What Is Breathwork? | Basics & Benefits - Public Goods

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What Is Breathwork? | Basics & Benefits

Breathing is one of the most natural functions we perform as humans, yet so many people walk through the world disconnected from their breath.

They roam through life detached from the one thing that ties us all together.

Not only is breathing vital for life, it also has the capacity to offer deep, transformational healing and increased vitality through the practice of breathwork.

woman in white clothing meditating and practicing nadi shodhan

What is Breathwork Therapy?

Breathwork is a somatic practice. It utilizes the body and the innate power we have for healing to deprogram residual anger, depression, shame and all the other stories we carry that keep us from being our full selves. Breathwork is an incredibly potent tool for working these emotional responses out of the body, and helping to regulate the nervous system. Deep breathing therapy allows us to get out of our minds, and drop into our bodies.

Breathwork differs from everyday breathing, in that it utilizes specific techniques to generate emotional healing.

Talk therapy and other modalities of healing can offer much needed relief and introspection from heavy or overwhelming emotions. However, they often don’t get to the root of the trauma. Deep rooted trauma, no matter how it originated, is stored in the body. These stories are often beyond cognition, and create physiological responses, much like those we see in someone with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or an anxiety disorder.

Los Angeles based Somatic healing and breathwork practitioner Stacey Matulis describes the practice as being able “to bring the nervous system into an altered state of consciousness. From this state, frozen or stuck energies and emotions thaw and come into play…(this) leaves the breather energized, relieved, joyful, inspired, and freed from old limiting beliefs and patterns…with the guidance of your own inner healer, blocks that are no longer serving you will be located and released.”

Another profound Los Angeles-based breathwork facilitator, Erin Telford, describes breathwork practice as “a therapeutic modality that bypasses the mind, the role of emotions, and dealing with grief.”

Traditional forms of breathwork have been found throughout history in Eastern traditions like Tai Chi, Buddhism, and Yoga, as well as being integrated with different forms of meditation. More modern forms of breathwork like Holotropic breathwork were popularized in the 1960’s and 70’s by transformational teachers like Stanislav Grof and Leonard Orr.

What is Breathwork Therapy Good For?

People have found life-changing benefits through the power of breathwork. Everything from chronic depression, anxiety, anger, addiction and PTSD, to chronic pain can be treated with various forms of breathwork. Because it’s an active practice, it’s more accessible for people who have a hard time sitting still in traditional meditation, especially for those with anxiety or ADHD.

Specific breathwork meditations, like those found in Kundalini Yoga, have shown promising results in offering healing for veterans with treatment-resistant PTSD.

Breathwork is awesome even for people without serious ailments. This awakening of the system makes space for greater creativity, energy, spiritual connection, and a deeper experience of what it means to be human.

The Different Types of Breathwork

Because breathwork is such a broad modality, there’s something for everyone. So if one style didn’t work for or resonate with you, there are plenty more options to choose from. Some of the most popular types of breathwork include:

  • Holotropic Breathwork
  • Wim Hof Method
  • Rebirthing Breathwork
  • Clarity Breathwork
  • Yogic Pranayama

Holotropic Breathwork

group of people practicing childs pose yoga position, hands in circle

Founded by Stanislov and Christina Grof, this power couple brought this transformational healing technique to the public eye. In the face of setbacks regarding using LSD for therapeutic applications, the Grofs began to offer Holotropic breathwork as an alternative tool for mind-altering experiences. Some report having near death-like or out of body experiences. which is incredibly potent when it comes to releasing stored trauma.

Holotropic breathwork is usually done lying down, in a group setting with instructions to maintain a continuous or circular breath, typically through the mouth as it allows for deeper emotional release. While everyone finds their own rhythm, the goal of holotropic breathing techniques is to bring in more breath than normal, at a faster rate. Music is played during the session to help facilitate the change in consciousness. Traditionally, facilitators end sessions by offering a drawing prompt and guiding a group discussion.

