By Jaime Griesgraber

Imagine sitting face-to-face with a lion in the wild. You can smell his breath and see his whiskers. The beast releases a deafening growl and you wonder, "Is it going to kill me?"

That was the question posed to professional animal communicator Anna Breytenbach at a workshop last weekend.

Her response?

"You just should have asked him."

Breytenbach, 36, conducts animal communication workshops once a month in Cape Town and Johannesburg, bringing together about 15 animal owners, veterinarians and professionals to learn how to improve their own ability to communicate with animals.

Participants hung on Breytenbach's every word as she answered similar questions such as:

How do you differentiate between communicating with all of the animals near you or just one in a group?

Is it best to ask animals open-ended or yes-or-no questions? Can animals lie?

The answers are simple.

When faced with a group of animals, the human chooses whether to telepathically transmit a broadcast message to all, or to individually connect with one animal at a time.

Open-ended questions are preferable, because the less a human expects something specific, the more open the mind will be to the true answer.

And in matters of deception, people should be aware that although wild animals will never lie, domestic animals have picked up the ability from humans.

Breytenbach has been leading animal communication workshops for the past eight months and believes she is the only professional animal communicator in the Western Cape.

Last weekend's workshop was held at Spirit of the Bear, a new Native American-inspired property in the Western Cape.

She led sessions in a five-metre-tall teepee, where participants gathered on cushions around a firepit.

All species share a universal language, according to Breytenbach, but Western tradition has pushed humans to cut off the lines of communication.

"It's not about teaching how to communicate with other species; it's about remembering how to," she says.

Breytenbach has been involved with animals her entire life, but a few spontaneous communication experiences led her to further research.

She started studying the field seriously while working as a project manager for an IT company in Silicon Valley.

She studied at the Assissi International Animal Institute in California, where inter-species communication is "more accepted and robust".

Breytenbach comes from a scientific background and admits that at first she was very sceptical, but "began to trust under the pressure of the sheer weight of the evidence".

She accepts that many people are sceptical about animal communication.

She counters scepticism by saying that telepathic communication is addressed by quantum physics and that science has measurement bases to allow for this.

The process of inter-species communication begins with "quieting your mind to access your intuition, to access ways of perception outside the normal five sensory ways".

Species can then telepathically connect outside the limitations of physical differences.

"It requires overcoming barriers like doubt so you can open your mind, and practice so you can sharpen your focus."

In one of Breytenbach's most powerful experiences, she communicated with a dog deemed to be depressed by his owner. Breytenbach telepathically received images of a man's arm and a bald eagle's head.

She described her visions to the dog's owner who began to cry and revealed that her late husband had had a tattoo of a bald eagle on his right arm.

Breytenbach offers examples of her experiences with animal communication as participants share their successes and challenges in the field.

During one exercise, Breytenbach passed around photographs of animals and asked workshop participants to ask three questions of the beast: What do you drink out of? What do you eat out of? And, where do you like to sleep?

To help the group members calm their minds she led them in a relaxation exercise.

About 50 percent of the participants correctly identified the colour of the eating and drinking dishes, and 80 percent determined, specifically, where the animal best liked to sleep.

Breytenbach said exercises like these opened the channel that connected a human to an animal and allowed meaningful communication to flow both ways.

Melanie Katsell owns Spirit of the Bear where last week's workshop was held. She said she admired the interactive learning format and enjoyed hearing Breytenbach's stories.

"She can learn about and understand wildlife in an amazing way and is more in tune with what's going on than anyone I have ever met," Katsell said. "It's a skill that all of us are searching for."