An open letter to Dan Brule and the Breathwork Community

Dear Dan,

the recent open letter you published around your malpractice within the breathwork well-being space has stimulated much enquiry for me…

By Hannah Goodman-Ryalls (she/her)

To frame, not all of this is personal to you, but connects to wider conversations about ethics and the fabric of the well-being industry we find ourselves working within and from; some of it directly responds to your actions and words expressed in your letter.

Understanding that the thoughts and enquires communicated here come through the lens in which I currently see the world; a lens which has been and still is influenced by many conscious and unconscious things. I hope that this sharing and the conversations it may stimulate will not only support my ongoing awareness and education around these topics, but also spark some self-enquiry for all readers too, including Dan. For me this is the power of collective medicine and circle work, where the eyes and voices of others can bring our blind spots into compassionate visibility, opening our lens wider and shifting our perspective.

Even though, as breathworkers we may work a lot within circles, the actual structure of our well-being industry seems to be hierarchical. Hierarchy is a foundational pillar from which most industries work. It is based on different levels of authority with specific chains of command; my enquiry here might be, who decides who gets that authority and why? 

In a community such as breathwork, when someone is exposed for misconduct like this, in my opinion, it’s not about trolling, a witch hunt, or being cast out. Dan should remain part of this community, although his position within it should now change, for he symbolises something very different to what he represented before. For me, he has forfeited his place to be a leader here of any sort, but in doing so, has publicly opened up a much needed conversation around ethical practice.

What does leadership look like in well-being and specifically Breathwork spaces?  

Would you call this conscious leadership and if so why?

Community Enquiry 

What are the mainstream characteristics of our breathwork and well-being leaders?

Why do many of our breathwork leaders look and speak the same?  

Where have these mainstream characteristics stemmed from, and has this ever been questioned or looked into? If it has, before been questioned, why haven’t these voices been heard more clearly? Could this situation have been prevented?

Taking Dan’s letter on face value, I want to bring attention to the fact that in one single correspondence, he communicates that several women were upset by the way he conducted his private sessions and felt that their personal and sexual boundaries had been violated. He has now done some self-reflection, less than a year of inner work around these issues, had a ‘long overdue’ wake up-call and will be showing up at a higher level and better version of himself. He will also be beginning a series of blogs, online gatherings, and monthly calls around the topic of professional ethics and personal boundaries…my honest feeling here is dread. To use the words of being a “more positive role model” within the same paragraphs of speaking about his sexual misconduct and negligence to personal boundaries towards a number of women feels wrong.

Community Enquiry – Bypassing and urgency

Does this 360-degree shift from the crossing personal and sexual boundaries to planning to run events on ethicality not feel inappropriate, if not slightly narcissistic? 

Do the assaulted persons not need more of a moment before their perpetrator openly admits to misconduct, asks for forgiveness and now is to become a public voice on ethics within the very same well-being space that has abused them? Does that feel restorative, and to who?  

I’m in full support of Dan getting more into his shadow work and healing, and the collective shadow work that contributes to this situation, but should his position here not continue to be one of listening and learning only? 

In western well-being, when someone’s eyes have been opened to something, or someone has a life-shifting experience or an awakening of sorts, can they too quickly become a spokesperson for that and then for others’ spiritual growth? Perhaps using a newly learnt language and understanding, whether it be through books, courses, people, and of course, the appropriation of other cultures. Are we getting drawn into bad habits of regurgitating information which is then used to grow our following or give our existing members more value? Validating ourselves as healers, leaders and teachers, acting in accordance with the generic marketing systems that we blindly looked to when deciding to make a living within well-being? 

Community Enquiry – Running before exploring the power of walking. 

For any well-being practitioners reading this, have you ever talked about aspects of ‘healing’ with authority or spoken in absolutes when perhaps you still had much more to learn about the subject matter at hand? 

Are we encouraged to act like we know what’s best for others, like we hold this magic map of the exact pathway they should take for their healing journey? 

Or is there a wider understanding and commitment to hold the space and share the tools that will support others in walking their own pathway of understanding, which will ultimately look different to our own and yet hold the same amount of wisdom? 

Is there a better way to share newly found information, understanding and experiences with: A/ not taking credit for other people’s work and lifting all the voices, ideas and practices that have guided us thus far, and B/ being more authentic in where we are in our education, maturity and journey. Is there room here for us as facilitators to be more honest and humble? Again the image of a circle feels more genuine and supportive as opposed to the structure of hierarchy, which can invite misleading characteristics and traits to maintain this sense of superiority and elevation. 

To highlight that it is not just the people with power here, it’s not just the facilitator or teacher but everybody that is part of the frame work. If we are the water, the system is the gully, informing us where to run, pour, trickle, flow or flood. We all support this structure of being, and keep it running unless we are actively questioning and consciously moving in more aware and ethical ways. 

How did Dan get to his age, level of success, leadership, global recognition, stature and influence, and admittedly didn’t until recently, fully understand the basic principles of personal, physical, emotional and sexual boundaries and consent? How did anyone get to this position in the first place if their eyes weren’t open to the importance of framing touch in a session and being sensitive within these sensitive spaces?

Zooming out with these questions, could we explore how the structure of our wellbeing system not only allowed for this to happen, but promoted him as one of our biggest most looked-up to western breathwork pioneers. A framework that supported his visibility over others. 

Community Enquiry: Awareness as a first step.

Why does leadership within the well-being industry frequently equate to power over as opposed to empowering and why is so much power given to those that lead when often that leadership is self-proclaimed? The even bigger question being; why do people follow self-proclaimed leaders and put them on pedestals, creating such distance between them and us? 

