What is Breathwork? Healing and Transformation from Within
Can something as simple as our own breathing have an impact on our health? And can it lead to deep and lasting personal transformations? This article will look at what breathwork is, the different benefits reported from breathwork, some of the popular styles of breathwork and whether breathwork is something you should consider introducing into your life.
But first, we must look at why working with the breath is important at all.
When we enter this world, we take our first breath. When we exit this world, we take our last. Scientifically, the oxygen from our breath unlocks energy within our cells so that our bodies and minds can function. Without it, we would die. This makes breathing the force that gives us life.
The yogis of old recognized this when they labeled their special kind of yogic breathing pranayama. Prana here means life force, and Yama means control. This prana, or life force, refers directly to the breath, but its deeper meaning is much more than the physical breath.
In these yogic teachings, prana is seen as primal energy, pure consciousness, and the force with which the universe came into creation. This shows interesting parallels to what Shaman’s call spirit (link) and Sufi’s call the divine (link). We will discuss primal energy and pure consciousness in future articles, but for now, let’s get back to the topic at hand: breathwork.
What is breathwork?
Breathwork is used as a catch-all term for different breathing techniques. These techniques involve conscious control of the breath replacing the automatic breathing that we are used to. Once in control, a change in breathing pattern is then performed, often under the guidance of a trained breathwork specialist.
This change can be something quite simple such as slowing the breath down or speeding it up, or it could be something more complex such as a sequence of different types of breath. You may be wondering about the reasons behind taking control of the breath in this way. Well, as you will see, there are many.
The benefits of breathwork are far-ranging. Depending on the techniques, performing conscious breathing can have a positive impact on our mental, physical and spiritual health.
Below are just some of the benefits that can be found.
- Improve feelings of anxiety and depression
- Increase mood and feelings of general joy/happiness
- Help in overcoming trauma
- Improved cognitive function
- Improve sleep and recovery
- Boost energy levels
- Increase feelings of physical wellbeing
- Reduce chronic pain or inflammation
- Remove energy blockages
- Restore natural energy flow within the body
- Become more present
- Improve awareness
What’s more though, a number of these claims are beginning to be backed by modern-day science. While the research is still in its infancy, due to the power breathing techniques have on the physical body, the results are looking very promising. So now you know why breathwork is performed, you might be thinking exactly how to do it.
Popular styles of breathwork
There are countless ways to do breathwork, however, there are a few popular styles that really stand out.
The following styles are practiced all over the world, are generally deemed safe and users often report a wide variety of benefits such as those mentioned above. It is worth noting here that these descriptions are intentionally brief and are not meant as instruction manuals to perform these at home. We would recommend discussing these with a trained breathwork instructor before beginning any of them.
Yogic breathwork, or pranayama, takes many different forms. A few of these include:
- Omkar – chanting OM while extending the exhale of the breath
- Anulom Vilom or Nadi Shodhana – alternate nostril breathing
- Ujayi breath – restricting the throat to control and slow the breath
- Kapalhati – rapid exhales while constricting the abdomen
As you can see from this list, methods differ widely. There are countless more methods in existence, and each method has been designed to focus on specific benefits.
While there are some small variations, box breathing, or square breathing, is a technique that follows the following basic sequence:
- Inhale slowly for 4 seconds
- Hold for 4 seconds
- Exhale slowly for 4 seconds
- Hold for 4 seconds
Box breathing is mainly used for stress relief and mental wellbeing, but can also improve concentration and focus, amongst other benefits.
Wim Hof Method
Wim Hof, also known as The Ice Man, has pioneered his own breathing technique that has allowed him to generate heat within his body and allowed him to break 20 world records for withstanding cold temperatures.
This method involves short bursts of breathwork performed daily to build the body’s ability to deal with cold temperatures over time. The benefits of his technique are not only limited to temperature however, with his huge following reporting benefits such as improved mood, improvements in autoimmune conditions and more energy to name just a few.
Holotropic breathwork was invented by Dr. Stan Grof to alter the consciousness of his patients in a way that helps support the deep healing of psychological issues and psychological trauma.
The word holotropic, according to Dr. Grof, means ‘moving towards wholeness.’ And since the psychologist, who cofounded transpersonal psychology, was dubbed ‘arguably the world’s greatest living psychologist,’ he may be on to something. This technique involves a rapid form of breathing that continues for an extended period of time, often accompanied by dramatic music. This triggers the body’s survival response and allows human consciousness to reach an altered state, which has been shown to bring about deep and profound personal changes.
(Note: this is very similar to rebirthing, a breathing technique developed by Leonard Orr that does not utilize dramatic music and instead focusses on a more relaxed exhale.)
Is breathwork for you?
As you can see from both the wide range of techniques and an extensive list of benefits, breathwork likely has something of benefit for most people. What is important here however is establishing exactly which technique or style is appropriate for you, depending on your unique circumstances.
While there is a range of resources online for further research, it is our recommendation that to get the most out of breathwork you speak with someone who fully understands the different techniques and can guide you accordingly.
Now you know a little about breathwork, the different kinds and the benefits of breathwork, you might be interested in giving it a try. At HoC we believe that the tools for deep transformation already exist within each of us, but that we often need the guidance and support of professionals to facilitate this transformation.
To connect with your breath and facilitate healing and transformation from within, please contact Hub of Consciousness for details of specialized breathwork events which will be run by our in-house professional breathwork specialist in Dubai.