Pitfalls of spiritual techniques

A few days back I’d put this up on my Facebook page which attracted a lot of surprise and so I decided to write further on it –

I heard a second case of a person who got mentally thrashed in a Vipassana course. It’s surprising that no one really speaks about the fact that Vipassana, just like any other spiritual technique has its pitfalls. I know I deeply suffered during and after the course. Having been an anapanasati meditator, which is the first step of Vipassana, for almost 3 years before I went to the course, I’d felt and observed wonderful leaps in my own consciousness. It was easy to flow with life. Then when I entered the course, it put me under pressure to observe when in fact my natural practice was to dive in and emerge from every sensation. The disruption lasted for 2 years after the course. Perhaps reflectively, I also met people who waxed eloquent about Vipassana but were so obviously hard on themselves and disconnected from their bodies, under the facade of observation. This created more anger in me towards the practice of meditation. Thanks to another breathing practice, Rebirthing-Breathwork, I was able to heal the wounded attitude towards meditation. One day I looked up the anapanasati sutra on the net. In that the Buddha talks about how gradually awareness proceeds from bodily sensation to emotion to energy and then to the energy current called ‘dhara-pravaha‘. In his case, of course, this naturally took place. I realised that it was not the process, but the institutionalising of something which is an organic progression, and giving it a time boundness that perhaps went against my inherent nature. I also later learnt that in the original vipassana courses people were allowed to speak. My intuition would keep asking me to write, to express during the course, but following the norms I didn’t. I later understood the inherent creative nature one is born with that seeks to express. When not allowed to, it destroys internally. It took a long time for this reactive self destructiveness to heal. In a larger perspective, no technique is flawless. And I hope those who do opt for a Vipassana course, perhaps the sensitive ones, do a strong consultation with their intuition first. 

This is just the grey side of one technique. But I’ve ended up in these grey zones for many other techniques which are worth mentioning. Especially at a stage where I am arriving more and more into a space of “Let It Be”.

Pitfalls of Past Life Regression

The burden of compulsive regressing

A few months ago, I was going through an inner state of helplessness, lethargy and a constant feeling of being blocked (which a few people told me was the presence of  not-so-well-intentioned ‘entities’ in me). During this time I came across a page from a healer in Pune called Mana, whose work resonated with my own spiritual insights I was having about 3-4 years ago. She was getting these insights through, not surprisingly, hypnotherapy and past life regression. For about a year I was unable to regress. This ‘disability’ began when I had entered an inner void at the deepest point in one of my regression sessions about 2-3 years ago and saw that I was nothing, I was only the emptiness around. After that I lost an inner will to regress. Yet not knowing how else to heal the issues that still surfaced in my life, I dragged myself searching for people who would take my past life regression sessions. In the session with Mana, I told her at the beginning that I was unable to regress, and then we went into a hypnotherapy session. At one point she just took me to a light body stage and I waited there, seeing in front of me the person who’s karmic exchange with me was blocking me. Without getting into any past life, Mana told me to do the exchange there itself. I was unsure if the healing would happen this way. It was deeply powerful as it took me to a higher state of ‘seeing’ than in my earlier sessions. When I came out, I was surprised and asked her how that happened. She said “You don’t need it. You’re done with that phase”. That’s when I realised that though the block might be in a past life, one needn’t go there if one doesn’t wish to.

Handing readymade solutions

Much prior to this revealing session, I’d undergone quite a few unsatisfactory healing sessions during this ‘enforced’ regressive phase. In some, the past life regression therapist focused inordinately on the story part – the dates, the validation, the completion. Not just that, the worst were the ones who handed out conclusions, about what was going on with me and what I should do now in response, in contrast to allowing the various points of your life to emerge for you to connect them. The truth is, past life regression only works if you employ both your subconscious memory AND your conscious logical mind.

