It seems like every other person these days has a wild story about their first breathwork experience: psychedelic, transformative, intense or magical. There's no doubt that this modality has become increasingly valued and in-demand. But aside from the wild stories…
Do you really just… lie on the floor and breathe? And good things happen? I’ve been breathing since I was born.
In short? Yes. Kind of. You’ll probably do some other things, too.
Let’s start with the most important part: why would you dedicate an hour or more to breathing? And, how on earth is this healing? Here’s what you need to know.
# 1 Yogis have known for a long, long time that breath is powerful
Hence the emphasis placed on pranayama as one of the eight limbs of yoga. In lengthy pranayama sessions, yogis learned that they could find a sense of peace, equanimity, and connection to all that is -- consciousness, you might say. Focused breathing practice helped them to transcend the chatter of the mind and achieve elevated states of meditation. Not bad for sitting and breathing, eh?
# 2 The breath is one of the primary ways that we relate to stress, anxiety, and trauma
Think: SURPRISE! Sudden gasp! So the breath can, in turn, be used consciously to de-stress, unwind anxiety, and even access and heal old traumas. Many practitioners experience deep emotional release, transformative realizations, a spark in creativity, or even just an ultra-deep relaxation that they haven’t been able to access otherwise. All of which happens without a single drug, or any spoken therapy.
# 3 Holotropic Breathwork was developed in the 70’s by Dr. Stan Grof
Grof was one of the scholars involved in the creation of Transpersonal Psychology and was a scholar-in-residence at Esalen in Big Sur, California. Him and his wife, Christina Grof traveled extensively, sharing this work and it’s power. The general guideline of Holotropic Breathwork, according to Grof, is to “trust the intrinsic wisdom of the body and follow the inner clues.” In the years since, other forms of breathwork have emerged with slightly different formats. But at its essence? It’s all intentional breathing in a somewhat-meditative state.
# 4 There's scientific proof behind the benefits of breathwork
The research is slowly coming in: One group of Danish researchers determined that participants experienced elevated mood states and increased self-awareness. The Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy found that it may reduce anxiety and depression. So, for those seeking support with these challenges? This could be a game-changer.
# 5 The feeling is different for everyone
So what’s it feel like?! Some people experience a lot of physical sensation -- tingling, muscle twitches, desire to move -- while others have more mental or emotional experiences. Crying, yelling, and having visions aren’t uncommon. Any way you shake it, the experience can be very profound in a number of different ways.
# 6 There are a number of types of breathwork
Ready to sign up but confused by all the names? There are many different types of breathwork -- and the container for each is held a little differently -- depending on how you’re approaching the work. In some breathwork practices or retreats, the group is arranged on mattresses in a room with one or a few practitioners holding the space. Some breathwork practices are offered one-on-one in a setting that might resemble a massage space. Some practices have a mood-setting soundtrack, some don’t. So? Ask! Get in touch with the retreat or practitioner and find out about their approach.
Inhale. Exhale, and… keep going. The power of breath is inside of us all.