A First-Timers Experience Of An International Breathwork Conference

By Joshua Alexander

August 9, 2019
Los Angeles Airport is possibly the worst place on earth. It is chaotic, bustling and egocentric. A place where the elderly are harassed for being slow, anxiety is rife, and impatience is a virtue. LAX is a tarnished mirror reflecting humanity’s shadow. But it was here, amongst the chaos, that I had my first encounter with the international breathwork community.

Walking through the crowd, wondering where to board the bus to Joshua Tree National Park, a person emerged. His long, curled hair and white clothing with a colourful vest caught my eye, but what captured my attention was his energy. I felt in that moment complete relaxation and peace. This person, in one of the busiest airports on the planet, appeared to float through the space as if untouched by its madness. I knew straight away I was looking at a “breathworker”. We locked eyes, smiled at each other and kept on walking.

Lisa (a breathwork friend) and I eventually found the group of people travelling to Joshua Tree. The gentleman I had that earlier interaction with turned out to be the internationally renowned breathwork practitioner, Anthony Abbagnano. We were all gathered amongst the traffic, car fumes, honking, and yelling completely unperturbed by our surrounds. We had already dropped into the protective bubble of the global breathwork community, and if anything, found our current situation comical. Excitement was in abundance, old friends embraced, newbies like myself were in a speechless awe.

This was the beginning of a weeklong, immersive breathwork experience called the Global Inspiration Conference (GIC). For 24 years, the world’s breathwork community has met at a different country each year to breathe together, to share experiences, knowledge and to connect. Countries like Sweden, Ecuador, France, South Africa, and Russia have all hosted this event. GIC is a festival, a playground, a school, a party and a temple all merged into one. It takes you high, it takes you low, and it takes you into realms that you would never think possible. It’s quite literally, maGIC.

The GIC was held near the famous Joshua Tree National Park. It is a desert landscape, known for the Joshua Trees and its unique rock formations. Spiritually, it’s famous for its energy vortexes; culturally, it’s associated with U2 and Coachella. Surrounding the valley were mountains, some covered with snow. The heat at times was oppressive, with early morning providing the only opportunity for people to explore the land surrounding us. The evenings were wonderful, with warmth that felt like a nice hug, and a sky full of stars. Chance encounters with road runners and hummingbirds provoked childlike joy.

Whilst here, I found myself realising how foreign the desert is to my experience. As an Australian, there is an assumption that we are connected to desert lands, but in truth, non-Indigenous Australians are largely disconnected and fearful of our Country’s interior. We cling to its edges, looking outward to its ocean surrounds rather than inwards to its red and raw interior. On the other hand, the US has occupied every corner of its land, with development in the harshest of climates. These relationships with land provide insight into the Anglo-Australian/American psyche.

The conference had a distinct Indigenous American energy – the opening ceremony was led by Rick, a Hopi Elder, and Andrew, an Apache man who introduced the power of Apache ceremonial practices, in particular, drumming circles. Throughout the conference, these drumming circles grew louder, bigger and stronger. After a sacred cocoa ceremony, where we danced ourselves into a blissful state-of-consciousness, we were greeted by a large gathering of mostly women drummers in a circle. The hypnotic beat, like that of our mother’s heart in the womb, called to us. One by one we picked up any instrument we could find, and by the end, everyone was playing or dancing from a place of ecstasy.

A typical day at the conference starts at 7am, with a smorgasbord of morning activities for you to choose from: meditation, dance, yoga, breathwork, Indigenous sunrise ceremony, sleeping in and solo-nature time. This is followed by breakfast, then a morning gathering to talk about events for that day. At mid-morning, there are non-breathwork activities offered, which occur at the same time as the International Breathwork Foundation’s (IBF) AGM meetings. Then lunch, an afternoon keynote presentation, followed by various breathwork activities. Conference attendees heard from internationally renowned practitioners, such as Judith Kravitz, Jim Morningstar, Dan Brule and Jessica Dib.

Downtime was occasionally on offer, which typically involved swimming in the pool to find some relief from the 40 plus degree-days. Finally, each evening there is dinner and an event such as a cocoa ceremony, ecstatic dance, drumming circles or a talent show.

