Relational Mutuality in Breathwork

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Relational mutuality, or more simply, relationality, is the state or condition of being relational and pertains to how two or more things may be linked or associated. In Somatic Breath Therapy, we look at it this way: Relationality is the reciprocal, consciousness-infused intraconnection between practitioner and client, which is not only amplified through conscious breathing but also encompasses a multilevel, compressive mutuality that puts the individuals together in the first place.

Relationality embraces the full range of the therapeutic relationship’s body, mind, heart, and spirit but also includes the shared causality of how and why the interconnection is happening. It might also be called a Therapeutic Envelope of Purposeful Interconnectivity. But let me first offer a breathwork framework within which this idea of relationality emerged.

Since the latter half of the 20th century in America, through the auspices of Leonard Orr (Rebirthing), Dr. Stanislov Grof (Holotropic Breathwork), and several others, emergent breathwork schools and programs began to formulate training to teach practitioners this uniquely skilled art form of therapeutic breathwork or Somatic Breath Therapy. Besides the critical elements of circular breathing, they spoke about the A.R.T. of breathwork. For most, it represented Awareness, Relaxation, and Technique. However, a different reference point was needed for me and the Power of Breath Institute, especially in light of entering the subtle therapeutic realm of shared reality understanding (mutuality), compared to the extreme day-to-day individualism of our current Western world.

Relaxation is hugely significant in our over-stimulated sympathetic culture, and relaxing the exhalation is an irrevocable component for conscious, connected breathing to work! However, over time, it became clear to me that the “R” needed to represent something else, something that epitomized a different approach to engaging in a supportive, reciprocal, and mutually therapeutic relationship, and that came to be what I now call Relationality.

Through decades of teaching numerous 2-year breathwork teacher training programs and seeing over 8000 in-person clients, I discovered seven core components that seemed to represent the fundamental qualities that elucidate Relational Mutuality about facilitating breathwork for mindfulness, stress relief, and trauma healing.

Article Topics

Relationality: A Therapeutic Envelope of Purposeful Interconnectivity

These seven qualities are the 7 Intelligences of the Heart, as Glenda Green (Jeshua) outlined in her book, Love Without End, Chapter 7 (Your Heart is Your Higher Intelligence).

  1. Communion (Attend) – Unity
  2. Mutuality (Empathy) – Love
  3. Compassion (Compression) – Life
  4. Purpose (Intend) – Respect
  5. Resonance (Harmony) – Honesty
  6. Reciprocity (Extend) – Justice
  7. Intelligence (Transcend) – Kindness

Before diving into these qualities of relationality, I would like to introduce a model that might be considered the bones around which these seven ideas coalesced, something I call “Trans-Tending: The 4 Evolutionary Attentions”. The outline below will help give you a reference point for the “healing stages” we go through on the therapeutic journey of integration and transformation. This model slowly emerged from over 30 years of studying with indigenous elders and thought leaders in the Western world. The original Medicine Wheel is based upon the 44 Shield Teachings from Roshi Joan Halifax and her teacher, Hyemeyohsts Storm, a Northern Cheyenne elder. 

The Seven Qualities of Relationality

1. Communion (Attend) – Unity

First and foremost, relationality is based on the idea that we all exist within an irrevocably interconnected reality and that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. With the discovery of the unified field, our entire understanding of existence was transformed from a world of isolated particles and identities floating aimlessly in a vacuum of space to an interconnected field of multidimensional probabilities where communion (communication + unity) was emergent, simultaneous, and interrelational – meaning everything exhibits relationality to some degree or another.

However, similar to most scientific breakthroughs made in the last 300 years, these theoretical, then proven, and replicable discoveries often take decades before they become consciously lived ideas in the zeitgeist as principles applied to workability and the betterment of life. In the hundreds, if not thousands, of years in the development of the Western world, individualism has ruled the roost of most evolutionary protocols and, in many ways, has been the foundation of the most remarkable feats and the worst failures of our civilization. 

Within this relational field, one of our greatest attributes of human consciousness is to be present to utilize our unique cortical ability to attend to what is happening now. Presence is the quality of being mindful; it is the state or fact of existing, occurring, or being present in a place or thing. When we are fully present, we transcend the influence of the past and future, and we can attend to what is happening within or outside of our bodies at this very moment. Volitional presence can be a launching pad to fully experiencing reality within its multidimensional expression, where through mindfulness, we can become one within the flow of our ever-emergent existence. In breathwork, the breather often expresses it as “It felt like the breath was breathing me!” Suddenly, all sense of “I” disappears, and you become part of something much grander and interconnected.

