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Hester Pommerening

The Power of Breath

The secret to bringing our minds home to our bodies and what to expect from Pura Vida breathwork ceremonies

March 24, 2023
The Power of Breath

Breath is the essence of life. It keeps our inner systems running – and it connects us to the present moment and everything that surrounds us. If we know how to mindfully use it, our breath even allows us to dive into the depths of human consciousness, free our body from old emotions and past fears and connect to ourselves and the world on a spiritual level.

Inhale. Exhale. If you focus on the air that you are soaking in through your nose into your lungs, if you observe the flow and rhythm right now - what do you feel? 

Breathe in, deeply. Become aware. Let your body become wide and open while your lungs (to be precise: hundreds of million little air sacs called alveoli) fill with oxygen. They pass the gas on through your bloodstream, which carries it to all your organs and muscles where it fuels their functions – so you may walk, talk, move, think or speak. 

Now breathe out. Get rid of that carbon dioxide. Repeat.

Becoming aware of the body

Living beings are inherently intelligent – not because we think, but first and foremost because we keep ourselves alive completely without having to think about it. We take approximately 22,000 breaths per day, 6 to 7 million per year, almost half a billion in our life. Most of those without paying any greater attention to it. 

That is why unhealthy breathing patterns easily manifest, especially in modern times, when everyday life as a human being is constantly stressful and far from its natural origins. Studies show this as well: Our way of life results in rapid, flat and shallow breathing, in breathing into the chest, in breathing through the mouth.

This is an expression of an overall health crisis, and it influences our physical health. But not only. 

To breathe is more than a biochemical function of the body. 

Our breath is the most important gateway to a wide inner network, the so-called autonomous nervous system. It not only influences our organs and the rhythm of our heartbeat, but also our mental wellbeing. How we breathe changes depending on our mood and emotions - and it can influence those in return. 

Luckily, in contrast to our heart or our digestive system, we can easily actively intervene and control what our breath is doing:

This bridge is not a coincidence, as author and breathwork master Dan Brule sees it. He interprets it rather as an opportunity - an invitation even.

A portal to our emotions

To follow the invitation, let's dive a little deeper into the matter first: Our autonomous nervous system consists of two parts with opposite functions. When we are relaxed, we take deep breaths into our belly and our exhalation becomes longer, which stabilizes our energetic core and opens a space to be present and soak in the world. The parasympathetic nervous system is active.

Situations of shock or fear as well as anger and aggression on the other hand make us breathe faster and flat into the chest or even take away our breath completely, leaving us gasping for air. As a result, the sympathetic nervous system gets activated: adrenaline rushes through our body, the so-called vagus nerve turns off the communication with certain organs, blood flows to muscles and brain, we go into “fight or flight”. This is vital in real danger to be able to handle emergency situations and to keep us alive. 

If we understand this bridge between our breathing body and our emotional well-being, the powerful potential of conscious breathing becomes clear. 

Nowadays chronic stress is not seriously life-threatening - but also never lets us rest completely either. It keeps us in a constant twilight zone of subconscious fear that interrupts essential health functions of our body. Through ancient wisdom practices like yoga, meditation or qi-gong but also in modern body-oriented trauma therapy approaches, humans bring awareness to the breath. Activating the parasympathetic nervous system means going into rest and recovery mode. Thich Nhat Hanh describes breathing deeply as a way of “bringing our mind home to our body”. 

Breathwork - Releasing the healing power

There are other ways to use the breath as a tool - as a force even. Sometimes the conscious activation of the sympathetic nervous system can be very useful. A growing body of research suggests that traumatic stress and painful emotions manifest physically: 'Our body keeps the score' (Bessel van der Kolk). Conscious breathing, used in the right way, can help to bring us back to ourselves and unbury and release those emotions. 

“The breath is always there. It is always with us and for us”, says Sarah Sakotic-Sondermann. “I wish that everybody becomes aware of this medicine.” Sarah is a certified trauma informed breathwork facilitator. With her conscious connected breathing sessions she brings healing into the world. It is the purpose of her life, she says:

Find the full interview with Sarah here

Pura Vida Festival Retreat plays a big role in Sarah's own healing journey. In 2021, at the very first Pura Vida, the experience as a guest changed her life, as she claims. One year later she guided the big Pura Vida breathwork ceremony herself. “The energy we created together was immensely powerful. There was so much release happening. It filled me with pure joy and moved me very deeply.” Participants later excitedly talked about how the experience was beyond any of their expectations - how much it had shifted within. 

What happens at Pura Vida Festival Retreat breathwork ceremonies?

Taking part in a breathwork ceremony is an intense and special experience. And first and foremost, it is something that we experience very holistically, as bodies, minds and spirits. That is why it is not easily described with words. Sarah, as facilitator and spaceholder, puts it like this: “We create a small universe that you can completely dive into. Where you can go into deep connection with yourself, but also with other human beings. We come together to feel.” Her Pura Vida 2022 ceremony took two hours, with support of shaman incense and a special playlist that she had carefully curated to let music guide the people’s journey as well.

By consciously entering an active sympathetic nervous state in a safe space, we can work through stored emotions and release them. The breath opens a portal to an inner world where we might stumble across long lost memories, buried tears that have been waiting to flow or flashes of laughter that wish to come out. Everything that comes up is welcome and safe and Sarah encourages people to allow themselves to make space to feel. "By reliving old emotions we give them to the breath and set them free." "Feel to heal" is the title of one of her favorite books about the breath. 

