Your guide to breathwork

What is breathwork?

In short, breathwork is the practice of controlling one's breathing such that the emotional and physical state of the person doing it is altered. Although breathing techniques have been a part of meditative cultures for centuries – and they are also sometimes advised by medical practitioners for certain conditions – breathwork is a term that only started to take off when New Age spirituality began in the 1970s. As such, breathwork is not a single method for controlling breathing and acts more of an umbrella term for a number of different techniques.

 What does breathwork do?

The idea behind breathwork is that people can alter their state by thinking consciously about their breathing. This might mean taking longer, deeper breaths, for example, but it may also mean attempting circular breathing whereby exhaled air is not released but taken into the lungs again. Whatever the particular technique being employed, the focus required will necessarily alter the mindset of the practitioner. It can lead to altered or higher states of consciousness in some but is mostly used as a means of emptying the mind of daily hassles and thereby reaching a calmer, more relaxed state. 

What are the benefits of breathwork?

As mentioned, breathwork is a relaxing thing to do, especially when it is combined with other forms of focussed activity such as meditation or yoga. Scientific studies have not been able to show any discernible physical benefits of breathwork, but being more relaxed is known to have physiological effects, such as lowering levels of stress hormones in the body, like cortisol. Some people claim that thinking about their breathing allows them to improve their mental wellbeing, helping them to cope with conditions like anxiety or depression. However, others find that breathwork is hard, and it, therefore, increases their level of stress rather than helping them to relax.

Who uses breathwork?

In theory, breathwork is open to everyone who does not have a respiratory problem that prevents them from taking part. It is not suited to all, however. In some New Age communities, rebirthing-breathwork is used to help people to reach deep back into their childhood and remember things they had forgotten. This psychological technique has been heavily criticised by some as nothing more than pseudo-science, however. Various yoga sutras advise controlled breathing techniques, something that is known as pranayama. Some people have also developed a hyperventilation technique, which means that they are able to enter into different states of consciousness without taking psychoactive drugs. This method is known to have led to seizures in some cases, however.

What is transformational breathwork?

Transformational breathwork is a self-healing method that was developed by practitioners of rebirthing-breathwork originally. The idea is to learn how to breathe from the lower abdomen under guidance and then to inhale without pausing following an exhalation. Breath analysis is used to tailor the technique to individual requirements, something that usually takes a few facilitated sessions.

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