Top 10 benefits of breathwork

If you are interested in adding breathwork techniques and interventions to your work with others, here are some tips to help you prepare.

  1. Before offering breathwork interventions, consider screening your clients or workshop participants to ensure they have no prior contraindications.
  2. Ensure that clients have the right clothing and equipment so they can participate comfortably.
  3. Explain what will happen, the proposed benefits, and the effects of the breathwork technique being introduced. It’s especially important to explain what to expect during breathwork sessions that might release trauma.
  4. Consider the soundscape. Will you use relaxing music or a natural sound backtrack to accompany the experience?
  5. Consider lighting and ventilation to create a soothing atmosphere and sense of safety.
  6. Ensure there is time to discuss and integrate the experience afterward.

10 Benefits of breathwork

  1. Breathwork dampens the acute stress response and can prevent the development of chronic stress-related health problems (Balban et al., 2023).
  2. Deep abdominal breathing activates the body’s relaxation response and helps to reduce blood pressure and improve circulation (Ma et al., 2017).
  3. Regular breathwork boosts your energy and enhances immunity, while shallow breathing can weaken the immune system (Hof & de Jong, 2016).
  4. Breathwork can help manage acute and chronic pain (Kabat-Zinn, 2013).
  5. Breathing exercises can improve sleep quality and help with insomnia (Ma et al., 2017).
  6. Mindful breathing can improve mood and benefit those with depression by helping ground them in the present moment. This overcomes the tendency to worry about the future or ruminate on the past (Burg & Michalak, 2011).
  7. Breathwork can help improve sports performance both physically and mentally. It can enhance cardiovascular fitness, improve focus, and reduce performance anxiety during training and competition (Carter & Carter, 2016).
  8. Breathwork can help improve focus and lengthen attention spans in those who struggle to sustain concentration (Carter & Carter, 2016).
  9. Complex breathwork methods like holotropic breathwork and the Wim Hof method (see below for details) have been linked to enhancing addiction recovery and supporting catharsis in those suffering from post-traumatic stress symptoms (Hof, 2020; Grof, 2013).
  10. Complex breathwork methods also offer a powerful method of self-exploration that can result in a deepening connection to reality, rather like psychedelic plant medicines. These breathwork methods can evoke experiences of bliss and union — or what are called non-ordinary states of consciousness — with life-changing consequences for practitioners (Grof, 2013).

Contraindications to practicing breathwork without direct supervision, including the following:

  • Cardiovascular disease (including high blood pressure)
  • A history of aneurysms anywhere in the body
  • Kidney disease
  • Asthma and other respiratory conditions
  • Epilepsy
  • Vision problems
  • Any other physical or mental health condition that could impair or affect the ability to endure deep physical and emotional release (such as recent injury, surgery, osteoporosis, or a history of psychosis)

If in any doubt, please contact your health care provider before beginning a breathwork practice.

Risks of breathwork

If you’re new to breathwork techniques, some can lead to hyperventilation (Othership, 2021). This is unpleasant and uncomfortable because you may experience:

  • Dizziness and light-headedness
  • Tingling in your limbs
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Muscle spasms
  • Changes in vision because of a lack of oxygen
  • Ear ringing

If you hyperventilate, then slow breathing through your nose with one nostril closed will help regulate your breathing and reduce unpleasant symptoms.

Holotropic breathwork

Holotropic means “moving toward wholeness” (from the Greek holos, meaning “whole” and trepein, meaning “moving in the direction of something”).

Holotropic breathwork practice aims to move practitioners toward wholeness by activating the natural inner healing process to release emotional blockages and trauma. Psychiatrist Stanislav Grof (2013) developed it when he had to discontinue his psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy research because of a change in US drug laws.

Grof (1971) noticed that deep trauma release during his LSD sessions was often accompanied by breathing changes and began experimenting with breathwork to establish its drug-free effects. He found that what he came to call holotropic breathwork could also evoke non-ordinary states of consciousness and energy release without LSD.

The holotropic breathwork process combines accelerated breathing with evocative music in a specially prepared setting.

People work in pairs and alternate the roles of breather and sitter. The breather lies down on a mat with their eyes closed and works with their breath and the music to enter a non-ordinary state of consciousness. The sitter accompanies them to provide support if needed. Neither sitters nor facilitators intervene or guide the process in any way.

Instead, the breathwork technique activates the practitioner’s inner healing intelligence, including the perinatal and transpersonal dimensions, that naturally guide the process.

Grof (2000) developed a unique cartography of the psyche based on his observations and self-reported experiences of holotropic breathwork practitioners. When the practice connects the breather to perinatal memories in the womb and the birth process, a powerful healing experience can occur akin to a psychospiritual death and rebirth, as described in many world spiritual traditions.

PsyNurse
Author: PsyNurse

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