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Breathwork, Dudes with Devices and Setting the Stage



This weekend, I think I was hypnotized.   

  

I’ve tried to be hypnotized a bunch of times. Andre the hypnotist sent me off stage twice, and a few others have tried. I have come to believe that my monkey mind is too active and my underlying Enneagram 8 (The Active Controller) just doesn’t let me let go.   

  

Enter, stage left, the Retreat Yourself Festival. Now, my idea of festivals dates back to my mid-20s pilgrimages to the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees, otherwise known as the KKNK (an unfortunate name if you think about it). It’s an Afrikaans music and arts festival that celebrates traditional arts and culture as I have been raised to understand it. This weekend was totally different.  

  

About 3000 people descended on a farm outside Greyton to participate in a rolling schedule of yoga, sunrise dancing, sweat lodges, talks, late-night jolling, bands, breathwork, tantric couples therapy, healing ceremonies, and a whole lot of other decidedly hippy-ish activities. As part of an EO annual retreat, Caroline and I also made the trip to step outside of our comfort zone.  

  

I have a few comments:  

  

  1. The festival, a cashless event from the time you enter, is an amazing dichotomy of commerce (food stalls, shops, paid-for events) and kumbaya. It was most easily demonstrated at the Sweat Lodge I attended, where the chap with the scanning device couldn’t pick up my ticket on the system. But the actual guy in charge, the Jesus-looking dude who had sold me the ticket two hours earlier, wanted zenlike participants, not aggravated tech-challenged explorers. I get the feeling this would have happened a lot on the weekend – aggravation at an imperfect system of pure commerce marrying the “trade economy” idea that they do so well at Afrikaburn.   

  2. The individual events themselves were world-class. World-class facilitation, world-class content, world-class organization. I have some context as I have done some of these activities on other travels, and once again South Africa – and South Africans – show themselves to be on top of the game.  

  3. We were fortunate enough to not need to do the work. Our organization and the highly capable chapter manager Jo Grace did all the heavy lifting of setting up a private camp with glamping facilities, so all that was left for us to do was make sense of the overpoweringly rich schedule to choose our own adventure. The setup, in other words, was just about perfect, which allowed us to get the most out of the experience.  

  

As such, I was able to attend a number of incredible events. Not yoga, not meditation, but something different. Sound and sense journeys where you lie flat on your back, listen to someone soothing you with their voice and play amazing (and loud) music that takes you on a breathe-assisted journey.   

  

I have been a believer in breathwork for a few years now. It started in 2019 when I went on a Wim Hof retreat. For those of you who don’t know, Wim Hof is the ice bath-loving breathwork Dutch guru who holds a number of Guinness World Records for the way he can control his nervous system. That exercise led me to a number of other avenues, most notably extended breathwork sessions with a chap called Volker Schlettwein.   

  

I am no hippy. But I have come to appreciate the ability to enter an altered state through breathwork. I do it almost every day, I do it before every coaching session or every important facilitation. It centres me, it drops people into the room, it allows for a small hit of dopamine and enhanced concentration. Fun fact: My golf game has also come back strongly, as I now modulate my breathing before every swing. Amazing small hack that has allowed me to once again regularly shoot under 80.  



On Friday night, I explored a thing called “Gaia’s Breath” with a facilitator called Brigitte Heeb. And it was otherworldly. This lady, who is now in demand internationally, first soothed us with her hypnotic voice. My public speaking guru Rich Mulholland would have admired her craft. Voice modulation, repetition, and an establishment of authority, trust and coherency with the audience that was next level. By the time she started us in on the actual breathwork and the music, the 200 or so people that were in attendance were completely trusting, attuned and ready.   

  

At some point, the mic failed. And I lay there, face mask on, in a deep trance-like state, and couldn’t work out whether I was hallucinating or if there was actually a problem. I was so far down the rabbit hole.  

  

When the whole thing was over, I struggled to even open my eyes. It had been such a deeply rewarding and centering experience that I didn’t want to come back to reality. When I did, everything felt crisper, clearer, more alive.  

  

I’ve lost you, haven’t I? There is a point to this story.  

  

She exercised TOTAL CONTROL. They set the scene, she took her time to build the container, she allowed us to become comfortable, and then she let rip with the show. And that feels like the trick. I talked about it last week – trust everyone, but brand your cattle. How do we exercise total control and have people be happy about it? How do we create the space for people to shine and do their best work, within the combo of psychological safety and courage to explore new things?  

  

I’m left with the sense that I still have so much to learn. And maybe, just maybe, that was the real gift of the weekend.  



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