Wim Hof Method

glaciers and icy water

Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof, also known as The Iceman, has trained himself and his students to be able to withstand extreme temperatures and conditions through his various methods. Inspired by his years of Yogic study, Hof developed a breathwork method that involves a warm up, thirty “power breaths,” a body scan, retention and a recovery breath.

Hof claims that his method allows you to control the autonomic nervous system, giving practitioners incredible strength, power, vitality and overall happiness. More impressively, this breathing technique, in conjunction with ice baths and cold showers, purportedly allows people to be able to consciously control the immune system, warding off infectious pathogens.

Rebirthing Breathwork

two women sitting on yoga mats

A potent tool for healing, Rebirthing Breathwork was founded by Leonard Orr in 1962, and grew in popularity in the coming years. This movement’s humble beginnings began in its founder’s bathtub, as he discovered the potential for transcendental experiences after spending extended periods of time in this state of relaxation.

People typically learn Rebirthing with the support of a trained breathworker, over a series of 10 two-hour breathwork sessions. The breathworker guides their client through continuous breathing through the nose, without pausing on the inhale or exhale.

The aim is to get people past the point of urgency we tend to feel in uncomfortable sessions. Beyond this barrier is a space for healing the traumas we hold around our birth, fear of death and karmas from past lives.

Clarity Breathwork

women practicing meditation while facing the ocean

Evolving from the Rebirthing method, Clarity Breathwork aims to transform the body on a cellular level, to free it from suppressed emotions, physical blocks, and old beliefs and patterns.

Clarity Breathwork is conducted in one-on-one sessions, with a trained facilitator, and involves an in-depth counseling assessment, an hour-long breathing practice, and time for processing and figuring out how to integrate the experience into your daily life.

How to Get Started With Breathwork

The wellness world has a lot of obstacles in terms of accessibility. Oftentimes the people who need the tools the most are not able to afford them. This is one of the beauties of breathwork: anyone can do some iteration of it anywhere, anytime. Add any of these techniques to your wellness toolbelt, and you’ll be amazed at the results.

You can start by finding local practitioners in your area through social media, Yoga and wellness centers, and through a good old search engine. While some practices can be found online, for most methods, it is helpful to have a trained facilitator either in person or virtually. Not only can they instruct you on proper technique, but they serve the vital role of holding space for transformation.

Start With Nadi Shodhana

One powerful breath you can try right here, right now is called Nadi Shodhana, or alternate nostril breath. This simple but effective technique is a form of Yogic pranayama.

Start by sitting in a relaxed, comfortable cross legged position. Take a few moments to drop into your body, and feel the sensations pulsing through you.

woman pinching nose while practicing nadi shodhan

Inhale, then gently plug your right nostril with your thumb, exhale through your left nostril. Inhale through your left nostril, plug it with your index finger, and exhale through your right. Inhale through your right, and exhale through your left, inhale through left again.

woman plugging nose while practicing nadi shodhan

Keep your breath deep, yet relaxed. Set a timer, and continue for anywhere from one to fifteen minutes. This breath is simple, yet effective in balancing the two hemispheres of the brain, allowing for an overall sense of calmness and tranquility. If you have trouble sleeping, try alternate nostril breathing alongside these sleep meditation techniques.

woman plugging nose while practicing nadi shodhan

woman pinching nose while practicing nadi shodhan

Be Safe, Breathe Easy

Almost anyone can find a breathwork technique that is safe for them. However, there are certain methods people should avoid if they have a history of cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, aneurysms, seizures, severe psychiatric symptoms, osteoporosis, or are on certain medications. If this is you, be sure to consult your physician before starting your breathwork journey.

Remember, transformation can be uncomfortable. Breathwork can unleash parts of yourself that you’ve been trying to suppress for years. These suppressed emotions can come up in tears, yelling, moaning and anger. Be tender with yourself, and give yourself space and support to integrate your experience into your daily life.

Now — ready, set, breathe!

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