Loving unconsciousness and glorifying it

One day I received a client who had come to me for past life regression therapy. After a fairly clear first session, she was disappointed she had not gone completely under. She said she didn’t want to aware at all and wanted that thrill of just being absent. That is the misuse of this technique. Many people get into a past life regression to see a better movie about themselves which is where the therapy turns into an ego pampering session. Over years I have consciously stayed away from past life regression therapist groups of my own teacher, Dr.Newton, to avoid the mindless glorification of what one saw in one’s past lives. Many after reading my experiences of past life regression on this blog expect to see something phenomenal and some have even seen such lives, but the truth is, it’s not the validation, the what-you-were excitement that is going to give you any soul growth. It is your conscious ability to ask deeper, more honest questions and a driving need to expand your consciousness that determines the success of this technique. I have spent weeks and sometimes years with a single past life experience, receiving (not figuring) the many layers that it is unraveling of my psyche. This receiving ability is developed not by some therapy, but by a daily (really ‘non-exciting’) meditation practice.

Pitfalls of Rebirthing-Breathwork

This practice that I love very much and endorse a lot also has its pitfalls. Many people get very excited when they read about Rebirthing Breathwork on the net. However, because this technique is so simple, it runs the risk of being ‘packaged’ with something else. The most common request I receive is that of group Breathwork. In fact my own first experience was in a group of about 40 people in a hall, all breathing together, for about 2 hours. Leonard Orr, the pioneer of Breathwork, and so many of his loyal followers strongly suggest against doing group Breathwork.

The trap of group Breathwork

More than 70% of detoxification of the human body happens through breath. Over the years of taking people’s Breathwork sessions, I have ended up ‘smelling’ or getting drowsy from the anasthesia and other drugs/chemicals that people have breathed out through their noses during the sessions. At times I have even passed out. Imagine that you have such a person breathing next to you in a hall, or even worse, you are that person. Effectively, you are then breathing out your ‘muck’ and at the same time breathing in someone else’s. There’s another reason where personally I felt group Breathwork was not working for me. If you were born in an environment where the place was cramped, or you were hurried away immediately to accommodate for the next woman laboring in emergency, then doing group Breathwork can trigger this trauma, and as there is no personal support taking you through this opened up experience, it might push this trauma even deeper into your psyche.

Excessive focus on ‘doing’

I’ve attended 4 retreats conducted by international students of Leonard, many of them learning under him for almost a decade. Every retreat teaches me something totally new about Breathwork that was undiscovered before, based on the personal Breathwork practice of the one who conducts the retreat. A Rebirthing-Breathwork retreat is not just about breathing, but about certain water, fire and earth practices also. While attending a recent retreat, the focus on doing was extraordinary. The message given was “Why are you resting when you could be sitting by a fire?!” (and it is no small feat to sit by a fire on a hot afternoon). Each day of the retreat became a long list of to-dos. Not just that, but even the breathing was made into something forceful, effort-ful. Breathing continuously in a rhythm for 1 hour takes efforts but there is an intuitive direction to it. But when you breathe to push through, Breathwork becomes more like a treadmill, exhausting, rather than energising you. Moreover, it enhances your sense of control whereas in fact Breathwork, also known as Intuitive Breathing, is about relaxing and giving up control, allowing your breath to take over. What this forceful Breathwork can also do is weaken your heart muscles. One of my very dear friends who got me onto Breathwork experienced this after a year of practicing Breathwork diligently. There is exceptional beauty in the breath because it awakens a primal bliss in the body that exponentiates aliveness and healing at a hardcore cellular level. If one doesn’t practice Breathwork correctly, this same technique can do as much harm.