The issue here is not just learning to shift from an individualistic awareness or mindset through cognition but to surrender to this new, expansive viewpoint through somatic, experiential understanding, to look from within this natural, more profound framework of inborn mutuality. Although this shift may seem subtle, most people are challenged to look through this lens. On a personal note, I attribute my natural inclination to do this to the fact that I was born an identical twin. As a young child, I had to face and learn to accept that most other kids on the playground couldn’t communicate telepathically. I initially approached the world through telepathy, communion, and sharing a ‘twin language.’

2. Mutuality (Empathy) – Love

“In Interpersonal Neurobiology, we focus on seeing the mind as both embodied and relational. Embodied means that the mind is more than simply what happens in your head—it extends to at least the whole of the body in which “you” live. But “you” also live within your relationships with other people and with the larger environment, the planet. So, on the other hand, your connections with people and the planet shape your mental processes, from thoughts and feelings to decisions and actions. This is why we say the mind is relational as well as being embodied.” (Source: Dr. Dan Siegel)

Mutuality, or relational mutuality, points to the idea that there is a compression of causal probabilities present in every moment that exceeds simple cause and effect and that these contingencies often go unrecognized in the most common approaches in psychotherapy. When we seek to understand our reality, we usually look to the ordinary causality of “cause-and-effect.” In other words, we ask ourselves, “What just happened, and what was the cause?”. 

From the subtlest of events to the deepest survival level, we need to know what works and what doesn’t. Then, our evolutionary brains develop neurological priming from repeated similar events and outcomes to streamline our reactions to things. Like, “Green, stringy understory bushes often have thorns, and they hurt, so go around them!” or, “Rivers and streams contain fish, and working in groups makes catching fish easier, so let’s come together to get some food!” 

What if we looked at the causality of this last example and considered another level of how and why things happen? In other words, what if there was another motivating force or principle that equally contributes to the way we live? What if the primary inspiration was based upon the highest good for all involved, not just for individuals, due to identity-driven, neurological priming? What if this principle transcended our usual orientation toward individualism and was based more upon the needs of two or more, a kind of interdependent collectivism of relationality that defines and serves the workings of reality from a much larger, more holistic perspective? 

Mutuality is sharing an interactive feeling, action, or relationship between two or more parties. More specifically, “(Mutuality is) the tendency of people in relationship to think of themselves as members of a dyadic relationship (an interconnected web) rather than as singular, distinct individuals.” (E.g., Ancient fishing techniques worked better in groups rather than with single individuals.) “As close relationships, particularly romantic ones, develop over time, partners display increasing levels of mutuality, which may influence their affect, cognition, and behavior. For example, when mutuality is high, people think of their partners’ characteristics and resources as their own.” – (Source: American Psychology Association

By definition, all forms of mutuality are relational, whether between flowers and bees, the sky and the trees, animals and their environment, or the sun and its planets. In breathwork therapy, relational mutuality offers one of the most remarkable healing agencies available: the understanding made possible with empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. First, interconnection through unity creates the possibility of communication and support. Then, because we all can share each other’s viewpoints and perspectives, suddenly, the person in front of you is not a stranger but becomes a mirror of human experience to which you can relate.

Within this field of relational focus, when unfamiliarity gives way to connection, there are specific cycles or rhythms of exchange between the parties involved. Connection gives way to empathy, and empathy gives way to compassion and the ability to “walk in another’s moccasins.” As the needs of those present overlap, the exchange deepens, the resonance grows stronger, and there is a kind of synergy or compression of healing energies, which then seems to fulfill each other’s needs simultaneously. I call this compassion or “compressive mutuality.”

3. Compassion (Compression) - Life

Compassion, or compressive mutuality, is the energetic, relational squeezing or potentiation before a significant exchange, outcome, or transformation. It’s like the buildup of magnetic filaments before a solar flare, the ionic clouds before a thunderstorm, the compression of oxygen and energy at the top of the breath, or even a mother giving birth to a newborn, wherein all are irrevocably changed afterward.  Compassion is compressive because it combines several things: love in action, affinity, empathy and understanding, and reflective transference. Reflective transference is the agency within which interrelational resonance between two or more people has reached a sufficient level of synergy wherein the inner orientations of identity are exchanged, and one “sees through the eyes” of another. 

Compassionate or compressive mutuality is the marriage of content and context within a unified field. It’s like combining a noun with a verb, like pairing something physical (static) and nonphysical (moving). It emerges at the meeting point between difference and similarity, divisibility and indivisibility, what is finite and what is infinite. In breathwork, the moment is when the mutualistic need for wholeness transcends the rigidity of traumatic burden and sole identification. It occurs when what has been unknown surfaces not as a reaction but as a revelation or an inspired action that momentarily surpasses historical rigidity. But what exactly is compression?

