Breathwork refers to any type of breathing exercises or techniques where a conscious control of breathing is said to influence a person’s mental, emotional or physical state, with the aim of entering a different state of awareness.
There are many forms of breathwork therapies and each form of breath has a unique purpose and creates a different effect.
What are the most well known and practised styles of breathwork?
Pranayama – If you practice yoga, you are probably familiar with this type of breathwork. Pranayama is about controlling (yama) your breath (prana) and consists of synchronising the breath with movements between asanas. It is also a distinct breathing exercise on its own, usually practised after asana. The goal of pranayama is to connect your body and mind. It also supplies your body with oxygen while removing toxins. This is meant to provide healing physiological benefits.
Holotropic Breathwork – was initially created in the 70’s to achieve psychedelic-like states without using psychedelic drugs. The technique has become increasingly popular among those seeking to explore a unique process of self-healing to attain a state of wholeness. It involves controlling and quickening breathing patterns (for minutes to hours) that changes the balance between carbon dioxide and oxygen in the body, and influences your mental, emotional, and physical state. You are guided through the exercise by someone who is trained in this emotional release modality. Music is also an essential part of the technique and is incorporated into the sessions.
Rebirthing – Rebirthing is an alternative therapy technique used to treat reactive attachment disorder and can help resolve negative experiences from birth and infancy that may be preventing you from forming healthy relationships. Participants use circular breathing (quick, shallow breaths without any breaks between an inhale and an exhale) and are told to expect a release of emotions or a triggering of difficult memories from childhood.
What are some of the proven benefits of breathwork?
The physical benefits of deep breathing are often immediate. When we breathe deeply we activate our parasympathetic nervous system, we slow down our heart rate and lower our blood pressure. Deep breathing can also help your body when it is operating under response or stress, to prevent the release of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. In addition to reversing the physical stress response in your body, deep breathing can also help calm and slow down the emotional turbulence in your mind. People practice breathwork to aid self-development, boost immunity, heal emotional pain and trauma, develop or increase self-awareness, increase confidence, self-image, and self-esteem, overcome addictions and release negative thoughts. Breathwork can also help to improve a wide range of issues including: anxiety, chronic pain, depression, emotional effects of illness, grief, trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A study from 2017 published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that participants who completed 20 breathwork training sessions over a period of eight weeks had significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol compared with those who did not partake in the program.
Lower blood pressure
One study conducted in 2001 and a similar study from 2015 found that practising breathwork for a few minutes per day is an effective and non-invasive method to reduce blood pressure as it trains us to breathe slower and deeper.
Reduce symptoms of depression
When paired with other treatments like yoga, studies have shown that people engaging in these practices for longer periods of time have a measurable decline in depressive symptoms.
A study from 2016 showed for the first time that the rhythm of our breathing generates electrical activity in the brain that influences how well we remember. Researchers found that nasal inhalation triggers greater electrical activity in the brain’s emotional epicentre and greater activity in the seat of memory.
Improves energy metabolism
Controlled breathing may boost the immune system and improve energy metabolism. A study from 2013 found that breathwork and breathing exercises may improve our bodies energy metabolism and more efficient insulin secretion, which results in better blood sugar management. If accurate, the results support the conclusion that controlled breathing isn’t only a counterbalance to stress, but also valuable for improving overall health.
Is breathwork right for you?
Breathwork is for anybody, regardless of age, ability and location. The practices are effective tools for navigating the ups and downs of everyday life. Breathwork is generally safe, well-tolerated, enjoyable and definitely worth a try for most people. *Always consult your doctor before beginning any breathwork therapy, especially if you have a medical condition or take medications that may be affected by the practice. This includes if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
How do I find a breathwork therapy that suits me?
It can be a good idea to start by trying short at home sessions of the various types of breathwork to get an idea of what suits you and your needs the best. Your experience and process with breathwork will be unique and there are little-to-no rules when it comes to establishing your own routine: You can practice in person with a teacher (in a group or solo setting), tune into a digital session, or guide yourself through a breath sequence from home or in the middle of your workday.
What to expect in your first session
While the technique remains mostly the same across all sessions, what you will experience will vary from session to session, and person to person. A private session is usually broken into different parts, around 30 minutes talking and exploring issues, up to 1hr of breathwork and then another 20 minutes or so of integration and talking, depending on the session and type of breathwork. The breathing part of the session is usually done lying down in a relaxed and comfortable environment. Depending on the type of breathwork, there might also be music playing during your session.
How to find a therapist or a class?
Once you decide which type of breathwork you’d like to try, you can search and find a practitioner in your area on our website.