Interview with Giten Tonkov founder of the BioDynamic Breathwork & Trauma Release System (BBTRS)
How can trauma be a doorway to higher self-awareness or even transformation?
The traumatic experience can be a doorway on the spiritual path. In both a traumatic event and a spiritual experience, there is an altered state. Physiologically, the things that happen in the body are quite similar.
Trauma can be devastating and wreak havoc on your life. But once the initial response starts to settle, it also can become a steppingstone to your spiritual growth. It can show you the direction you need to go.
If it is a physical trauma, you may observe it as though seeing it from the outside, without being involved. This is pretty much meditation. You take a step back from being identified from the physical experience. People say, “Wow, it looks like things were happening to me, and I was watching from above.” Everything slows down.
In childhood experiences, there may be no rational understanding of what happened. But looking at it as an adult, you can take a conscious approach to that memory. Reliving it in a therapy session, you can clearly start to see how you formed a behavior around a particular event. You gain a different understanding of that event and how it affected you.
This supports your self-awareness and gives you the possibility to step out of the “negative behavior.” Nothing is really negative – it is just a behavioral pattern that keeps you from shining to your fullest potential. When you see this as an adult, you can change something and make a shift. And, it doesn’t have to be a memory from childhood. It can be something more recent.
The emotional or physical memory gives us the opportunity to start looking “within”. This is how traumatic events can be helpful in the way of personal growth. If approached with awareness in therapeutic process, past traumatic experiences are factors that can potentially transform you.
Look at the life story of almost any well-known person that came to some realization or self-actualization. It often came directly out of a strong event or chain of events that led to their transformation. Any kind of event that takes you out of your normal coping mechanism can be “traumatic.” It does not have to be overt trauma, violence or abuse.
How is training with BioDynamic Breathwork & Trauma Release life changing?
The first impact of training is healing your self. It can only start with you. It is an opportunity to release deep core tension you carry from past trauma. You can gain a deeper understanding of yourself and the world around you.
Addressing non-constructive patterns in your life, bringing things to light that were hidden and unknown, connecting past events, you gain more choice to act in a conscious way. You can make a step in a different direction.
The first step is taking care of the tension in your physical body. Any core tension like this addresses personality as well. It comes out of a behavioral pattern. Personality is something we create to fit in the world. It’s a safety net that we form.
This personality comes with a particular bodily tension. We make unconscious positions to please others. When people come into the training program they seriously look at where this started and how to release it. This means “dropping personality and coming into individuality” or your authentic self. That’s Osho’s approach. This is self-transformation.
People become more capable of supporting others to do the same. It’s not a knowledge based on academics. It is based on creating space and relaxation in your physical body.
How are BBTRS® practitioners applying this work in the world?
We live in a world full of trauma. Feeling the impacts of social, familial, religious and even generational trauma, people are contracted. This can be carried for hundreds or even thousands of years through a particular race or religion. That is the main reason we started the training. There is a real need for this in the world. I want people to go out there and do it. To practice BioDynamic Breathwork & Trauma Release effectively, you have to transform your own traumatic behaviors into growth.
We are starting a kind of revolution. Fighting for peace is not possible. The only real change comes by changing yourself. Like Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It applies very clearly to the work we do. We need to bring the “inner work” out into the world. BBTRS practitioners have transformed themselves. Thus, they are able take other people where they have gone before. Spiritually, academically, emotionally, they know the process.
They are offering individual sessions as a stand-alone therapy or as part of their existing professional practices, or within intro groups around the world. They are also sharing breath meditations in gatherings to reach as many people as possible in yoga studios and festivals. The response is immediate for people who explore this work. Just one experience is enough to make one curious to look deeper.
How does the system work?
The multi-modalities we use complement each other in treating trauma. Deep connected breathing is primary. Breathing with no break between the in- and out-breath, the body starts to charge up. We activate the sympathetic nervous system – stimulating a fight or flight response in the body. We do this so we have something to work with. It arises because it has been interrupted or incomplete in a previous experience.
Supportive touch is the second thing that needs to happen. Looking at someone in a breath session, it is clearly visible where the physical and emotional energy in the body have become stuck, and how it wants to move. We supply the touch to support the opening of the energetic flow through the body.