Not having the correct knowledge

About a year ago I received a client who had undergone intense Breathwork sessions from a senior therapist where he had breathed, cried and howled loudly throughout the sessions he had told me. This therapist had put him straight into warm water (which is only recommended after a minimum of 10 dry Breathwork sessions), which had sent him into intense spirals of grief. When he came to me, he still complained of ’emotional pain’. On going deeper I found out that this therapist perhaps practiced a version of Breathwork where a client crying translated to healing. That is however not true. It can give a high to the therapist who thinks there is healing happening. But for those whose ‘block’ is actually the weepiness and perhaps self-pity they undergo, the healing is actually shaking them out of the drama and getting them to connect to their breath.

Pitfalls of Inner Child healing

Too much openness

When you start connecting with your inner child, you may begin to re-experience the raw emotions you underwent as a child. For a year after I had finished my inner child intensive healing retreat, I was unstable, couldn’t make decisions, became hypersensitive, ran away from home because I was unable to face my parents’ nature, couldn’t work and had emotional breakdowns in a street where seeing a crowd overwhelmed me. It was the most trying time of my life. My sensitivity had come open without any protection. Through this I learned that alongwith inner child healing, one needs to be taught how to take responsibility for one’s feelings and not get carried away by them through inner parenting. For this, an inner parent has to be firmly established, especially in the face of dark emotions that can spontaneously come up.

Over-identifying with the child within

Another time was early last year when I refused to grow up in ways I knew life was asking me to. I had become identified with playing the role of an inner child under the illusion that being childlike is what being ‘real’ or authentic is all about. I learnt, very slowly, that sometimes to live the wisdom in you, you have to play many other roles. And although vulnerability is very highly rated on the internet, socially, it is not wise to be vulnerable where one needs to be decisive and direct.


Through this course of ‘evolution’, I’ve come to realise that every technique stays and then leaves. Every technique has a place and one has to go about very intuitively, experimenting with alertness. GD, a spiritual teacher, had a nice way of explaining this. He would say that one starts with the masculine in the initial part of this spiritual journey, where the focus is on doing and learning – doing affirmations, setting intentions, breath techniques, visualisations, manifestations, et al. After a point, you flip into the feminine. Here you begin to unlearn all the techniques. You fall into acceptance rather than pushing yourself to accept. You find yourself listening intently rather than doing. You let go of keeping intentions because there is a trust innately present, an inner sight that the divine has taken over and is unfolding a path through you. I am hovering somewhere here at the moment.

PS: I do online sessions over Skype related to inner child counselling, EFT, The Work etc. for which you can write to me at [email protected]I no longer conduct past life regression. I am also formulating my own Rebirthing-Breathwork retreats based on the one one one work I do with my clients. In case you are looking for Rebirthing-Breathwork retreats being conducted by Rebirthing Breathwork International in India, please contact their page. Love. 

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  1. June 23, 2014

    V nice Deepti.

    My experience with vipassana is that the objective observation of sensation and subjective diving into the sensation coincide with time.

    Also having read your natural tendency to dive into the sensation, I suggest pl google SE by Peter Levine that you may resonate with.

  2. June 29, 2014

    Dear Deepti, thank you for sharing!
    My experience is that any spiritual healing technique can be either healing or harming (or neutral) depending on how it is used, with what intention, both by the practitioner and the client. It is so important for anyone seeking assistance on the spiritual and psychological path to be aware of the potential pitfalls and make an informed choice. Listening to gut feelings and what our hearts tell us instead of what the mind / ego wants us to see is essential in this, to my mind. For instance, I have seen famous practitioners conduct harmful sessions because the emphasis was on ego, performance, and show instead of the healing the particular client needed.
    So thank you for sharing your experiences!
    Love, Wendy

    • June 30, 2014

      Dear Wendy,
      Thanks for dropping in and reading. Yes another reader on Facebook too expressed that it is the intention which is important. I know that however best our awareness is, sometimes, we make the “mistake” of not listening to our instinct. Sometimes the expectation or the desperation to get beyond an issue is too much. And sometimes, the clarity of what our intuition is telling us is just not there. Hence the awareness of pitfalls is a good space to give oneself. 🙂 So thankful to you for sharing your insights. Much love.

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