Breathwork has been a journey for me. The more I practice, the more I feel its effects compound within me. I feel a little better every time. Not only has it been a practice in controlled breathing but it’s increased my self-awareness of how and when I breathe. Since incorporating breathwork into my day-to-day, I can honestly say that I feel more confident, grounded and calm. (All feelings which can be pretty hard to come by these days.)
What is breathwork exactly?
Breathwork is any type of intentional, controlled breathing exercise. It can be as simple as taking a deep breath after a stressful meeting.
Breathwork has its roots in the Pranayama concept used in yoga and deep breathing used in Tai Chi and other Eastern practices. It works by consciously changing the way you breathe. It covers a range of different types of breathing exercises and can become a powerful tool in facilitating healing and transformation.
A daily breathwork practice can benefit the mind, body, and spirit through a whole-body approach. It’s helped me to reach a deeper state of mind and to stay focused on tasks longer. It is also a wonderful tool for creating a better sense of self-awareness.
There are many reasons people turn to breathwork, and why I was attracted to it in the first place.
Here are some of the top benefits it can have on your mental, physical and emotional state:
- Increases your self-confidence and boosts your self-esteem
- Allows you to tap into deeper creative energies
- Aids in the release of stress and anxiety
- Can help you work through negative emotions and release negative thoughts
- Allows for a deeper state of consciousness during meditation
Different types of breathwork
These days, my breathwork practice isn’t as structured as it was when I first started the practice. I tend to lean into my breath when I feel like I need it most. When I started learning about using breathwork as a healing tool, I studied about a dozen different techniques to see which one resonated the most with me and my goals.
The ones that stood out the most to me were the following.
If you’ve done yoga, you are probably familiar with yoga breathing or pranayama. By practicing this type of deep breathing while flowing through various yoga poses, it creates a sense of self-awareness that can help you overcome the emotional and energy blocks that hinder your life force.
Holotropic breathwork is a breathing practice known to induce trippy experiences and the effects are sometimes compared to that of some hallucinogens. This style can be too intense for some people.
Sessions are usually held in groups with a facilitator. The aim is to reach an altered state of consciousness through various types of breathing, leading to a feeling of wholeness between body, mind and spirit.
Rebirthing breathwork aims to release blocked energies caused by suppressed trauma. It uses a circular breathing technique to create an emotional release. It’s based on the principle that all humans have already suffered trauma during their birth and that trauma is still stored within the body. This stored energy manifests itself as anxiety and stress until it is released.
Wim Hof Method
The Wim Hof Method merges breathwork and cold therapy. It’s a very intense form of breathwork that feels more like controlled hyperventilation than it does a calming meditation practice.
In fact, participating in a Wim Hof style ice-bath is what got me interested in breathwork in the first place. Not to sound to cliche, but after one round of Wim Hof breathing, I felt unstoppable and knew I wanted to incorporate it into my wellness practice. It created a rush of energy and confidence within me that I’ve never felt before.
How does breathwork work within the body?
Breathwork teaches you calmness by consciously slowing and changing the way you breathe. This activates the parasympathetic system, the exact opposite system used during stress situations (fight-and-flight response).
When you are in a stressful situation, your breathing tends to become shallow and this tells the mind to activate stress hormones like cortisol. Your body starts to get ready for “fight or flight” and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. When you practice breathwork, whether during a stressful situation or not, you can actually trick your body into calming down by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure. This allows the body to revel in the relaxing effects induced by the parasympathetic system.
Breathwork also increases the amount of oxygen in the blood, carrying more to the brain, muscles and organs. The best thing about breathwork and deep breathing is that you can do it anywhere and at any time.
If you decide to practice breathwork, I recommend starting with a basic session of breathwork for beginners, led by a certified teacher. These days, you can search online and find at-home sessions led by qualified instructors who will guide you through the practice.
I know this can seem like an oversimplification of complicated issues. You might roll your eyes at a stranger on the internet telling you that closing your eyes and taking a deep breath will help you feel better. That was me. I rejected the idea that something as simple as breathing could give me small relief. And I definitely did not want to commit to yet another practice that I would feel guilty about not maintaining. Instead of putting pressure on myself to become this breathwork expert, I let myself to take baby steps and listen to how my body feels while I’m breathing.
I try to do it every morning and I always feel more energized and ready to start my day sans coffee which I’m trying to cut back bc anxiety.
If anything, focusing on my breathing is just a few extra seconds of self-care that usually end up helping me feel more present, connected, and lifts a tiny weight off of my shoulders.
For even more breathwork resources, guided sessions, and techniques, check out the Self Healer Starter Kit.