In the physical world, compression is the reduction in the volume of something, causing an increase in pressure (potential). From this more prominent, mutual perspective:

“Compression is the power of simplification applied to a complex potential. The results are both commanding and instantaneous. Have you ever noticed that the most critical actions or changes in your life begin in a split second, in the twinkling of an eye? It might have been the recognition of an opportunity, the moment you knew an answer, the recognition of a purpose, the moment when you knew you were in love, or the time when everything came together. The incident of compression is a potent catalytic moment. It is a compelling recognition of personal rightness in the presence of its purpose for being… 

In addition, compression (also) simply means to make “less of more.” That could mean fitting more items in less space, finding the standard answer to a multiplicity of problems, or invoking a simple truth that makes sense of complexity. Were it not for a common and unifying element, there would be no reduction from complexity to simplicity… 

You are accustomed to causing effects with force and action, rather than magnetism, attraction and compression; Therefore, you must be patient with yourself as you learn a new direction as you progress in your learning, and never underestimate the power of baby steps. Compression is very potent. If you don’t think so, just consider the power of one atom. How many adamantine (Higgs Boson) particles do you think are compressed into one atom that it’s decompression can blow up a city?” – (Source: Love Without End by Glenda Green)

Compressive mutuality is literally how life evolves into something new. Through resonance, intention, and the recognition of value, what seems to arise and develop together are vectors of maximal evolutionary function according to the combined needs of the whole, encouraging the formation of something innovative and new. In this way, compressive mutuality embraces the concept that present in every healing exchange is a potential for transformation that is more than just the sum of the parts (or people) present. This is the basis of a successful breathwork practice, which addresses the roots of collective cultural trauma.

Regardless of how we conceive of ourselves individually or socially, we live in a unified field of interconnectivity based upon something more significant than two or more voices talking at each other. There isn’t a space or place where things aren’t in relationship to each other, and concomitantly, there isn’t an evolutionary connection that doesn’t seek new levels of diverse expression. In the breathwork session, this dynamic is played out between client and therapist when both can touch something greater than they’ve known.

The key here is openness and willingness to surrender to something bigger than ourselves. For the client, this means seeking new levels of truth and understanding to reveal the purposes beneath their core issues (traumas). For the practitioner, it means not just attending to opening the breath but also opening to inspirations from a higher source, often referred to as the Spirit of Breath. Here is where we meet the guiding principle of Relationality and what catalyzes the healing interaction into an actualized shift in trajectory. 

4. Purpose (Intention) – Respect

Purpose is the reason something exists, is created, or is made to live; it aims to co-create an intended or desired result, such as an end or goal. Whereas purpose is the inner reason “why” we do things, intention focuses on the outer attention to make things happen. Together, they are the underlying agents that help orchestrate how and why we lead our lives in the way we do and what experiences we draw to ourselves. At the highest level, all purposeful intentions are aligned with an evolutionary impulse to seek out new experiences and meaningful co-creation, and the affinity in which this takes place is always in the present, where the past is being dreamed into a new future. Let’s take a look at an example.

Look at the power and beauty of water and air. Imagine how water takes the shape of a container, or better yet, how air takes the shape of your lungs – all of the inside space is touched equally, no matter what. Regardless of how or why the water or air got there, the water doesn’t care what shape the container is, nor does the air care whose lungs it’s entering. Yet consider this: it’s impossible to separate the presence of the water or air (the what) from the how and why they got there. 

Presence (water filling a glass/air in the lungs) and purpose (quenching thirst/ bringing oxygen) go hand in hand, like space and time. Neither water nor air cares about what has happened or will happen in the future; they only respond to physiological needs. Without preconception, the client in front of you is sitting there because you have two resonant needs: your need and willingness to help someone and the client’s need to ask for help. 

Intentional, relational mutuality is the quality, nature, and way that purposeful, evolutionary connection synchronistically happens down to the quantum level, all the time and moment by moment. This dynamic can be witnessed in subatomic particle exchange, the simplicity of two primordial life forms interacting, two people falling in love, or it could be as complex as how two adversarial nations seek to reconcile their differences. Regardless, relational mutuality is the playing field upon which two positions of identity and purpose meet with love and then compress opportunities to direct the depth, range, and efficiency of a positive, progressive outcome. Regarding relationality, wherever there is a form (separateness/identity – particle), there must also be function (interconnectivity/purpose – wave). So, what does all this mean in terms of therapeutic breathwork?

