Have you ever eaten a mangosteen? Akin to a white tangerine with a thick, purplish peel, the succulent fruit tastes somewhat like a blend of sweet grapes and strawberries. But it’s hard to conceive of if you’ve never tried it. Kind of like Breema.
I was more than a little hesitant about my first Breema session with my downstairs neighbor, Radhika Schwartz. To be honest, touchy-feely New Age bodywork kind of freaks me out. Besides, I worried that Radhika might seize the occasion as an opportunity to give me a punishing pretzeling session in revenge for my occasional late-night karaoke parties. Little did I anticipate the gift she had in store for me.
I arrived at her apartment, where she had layered a number of pads and blankets on the floor. She instructed me to lie down—fully clothed—close my eyes, and enjoy the treatment. Then, she proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes transforming my nervous system from Grand Central Station to the serene Sahara.
Breema is a system of bodywork that employs nurturing, tension-relieving stretches and rhythmic movements to create physical, mental, and emotional balance, in an atmosphere of harmony and complete non-judgment. A form of bodywork suitable for children through senior citizens, Breema is said to increase flexibility, improve immunity, detoxify the internal organs, regulate blood pressure, enhance circulation, release energy blockages in the joints and spine, alleviate tension, and improve emotional balance and mental clarity.
Practitioners like Radhika employ a harmonious choreography of gentle motions—brushing, tapping, leaning, and stretching—that promotes relaxation, body awareness, and relief from stress. Sessions run 30 minutes to an hour and cost from $35 to $70, depending upon where you live.
“There are hundreds of sequences and you put them together completely based on intuition,” Radhika tells me later, after I’ve dreamily peeled myself off the mat. “It’s a very spontaneous practice. Every treatment is completely different. You can come to a Breema practitioner thousands of times and each session would vary. You could come to a session where you barely move at all.”
I got to move plenty during my session. Or rather, I was moved. With my eyes closed and my body being gently eased this way and that, it was as though someone were doing my stretching for me. I felt like a marionette being led through a series of yoga or modern dance movements by a skilled puppeteer—all while lying comfortably on the floor.
“The stretching is very nourishing,” says Radhika later, and I agree. “You’re almost like a baby in a mother’s arms. You’re able to surrender and relax. It’s very intimate but it’s not threatening,” she says.
So true. At one point, I’m aware that she’s gently stepping on one part of my body while simultaneously stretching an arm and a leg towards the ceiling. At another point, she’s gently massaging the skin above my eyelids. Throughout it all, I’m nowhere near threatened. Birds chirp, a motorcycle roars by, but it’s as though they’re miles away from my inner oasis of silence.
The deeply settling quality of Breema is fostered by the Nine Principles of Harmony that a practitioner remains mindful of while giving a session. They are: Body Comfortable, No Extra, Firmness and Gentleness, Full Participation, Mutual Support, No Judgement, Single Moment/Single Activity, No Hurry/No Pause, and No Force.
Another defining facet of Breema is that it’s not a “fix-it” type of bodywork. “The principles aren’t based on the practitioner fixing the client,” says Radhika. “We aren’t focusing on the problem. The silence that’s transmitted during the session just ‘finds’ what’s necessary for healing and it starts healing itself. The mind and body get to a very quiet and transcendental place. They become so balanced that whatever needs extra healing spontaneously receives it.”
In the Breema school of thought, both practitioner and participant are two different sides of the same coin, both receiving benefit. “It’s almost like a moving meditation,” says Radhika. “I’m very fully participating in what I’m doing, and I’m focused. So my mind becomes really quiet. I’m moving in a very still and quiet way, and the sense of ‘self’ or ‘other,’ the duality, starts to diminish and there’s really only one body. I’m getting the benefit as much as the client is. Naturally, this silence carries out into activity for us both.”
Breema has its origins in Breemava, a small Kurdish village in the Near East. In the late 1970s, U.S. chiropractor Jon Schreiber, D.C., learned the comprehensive system of bodywork that generations of villagers used as a spiritual healing practice to benefit body, mind, and emotions. Over the last 25 years, Dr. Schreiber and others developed Breema into a systematic practice, and in 1980, he founded the Breema Center in Oakland, CA. Since then, the facility has offered classes, workshops, and certification courses in the practice.
Radhika received her training in Oakland and has been practicing for one and a half years. During that time, she has seen Breema benefit the minds and bodies of many clients. “When people really stick with Breema, if they come for 10 to 15 sessions over a period of a few months, their bodies learn to let go of that habit of holding all that tension and stress.”
While no formal studies have yet been conducted on the health benefits of Breema, there have been several successful case studies and countless testimonials. “You see a lot more groundedness, people more aware of their breath and body,” says Radhika. “There’s a stability that’s created, a silent peacefulness.”
Breema can be beneficial for people with all manner of health concerns, as well as those simply wanting to relax and feel more centered. Those who prefer not to work with a practitioner long term can be trained in self-Breema techniques.
In the end, though, Breema will just remain a mysterious mangosteen until you try it. “It’s one of those best-kept secrets,” says Radhika, with a smile.