When Dan mentions in his letter that this issue …“is related to larger issues in ‘his’ life, in society and in the world, that of traditional male dominance and patriarchy”…, it feels like he has become more aware of himself in the context of the historical and societal systems he fits and exists within. That he has become more aware of his proximity to power and the unconscious and conscious attributes of our western and colonial culture that gives him that power, status and position over others.

Is Dan a calculated abuser who was waiting for the right victims or a man living within the system he was born and raised in, taking the liberties that this system caters for in many ways? Maybe both, but either way, I don’t think we can ever separate the actions of an individual from their environment, life experience and collective history. 

Is it harder to see if the water you swimming is toxic if that water has always supported your buoyancy in the form of privilege?

Dan also shares that he …“communicated in ways that resulted in confusion and introduced trauma into a sacred space.”

Community Enquiry – Sacred and Safe spaces 

How would you describe a sacred space and/or a safe space? Is this part of your vocabulary as a space holder or maybe you hear it used by other facilitators? 

What actually makes it sacred or safe and for who in particular is it sacred or safe for?

Is there a preconception that sacred spaces are void of trauma? Is this realistic or even helpful? 

Instead of us telling people what a safe space is for them, what would happen if we focused more on a system of individual and collective empowerment? Open dialogue around what personal safety feels like for the individual and why. Knowing that what may feel safe for one person may not for another, depending again on their collective history, life experience and environment and also depending on who and what we represent and stimulate for the individual as well. 

How can we together create and hold more spaces that support people in connecting with themselves and having the capacity and agency to express themselves around what feels ok for them and what doesn’t at any given moment? There is so much trust that is handed over to us as facilitators, don’t we need the constant reciprocity of others within a session to help guide where it needs to go, especially on a one-to-one basis? 

How did Dan get to this level of intimacy with numerous people and not receive the information back that he was crossing boundaries? Was it not felt or spoken about, was this communication ignored? 

Community Enquiry – Neutrality

Dan mentions in his letter that he failed to maintain a space of neutrality – which brings up an interesting enquiry. As breathworkers, are spaces of neutrality what we are aiming to create? Is that the goal when such a large part of breathwork is to feel the feelings that our everyday society and environments don’t support us in feeling, or expressing? 

Perhaps the concept of neutrality in breathwork spaces needs to be unpacked first, so we can more fully understand what a space of neutrality is and what aspects of this could be supportive, also what aspects actually perpetuate harm.

Could breathwork spaces instead support people to step out of the neutrality that they are asked to fit into in their everyday lives? 

Do we have an unhelpful systematic compass that tells us that to be more neutral, is to be more accepted? That if and when we don’t feel neutral, then something is wrong with us and our bodies’ responses. That our nervous systems are out of balance and we must focus and work towards neutralising or even numbing ourselves so that we can once again return to our work, our dysfunctional lives and our dysfunctional relationships. 

Could this confusion be related to our education around trauma or the lack of it within breathwork generally? How many times do our trauma experts need to emphasise the importance of our environment when it comes to trauma, for us to actually look at our environments? What are our trauma-informed trainings missing by only focusing on the individualisation of personalised trauma, without bringing in our collective history, our social and systemic environments which undeniably impact us all so greatly?

The words of Gabor Mate in a recent interview; ‘Would you rather be illusioned or disillusioned, would you rather see the world through some false lens or would you see reality the way it is’

Dan is now a symbol of this disillusionment for me, we surely can’t ignore this anymore, this is all the evidence we need to understand wellness is no different to advertising, banking, corporate industries of which the hierarchies and privileges work the same. 

Community Enquiry – Is the healing community ready to see reality the way it is and work together to change it? 

It really doesn’t matter if you are hearing or reading this and thinking well, this doesn’t include me, I adhere to the highest ethical standards possible. You do so within a framework that doesn’t seem to support the well-being of all bodies equally. All of us need to work towards the paradigm shifts that are essential for our healing, grounding and growth. 

Coming to a close for now, I would like to finish this enquiry with Dan’s mention of his restorative justice programme. 

Dan, why aren’t you using your leverage and platform to raise the voices of the …“conscious women leaders, breathwork elders, psychotherapists, psychologists and gender and sexual specialists”…as the voices of ethics instead of stepping forward and using your own? Wouldn’t these people, who had the compassion, patience and time to sit with you over the last nine months to support you in opening your eyes to your ‘outdated approaches and methods’, be more appropriate to hold these conversations? 

And what was/is this restorative program exactly? Before we all exhale in relief that you are starting to meet yourself in new ways and are committing to your inner work, who are these voices exactly and what validates them as being qualified? It feels important to check in with this and learn more about your restoration process before feeling rest assured that you are back and better than ever. 

I close with a paraphrased quote from Ella Manga speaking at the Inspiration Festival…“the time of the one Guru is done, this paradigm is dissolving, there is now a collective guru and each of us is contributing to it, through our collective healing, wisdom and weaving”… 

Let’s keep the conversation burning. In gratitude for the space to share. 

Thank You. 

I would like to reference and thank the work of the Forest Garden, Hannah Kendaru, Sujeewa Jaya and Shalini Tawari, so much learning and sharing has come from our time together. Also Resmaa Menakem and Carlin Quin, all for being beacons of collective hope and advocates for the necessity of our root work. 

Thank you to those who helped me through proofreading and feedback, supporting this letter as an invitation to enquire further rather than add to blame or cancel culture. 

I want to reference and thank the work of the Forest Garden, Hannah Kendaru, Sujeewa Jaya and Shalini Tawari. As well as Resmaa Menakem and Carlin Quin, all for being such beacons of collective hope through root work. 

And for those that helped me with my literacy through proofreading and helping me to refine my words, in the hope this will serve enquiry rather than add to blame or cancel culture. 

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