It means that, even though we may not perceive it, healing is not just some random event between two random people. As the indigenous and wisdom traditions have taught for thousands of years, there is always some underlying purpose and an agreed-upon mutuality between the two or more people who are present. In addition, the ongoing consciousness of this perspective maximizes the most effective and rewarding healing sessions. It means that to “walk the talk,” you must be able to feel your breathing in relation to another’s breathing self. This is not only a requirement of breathwork to ensure the most relevant and realistic therapeutic interconnection but is also a necessity for personal and professional integrity.

5. Resonance (Harmony) – Honesty

How energy “streams” or “flows” through our lives shapes our mental experience. If you smile at me and I don’t smile back, your feelings will be different than if I resonate with your smile, feeling the feelings inside of me and then revealing that resonance with a returned smile on my face, in my gestures, and in my tone of voice. Our separate bodies become “connected” as energy flows from you in the form of a smile that then connects with me. Your eyes and your ears pick up how that energy was received, and two separate “entities” become connected as one in the exchange. This is (the essence of resonance and) how people come to feel “close” to each other even with physical distance that separates their physical bodies. Closeness is about resonance where two “systems” become linked as one.” – (Source: Dr. Daniel J. Siegel)

Simply put, resonance is not just about two people talking at each other; it’s about whoever has just shared asking the other person what the impact was from what they shared. Simple but profound. However, to do that, you must stop all the mental chatter and expectations about what you think they should know and instead be mindful enough to inquire about what they actually received. Although appropriate in every relational communication, it’s essential when speaking with clients because it gives them one of the greatest benefits of all: feeling heard!

Studying some of these ideas of interpersonal neurobiology has significantly deepened my understanding of the importance of resonance and relationality, particularly within the field of breathwork. They encouraged me to deepen my listening, to witness and call on the river of integration between the two banks of chaos and rigidity, and to venture across that culturally oriented bridge from singularity to mutuality, individualism to collectivism. I am grateful for learning to understand the neurophysiology behind where a client is coming from, their trauma, their lack of presence, and how we might awaken in them the ability to see what is possible therapeutically. 

In light of these ideas, I was encouraged to ask, “How do we access and utilize this intelligent, interconnected energy that implicitly seems to move from rigidity or chaos toward integration and wholeness?” I believe we, as healers, must first humble ourselves to this underlying intelligence by learning how it moves, how it is mirrored by those present, and how it shows up in our bodies, especially as we explore conscious breathing. This part asks us, as practitioners, to “walk the talk” and build a foundation of personal experience to offer conscious breathing techniques and breathwork therapy.

But before getting into a deeper discussion of this interconnected intelligence, let’s first look at another quality I believe is a major contributor to how healing takes place and that maintains healthy professional boundaries, ultimately leading to safety for the client and the practitioner: Reciprocity.

6. Reciprocity (Exchange) - Justice

One might ask at this point, “Does this mean that interconnection can only happen through two or more people breathing in proximity to each other?” Quite simply, no. This happens energetically all of the time but seems to be enhanced by the participation in conscious, connected breathing, which, through the increased agency of prana, seems to amplify the interconnectivity. Because humans can breathe consciously or unconsciously, we have the unique opportunity to intend, enhance, or strengthen the quality of interrelatedness on the way to transcendence. As I have witnessed, the most accomplished breathworkers who have had the most effective results seem to have learned to sense and move with this underlying energy of activated mutuality and utilize it as an accelerant to healing.

Reciprocity, of course, is also about the nature or kind of exchange between healer and healee. On the physical level, in modern times and the Western world, this usually means some form of money is exchanged. Based upon numerous factors (especially by insurance companies), a particular monetary value is attributed to the provider’s professional expertise and skill sets, determining what they “charge” for their services. This externally defined value exchange has largely been taken over by the idea that “if something’s broke, you gotta fix it.” i.e., the medical model. It has little to do with the relationship of mutuality between practitioner and patient.

However, if you look deep into the past or the ‘jungle,’ you’ll find the reciprocal exchange is quite different. Relationships, timing, and value are paramount; there’s a different orientation around what constitutes healing. You are not simply exchanging for the sake of the healer, their time, or skills. You are exchanging according to what you determine the value of the healing is to you, as well as for the positive outcome you seek.

First, the healer or shaman is an integral, relational part of their community; in a sense, any healing is a shared cultural event experienced through the healer with whom you are exchanging. Second, in my personal experience of working with shamans and curanderos, I have witnessed every one of them asking, “Why has this particular person and their illness entered my reality?” It’s as if they are first checking in with the highest understanding to identify and reciprocally prepare for the nature of the upcoming healing ritual. 