The next component is physical movement to allow this “charge” to move. We use it in warm ups and core tension release exercises. We bring the body into a position that triggers a vibration and tremor in the body that releases physical tension. For example, if you have someone that is anxious, shaking and vibration starts to release the excess energy.
Breath charges up and activates the sympathetic nervous system. Touch helps get things moving. We release it through the movement. Thus, body does not get overcharged, nor does the individual become overwhelmed.
Fight or flight gets activated very quickly, but the movement supports the completion of that energy. If someone has a freezing response, we help the person to come out of the freezing or physical holding. Touch supports the movement of the bioenergy throughout the body. Dance and core tension release triggers the body’s ability to vibrate.
Next are the emotions. When core tensions start to unlock, associated emotions begin to come up to the surface. We support the person to stay present and conscious throughout. When the person releases in a way that is not overcharged or overwhelming, they stay present with the emotional and physical experience, which really are not two separate things. For the most part, every type of physical tension has some kind of emotional component. The person has the chance to put a name to it.Emotional release creates actual physical space. You become more content as you allow the expression to happen. This can occur in many ways from tears to laughter. It’s interesting to note that deep laughter or deep crying affect the body physiologically in very similar ways. The “smile is turned upside down,” but the shaking and tremors in the body are very much the same.
Even rage is positive, as long as the person stays present to the power in their body and doesn’t get overwhelmed. We monitor together how it is being released and go slow, so everything does not come at once. Thus, we are able to avoid re-traumatization. The body’s systems become familiar with slow release. And, the individual becomes familiar with the process: charge, touch, discharge, and emotional release.
The last step is meditation and integration. And it doesn’t need to be just sitting or lying down. It can be meditation through movement. In meditation, the person can take time to be with themselves – to be watchful in the space that has opened in their body – to be mindful of all the effects that have taken place and to allow all of the body’s systems to quiet down.
To be present and watchful allows for insights. This can only happen if the mind is quiet. Meditation is by far the most important step for integrating the experience for your self. It is not a voice coming from the outside. It happens within you. That is when healing starts to happen.
What is the function of the institute?
BioDynamic Breathwork & Trauma Release Institute offers trainings and the workshops globally. Students are learning this modality and sharing practice sessions on their own through the BBTRS® practitioner certification program. Intro workshops and individual sessions are also offered by BBTRS practitioners to individuals who just want to experience the work and its benefits.
There are trainings in Europe, China, Indonesia, and Costa Rica, in nearly every region on the planet. We’re even teaching penguins to do it in Antarctica. Penguins can do trauma release on Polar bears. (Just kidding). System trainings began in 2006 for certification. Additional trainings began in Pune, India in 2008.
BBTRS® is continually evolving. There are new tools from both bodywork and science being integrated into it constantly to keep it fresh and innovative. In this age of information, we have more available to us now than any people in the history of mankind. We are using this information to keep the work current.
What lead you to create this work?
This was a natural progression of my own personal growth, working with the body on a daily basis, seeing how we hold tension, and how it is connected to an emotional charge. My practice as a massage therapist and breathwork facilitator offered good opportunities to see how things work if you put them together. I have a mind for asking questions and for seeing the bigger picture rather than focusing on the smaller details.
Working on the body’s tension creates a certain emotional response that leads to deep breathing. I asked, “What if I bring the deep breathing first?” Through experimenting and working with people on a daily basis, BBTRS® came into being, along with my own studies in breath and meditation with truly amazing teachers.
Nisarga Dobosz and myself started the European Institute of Body Oriented Healing Arts (EIBOHA) in Poland. He was a student who became a friend. We decided to create an institute to share our work together, because he was doing trainings and workshops, too. The institute became a perfect platform.
For hundreds of years, Poland was squeezed between hostile countries that were persecuting its people. I have an affinity with the place. And, its people respond to the work so well. It just happened so organically. Most things that happen to me happen organically. It kind of presented itself and I’m flowing with it. BBTRI is the worldwide platform. It includes the institute in Poland. I’m also considering creating a base in the Americas. …So stay tuned.