Thinking about booking your first breathwork session? I don’t blame you because they are becoming increasingly popular in recent years. Breathwork is now a recognised therapeutic technique almost worldwide and has grown so popular because it is so easy and accessible and the results are instantaneous in most cases. People never fail to be surprised by how simple changes to your breathing pattern can directly affect your physical, spiritual and emotional lives.
It is no surprise that is so effective because although it has only recently entered into public consciousness it has actually been around for centuries. In fact, Pranayama has been practised as a part of yoga for roughly 5,000 years. Breathwork originates from many sources. For example, modern Breathwork takes inspiration from Yoga, Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism and especially Shamanism. Many of these Eastern practices believed that incorrect breathing was the root cause of ill health, both mentally and physically.
There are countless breathwork techniques. Modern Breathwork has almost fifty independent styles. What they all have in common is that they increase breath awareness and force you to breathe consciously. Breathing consciously allows us to examine how we are breathing and consciously alter our pattern from small shallow breaths to full deep breathing. We can also override the automatic breathing patterns that we have as a result of the contents of our subconscious minds. Likewise, breath awareness means that we have to allow sensations that arise through our breathing to come and go, without reacting to them. This type of mindfulness enables you to become less responsive and more present in each moment.
Breathwork is a powerful therapeutic practice with real healing capabilities. It is not hyperventilation, although it is sometimes suggested that these are the same thing. Hyperventilation occurs when the exhale is forced or pushed. This is not common practice in breathwork. If a forced exhale is used it is not for prolonged periods.
Breathwork has many physical and mental health benefits, it is important to note that breathing is a relatively recent intervention and as such studies into its benefits are only beginning to be investigated. What we do know is that breathing stimulates the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. Depending on the type of Breathwork chosen, as different patterns produce different results, it can stop sudden panic attacks and reduce stress and depressive symptoms. Some early studies show that certain Breathwork techniques move you into Theta brainwaves, increasing your intuition and openness. Also physically, Breathwork produces a number of responses in the body and can change the structure and function of the body. Obviously breathing more deeply and consciously increases oxygenation levels, however, depending on the pattern chosen breathwork can reduce your blood pressure and lower your heart rate. Deep breathing is also detoxifying as breathing is one of the body's main ways to eliminate toxins. Breathing in this way massages the lymphatic system so it has an increased effect. It has also been suggested that Breathwork could be used to treat asthma, depression, arthritis and a number of chronic and immunological disorders, however, research is in its early stages.
What we do know, thanks to the work of Stanislav and Christiana Grof that breathwork has a powerful impact on the subconscious mind. Throughout their numerous years of practice, they were able to demonstrate that participants in their experiments were able to access birth and prebrith trauma that was later confirmed by witnesses at the time. Some of the astonishing research just proves that breathwork can transform really deep emotional issues such as fear and grief and give us a deeper experience of healing that we may get from other therapeutic techniques.
During your first few breathwork sessions, you may experience something called tetany. This is characterised as cramping of the hands, arms, feet, legs and mouth. This commonly occurs in early breathwork sessions when using a transformative and powerful breathwork technique. It can also be quite frightening to some people, therefore it is often better to take your early sessions with a facilitator who can reassure you that it is all normal and potentially just a physical manifestation of an emotion like fear getting ready to be released. Tetany can also occur if we aren’t surrendering to the breathwork process, this can occur if we are forcing the exhale or tensing. This can all be observed and guided by a facilitator during the session to make sure that you get the most from your session.
Other common effects of a breathwork session include tension, shaking, sweating, dizziness, pressure, pins and needles, dry mouth, weakness and congestion. These are just examples and many of them pass the more someone can relax into the breathwork. Usually, these symptoms occur pretty quickly into a session, but they can also pass relatively quickly. Some lasting physical effects include a deep feeling of vibration that occurs at a cellular level in the body. This vibration might sound daunting, however, it is deeply soothing and familiar. This vibration connects us to the vibratory nature of the whole universe.
It is also common for emotions, memories and premonitions to occur during sessions. Memories could be from early life or from what appears to be a past, or collective life experience. Sometimes, if the participant is open to it, you can have mystical experiences occurring during your session that can give you insights into a whole new dimension of life.
There are some contraindications for breathwork such as pregnancy and high blood pressure. This can all be discussed with a facilitator when you begin practising as not every contraindication will rule breathwork out for you, it simply means that you need to modify the practice to fit your requirements.
If you are thinking about starting your breathwork journey it is important to remember that it is a powerful healing modality that has a wealth of history supporting it as a practice. Breathwork is also safe. Some people are suggesting that breathwork is in some way dangerous, however. this is not the case. If performed correctly breathwork is perfectly safe.
Through breathwork, you learn how to become your own healer. Your body knows what is best for you and through breathwork, you can learn to trust yourself and your body whilst removing the subconscious blockages that may be holding you back.