I rarely found myself in bed before midnight, with my only alone time occurring at that moment before bed, where I would walk out into the desert, look up at the Universe and feel into the immense gratitude I have for life. The conference is full, dynamic, and energetic, but entirely up to the individual to determine their engagement. There is a fluidity and openness that comes with a conference of this type.

Surprisingly, I threw myself into spaces and situations that would typically bring out my reserved, introverted identity. Instead of the expected fatigue, I felt energised and open. I allowed the flow of the experiences to manifest organically – whether it was with whom I sat with during food breaks, which workshop I’d find myself at, and who I was drawn to socially and on the dance floor. I noticed aspects of self that I typically struggle with were absent; instead, replaced by an authentic experience of self.

The GIC is both educational and experiential. For me, the first three days were primarily focused upon developing my breathwork practice, or being introduced to new mind/body meditative techniques. One day I attended a workshop about a program in Greece that offers breathwork to refugees to support trauma release. I attended an early-childhood trauma workshop, as well as a program designed to teach teachers how to use breathing techniques in their classroom. Whilst these first three days were incredibly beneficial; they did not feed my hunger to breathe, and to go deep into my process. This changed.

By day four, my emotional state shifted drastically. It was during a ‘Sacred 7’ workshop, run by Andrew Ecker about the Native American practice of honouring your ancestors that I found myself weeping, non-stop for the duration of his talk. A combination of his history, his medicine, the spiritual dynamics at play, my material and reflections about disconnection with Australia’s Indigenous people led to this bursting of emotional material.

Another massive shift occurred during a breathwork session with Dan Brule. Dan, one of the most recognised and active contemporary breathwork practitioners in the world, provided an experience that cannot be fully explained. Entirely transpersonal, the boundaries between self and other evaporated. It was perhaps one of the most spiritual experiences of my life, and on par with those states induced by a plant medicine ceremony. Whilst it was perhaps the most profound experience, it also induced immense fear – this was unknown territory, and I had gone well beyond my biographical material.

What transpired after the session was beautiful. Unable to release the emotional material arising from the experience, I felt completely triggered. A silent panic crept in, and whilst everyone shared their experiences with Dan, I felt like I was drowning. Then, in my panic, I locked eyes with Geert, who was sitting beside me. Without words, he reached for my hand. In that moment, Tom who was seated behind me, held my body for additional support. The holding offered by these two men, the masculine, enabled me to release the energy that had built up from my session. I cried, which quickly transformed into immense love for everyone in that room and beyond, my teacher, friends, family, partner and life. It was a reminder that discomfort, pain, fear or any intense experiences is merely a rebirthing process, an opportunity for growth and our transformation.

The GIC was an incredibly unique and life-changing experience. At a time where collective cynicism and despair about the world is high, it was exceptionally potent to be surrounded by 280 people all committed to facing their traumas and helping others do the same. It provides a healthy example of ‘people power’, and it acts as a reminder that perhaps, no matter what, we’re going to be okay.

Breathwork is a broad church, with often-competing ideas and philosophies; however, through conscious leadership and conscious conversations, meant that all voices could be heard. This was done through the daily IBF AGMs, which acted as vessel for the conference and the breathwork community as a whole. It’s also an example of conscious community coming together to develop an agreed set of principles and a framework for breathwork to operate within.

Leaving the conference provided me with a sense that breathwork is at an edge of something monumental. Breathwork is a relatively unknown practice. However, the GIC gives an appreciation of the vast number of people sharing knowledge about the power and potential of breathwork, as both a meditative practice and a therapeutic tool. People are bringing conscious breathing to therapy practices, hospitals, schools, prisons, parliaments, workplaces, refugee camps and their communities. Every day, more and more people are learning about conscious breathing and its power. This is SUPER inspiring.

Back home, I have had time to reflect on new understandings, namely: Breath is enough. Previously, I held an idea that more study or an addition ‘qualification’ was needed; perhaps, pandering to the mainstream notion of what constitutes a legitimate therapeutic practice. This has changed.

Breath is enough.

The breath holds infinite possibilities. It is a gateway to a deeper understanding of who we are, and what has shaped us. It is a mechanism to explore consciousness. We all possess the possibility of forming an intimate relationship with our breath, to meet our inner healer and access the wisdom we already possess. Intellectually I understood this, but since the GIC, I now embody it.