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by Rebecca Dennis
Da Capo, 2017
Review by Beth Cholette, Ph.D. on Dec 26th 2017
This book focuses on Transformational Breath, a practice developed by Judith Kravitz in Mexico. Author Rebecca Dennis credits this technique with saving her life: she lived with depression for over twenty years, and although she reports that other therapies were of some benefit to her, it was the discovery of Transformational Breath that she found to be life-changing. Just as she shares her own story in the introduction, Dennis weaves personal testimonials throughout And Breathe, mostly from her clients. In fact, the entire volume reads like a collection of reflections combined with exercises and bits of wisdom.
The first two chapters—"Breath Awareness" and "Breath as Medicine"—comprise almost half the text. Here Dennis makes a case for the value of breath practice. She discusses benefits, reviews types of breathing patterns, and offers basic tools to begin connecting with the breath, such as diaphragmatic breathing. As Dennis delves deeper into the narrative, she shifts the discussion more towards the psychological aspects of breathwork. She continues to utilize anecdotal experiences—both her own and those of others—to address issues such as emotions, mind/body, and inner child. Dennis expands well beyond simple breathing to share her thoughts on topics including dealing with grief and loss, loving oneself, and being with nature. She ends the book with References and Resources as well as what she calls "Some Simple Exercises for Every Day," seven short practices for various situations (e.g., relaxing the mind, being unable to sleep).
Being both a licensed clinical psychologist and a registered yoga teacher, I am a huge proponent of breathwork myself: I incorporate breathing strategies with most of my therapy clients and in every yoga class. I have found the use of breathing techniques in both venues to be extremely beneficial, although not quite "transformative" as Dennis describes. Still, I found her writing to be compelling, as I do believe in the potential power of using the breath for health and healing. Unfortunately, I also had some issues with the specific methodology which Dennis presents. My biggest concern was that she offers no cautions or counter-indications regarding the breathwork. For example, some of the breathing exercises require long breath holds (both retention and suspension), which is generally inadvisable for pregnant women and certain medical conditions.
It's clear from her writing that Dennis cares deeply about this work. Based on the testimonials included, her clients have benefitted greatly from her dedication—but of course, they have all worked with her in person. Ironically, Dennis seems to be offering a self-help book that makes the case for success in this method only with the assistance of a trained instructor. At best, I believe that this work provides an effective overview of the importance of the breath, but I'm not sure I would recommend it as a self-help manual.
© 2017 Beth Cholette
Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students.