muscular armor in our body (also called body armor) which then blocks us to act freely, spontaneously, and joyfully, and as such structurally disrupts our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. According to Reich, one of the direct causes that creates this defensive “armor” is people’s restricted breathing pattern when under emotional and physical stress.
As such, the connection between areas of muscular tension, breath restriction, and emotional pain and trauma is an important concept in Reich’s work. Those who use Reichian Breathwork therapeutically believe that the technique can help people to release suppressed and repressed anger and emotional trauma, while achieving increased emotional well-being, greater self-esteem, and more healthy relationships.
Today, Reichian Breathwork therapy is a widely applied type of bodywork used by medical doctors, chiropractors, and behavioral health professionals.
Breathing Technique and Therapy
Therapy with Reichian breathing exercises involves that patients lie on their backs, with the legs bent upward (knees in the air and the feet i.e. heels near the buttocks) and arms and hands on the sides of the body.
The therapist — who’s typically already acquainted with the patient’s psychological issues — then actively helps the patient to find and focus on areas of tension in their body. Subsequently, the patient starts with full body breathing (using both belly and chest breathing), which involves repeated deep inhalation and active, full exhalation with the mouth kept open.
Additionally, the therapist may also actively instruct and help the patient by letting them carry out certain bodily movements and exercises or by applying pressure and/or massage to areas of the body to promote releasing muscular tension.
The overall goal of the therapy is to support the patient to release the impulses and past and/or present emotions they experience during those breathing exercises sessions, which then supposedly relaxes their body-armor and as a result of that their traumas.
Mind that Reichian Breathwork can also be performed alone, although it’s common that one first learns the approach and techniques from a therapist who’s proficient in Reichian therapies.