Because we enter a very vulnerable and sometimes challenging state through a ceremony like this, guidance and a safe space are crucial. That is why the Pura Vida Team makes sure to pick professional, informed facilitators who are strong spaceholders and can be trusted with this task. 

Whenever Sarah leads a session she completely steps into her power: “There is nothing in the world where I am comparably present as in a breathwork session – may it be for one person or for eighty like at Pura Vida.” 

Always with her: Sarah’s angels who support her in holding space by accompanying people through their journeys with love, presence and intuitive touch. And also, of course, aftercare can not be underestimated. “Right after the session we have a sharing circle for integration and I check how everyone is feeling. I am available for everything that might come up in the aftermath. I want all souls to be safe.”

Rhythm of one

The field of breathwork and conscious breathing techniques is a wide and diverse one. And that our modern western culture is starting to explore the healing power that our breath holds also shows the awareness we begin to cultivate towards the connection of mind and body. For a long time we have seen our mind and body as separate - as well as we have seen ourselves separate from each other and the rest of the living world.

Our breath teaches us that this is not true.

Not only does it connect us to ourselves as individual creatures. With one single breath we soak in more molecules than there are sandcorns at earth's beaches - such a gigantic number that it is safe to say that some of them have been exhaled by ancient kings and queens or other historic figures. One breath connects us to humans who celebrated the fall of the Berlin wall as well as to those that built the Chinese one. It connects us to all breathing animals and plants that exist and have existed on this planet and to those that will. It connects us to our own human ancestors as well as to our children’s children. As Jonathan Safran Foer wrote: It is hard to imagine something as fleeting as a single breath. But also, it is impossible to imagine something more consistent.

The privilege to be able to breathe 

Becoming aware of and reflecting on our breath means also becoming aware of the immense privilege it is to be able to freely do so. Since a few weeks gas attacks poisoning hundreds of Iranian school girls have been reported - oppressing not only women's freedom and education but literally taking away female voices along with their ability to breathe. „I can’t breathe“: we hear this sentence in Farsi in dreadful video footage of the happenings, testifying to a brutal regime. The same sentence also cried from thousands of banners and protest posters, in English, in the aftermath of George Floyds violent death in the US in 2020: his last words that so bitterly reflected how structural racism and hatred literally robs human beings of even their most essential life functions in everyday life situations. 

May we not forget that breathing is not always secured for everybody in today’s societies and that the roots of this alarming violence are structural ones. 

There are other reasons why people can’t breathe as well. People who are ill, have allergies or chronic diseases like asthma. In fact, the last three years have been accompanied by a virus that targets humans' ability to breathe. And, if we overall take the human-made ecological crisis into account it becomes clear how humans everywhere undermine and destroy the essential flow of energy that keeps them alive. According to the World Health Organization, air pollution is one of the greatest environmental risks to health. 99% of the world’s population is living in places where the organization's air quality guidelines level is not met. 

A breathing planet - Our responsibility

Our breath embeds us into the web of life. This deeply spiritual wisdom is something people have always been aware of. In old languages like Latin or Sanskrit, “breathing” - respiration - also means spirit or energy. And if we look at it from this perspective, considering that our whole living planet and the universe actually is a complex net of consistently transforming molecules splitting off each other and stringing together again in endless playful cycles, it becomes clear how everything is deeply interconnected and interdependent. Why would the back and forth of the shore be anything other than an ocean breathing? 

Maybe the privilege to be able to breathe as well as the necessity for us to do it to live comes with the responsibility to contribute to a world where we can actually all breathe freely – where this privilege applies to everybody and everything. And maybe, the breath is the exact tool that helps us find the way, by cracking us open. May we dare to consciously release the power that our breath holds to heal and grow together on a striving healthy breathing planet.

Breathe in. 

Use the energy of life and the power it gives you to act in the best possible way as a living human being. 

Breathe out. 



Not enough of the Topic yet? 

Check our Spotify Playlist with guided breathing sessions!

If you want to dive deeper into your own practise, find our breathwork compilation on Spotify - a playlist with guided sessions for different occasions and effects, podcast episodes on that topic and breathwork music.

We hope you find it useful and have fun browsing, exploring and trying it out!

If you want to dive into your Pura Vida 2022 experience again, find here also Sarahs playlist that guided us so beautifully and safely through our breathwork ceremony journey.

Article Sources & Books to dive deeper into the topic 

Nestor, James (2021): “Breath. Atem. Neues Wissen über die vergessene Kunst des Atmens” Piper Verlag, München.

Brule, Dan (2017): “Just breathe. Mastering Breathwork” Enliven Atria, New York

Brown, Michael (2010): “The presence process. A journey into present moment awareness. Revised Edition” Namaste Publishing, Vancouver.

Kravitz, Judith (1999): "Breathe Deep, Laugh Loudly . The Joy of Transformational Breathing" Free Press Ink, UK.

Tonkov, Giten (2019): “Feel to heal. Releasing Trauma Through Body Awareness and Breathwork Practice” Paperback.

van der Kolk, Bessel (2015): "The body keeps the Score" Penguin Books Ltd.

Safran-Foer, Jonathan (2021): "Wir sind das Klima." Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag.

World Health Organisation (2023): Air Pollution. []

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