I sprawl on a futon in the living room of a small, spotless apartment in Evanston, and a pretty woman in her 40s covers me with a lightweight blue blanket and tells me to breathe. “Listen to how I’m breathing,” she says, inhaling deep and loud–and then exhaling with the same force and sound. “When you get to the end of the exhale, don’t wait a beat to inhale again. Ignore your instinct to wait that beat. Connect your exhale and inhale and form a continuous circle with your breath.”

Hallie Loewy has been a macrobiotic cooking instructor, a macrobiotic chef, a certified massage therapist, a food-supplement consultant, and a calligrapher. Now she’s a rebirther.

And she’s doing it to me.

“The results are profound and quick,” says Loewy, who tried rebirthing for the first time herself three years ago; her complaints were emotional and relationship problems, indecisiveness, allergies, and a lack of direction. “I tried psychotherapy, group therapy, yoga, t’ai chi, meditation, macrobiotics and other diets, est, and raw foods. But with rebirthing, healing takes place that we can’t grasp. I’m not arrogant enough to say I know how this works. I tell clients, ‘Trust the process. Trust your breath.'”

Loewy tells me how well I’m doing with my smooth circle of exhale and inhale–the right force, the right sound, everything’s right, she says. I wait for profound change.

“Any session is a good session,” says Loewy. “If you trust your rebirther.”

Which I do. I’ve known Loewy for 20 years, and she’s a quiet, calm, interesting person with a soothing voice and look. Still, she had to beg me for months before I’d let her rebirth me.

A session lasts about two and a half hours and costs about $55; usually one to several sessions will do the trick. Loewy says breathing in this fashion under the direction of a rebirther opens one up to “being healed on whatever level you need to be healed.

“Realizations come from deep, internal places where you make change.” After her first session, she knew that she needed to exercise. “In each session after that, I became aware of what I needed to do next. My defense mechanisms broke down, but I was never out of control.”

The creator of rebirthing is Leonard Orr, who was Loewy’s teacher during a week-long course in Nevada: 24 hours a day, they got in touch with fire, earth, water, and air by sitting outside by a fire, fasting, remaining totally silent, and not sleeping. Orr says that rebirthing breathing lets people reexperience their births, the pain of which otherwise reappears throughout life–“over and over in adult life,” says Loewy. “But I have a strong belief in gearing my clients more to the present, to get them to a place of well-being–through experiencing peace, security, love, joy, wisdom, and faith–rather than concentrating on old negative patterns and pain. The past is not where we are now.

“People have to feel real safe in rebirthing. And that’s something I really offer people. They feel real nurtured by my presence. I make rebirthing as painless as possible.”

Before we started, Loewy had asked me a few questions. “I don’t use a regular set of questions,” she explains. “I do an intuitive interview with penetrating questions so I can find out my clients’ issues: Where do you feel negative about yourself? What do you like best about yourself? What would you like to change about yourself? If you didn’t have to worry about making money, what would you do with your time? I’d still do rebirthing,” Loewy interjects, “because I love helping people. I know that about myself.”

Twenty minutes into our breathing routine, I suddenly feel a numb, tingling sensation in my extremities, which Loewy had warned me about but I’d forgotten. So the only insight I have as far as what to do next in my life is to stop the rebirthing session. Loewy says that the feeling is normal and will pass and encourages me to go on. But I can’t.

“You see, that’s your issue,” she says. “You reached a panicky point and stopped. So the next session, your body would be less important and you’d probably get in touch with what you’re really panicky about. Probably some old memory about losing control that you processed out.”

I ask Loewy, the certified massage therapist, to massage my back to bring me back to reality, which she does, at the same time calming me down by explaining what happened. “Having all that oxygen in your system is something you’re not used to,” she says. “A lot of oxygen in the system helps people get in touch with their ‘life’s work,’ with their inner spirituality, and helps them make changes they have to make. If we’d gone the whole session, you’d feel refreshed and rejuvenated from all the oxygen.”

Later, a doctor friend tells me I was hyperventilating. “But don’t worry,” he says, “hyperventilating won’t hurt you, it won’t have any lasting effects. Kids do it all the time when they’re having temper tantrums.”

A few days later, I ask Loewy if she thinks I was hyperventilating. “I don’t think rebirthing has anything to do with hyperventilation,” she says. “But I really don’t understand the physiology of the process–why you’d have those physical feelings, like tingling. I only understand the spiritual, the therapeutic, the changes my clients make. It’s a tool you can use for the rest of your life.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/John Sundlof.