This deeper understanding of the natural, reciprocal flow of energy in healing is what is sadly lacking in our medical world today. It’s rarely about a reciprocal flow of energy; it’s more about a diagnosed condition, a treatment, or a pill. Conversely, the indigenous elder or shaman looks anew at the underlying, relational, and reality factors present and becomes a conduit for the spiritual guidance and healing energies necessary. 

This means that the heart of nature has the final say, not some mind-generated treatment protocol of what healing should look like or, in breathwork, some memorized instruction about which breath techniques should be applied. After thousands of breathwork sessions, experience has shown that carefully regulated, conscious breathing activates a kind of repository of spiritual insight and engages a systemic awareness I call Body-Breathing Interactive-Intelligence.

7. Intelligence (Transcend) - Kindness

“Body-Breathing Interactive-Intelligence (BBII) is an arena of human evolutionary consciousness that reveals the way in which human soul growth-cycles are reflected and integrated within the systems of the body, especially during conscious, remedial respiration. During this process, unresolved issues held within the connective tissues (fascia) arise, get acknowledged and are integrated in support of functional wholeness and well-being. BBII is the synergy of normal body intelligence (Awareness), conscious respiration (Pranic Activation), and the participatory soul intelligence of those relationally present (Intraconnection). 

Body-Breathing Interactive-Intelligence is the bridge of body-mind intelligence that spans between what is visible, external and proprioceptively alive, what is invisible, internal and interoceptively alive, and what is relationally present right now. It is the human agency of an evolutionary intelligence that lives within every living, breathing organism and tends toward the highest outcome for all involved. As a label, Body-Breathing Interactive-Intelligence is actional, it identifies two verbs instead of two nouns, and points to the excellence of an ongoing process or refinement, not just a static condition or outcome.”

Within a field of therapeutic intent and relationality, this intelligence unfolds perfectly in every moment and is the heart and soul of what therapeutic breathwork can offer the world. Body-Breathing Interactive-Intelligence evokes deep healing and helps individuals re-establish interpersonal connectivity rather than individualistic isolation in their lives. I believe our task as breathwork practitioners is to attune ourselves to this intelligence, to open ourselves deeply to the evolutionary “WE” space of relationality, and to learn to rely on and respond to this moment-to-moment flow of breath-enhanced interconnection. 

Within the relational arena of this intelligence, I am using “intraconnection” rather than interconnection. This is another excellent perspective brought forward by Dr. Dan Siegel in his book IntraConnected: MWe (Me + We) as the Integration of Self, Identity, and Belonging.

Interconnected, having all constituent parts linked or connected, implies something that happens externally between two or more preexistent separate entities; intraconnected points to something that arises from a preexistent, connected system already engaging internally and reciprocally. Although subtle, I believe this notion is integral to understanding the truly interactive nature of human evolutionary intelligence. But what does this breath-oriented intelligence have to do with transcendence?

“Transcendence comes from the Latin prefix trans-, meaning “beyond,” and the word scandare, meaning “to climb.” When you achieve transcendence, you have gone beyond what has previously existed as (energetic, conceptual, or emotional) ordinary limitations. The word is often used to describe a spiritual or religious state, or a condition of moving beyond physical needs and realities.” – (Source: Vocabulary)

When we transcend, we rise above the current difficulty, challenge, or stress experienced. This is edspecially true when facing painful memories, feelings, and sensations in a therapeutic breathwork session. Fortunately, as most breathers will attest, that part of the journey is typically brief. For most, soon to follow is the awareness of how the original childhood logic that has kept the pattern in place is no longer viable in our current lives. Due to increased prana’s activation and saturation, “getting stuck in the mud” gives way to deeper understandings and revelations about what is true and what is false.

Transcendence is how personal and cultural evolution knocks at our door and says, “Wake up, it’s time to grow!” Suffering brings us to that door, but having the courage to choose healing is what has us knocking. Through the capacity and bravery of conscious attention, we drop to our knees and surrender to the innocence of not knowing. We ask for help. We ask for the relational, therapeutic vehicle that will take us above and beyond the wounded identities from our past.

In The End

Most of those choosing therapeutic breathwork have touched upon the first six qualities of therapeutic relationality as a part of that journey. But it is usually during the breathwork sessions that they can activate the intelligence to achieve the awareness, integration, and transcendence that will take them back to themselves. Every journey is different; however, these relationality components seem integral to reclaiming the authentic voice, the full embodiment, and the sense of empowerment that awaits every soul on their earth walk to fulfillment.