Short and Long Term Gains of Breathing The Right Way
When I was an athlete competing on a highly competitive level, one of my coaches, Willard Hirschi, taught me how to breathe to achieve greater results. At the time, I just followed his advice since his techniques seemed to work and gave me better results on the field. Fast forward to today, and we have learned so much about the positive effects of breathing properly. Things like: helping people relax, gaining greater focus, lowering stress levels, and ultimately finding better levels of personal health.
I have seen a few articles recently that have resonated with me about breathing, and I wanted to share some of the ideas that might help you in your daily grind.
Most of us need a little extra boost during the day, so instead of reaching for that highly caffeinated energy drink, try some of these breathing techniques instead. I know you will benefit from better breathing, because I am a product of this often-forgotten and rarely used technique. It’s therapeutic…and I believe you just might like it!
Breathing deeply and spending time meditating is nothing new, but how often do you actually engage in this healthy exercise? I would say that we all can do better and become more consistent in spending time taking in more oxygen.
Some people have taken breathing to a new level of healthy living. There is actually quite a large industry forming out there that is benefitting a growing contingency of people around the world through a technique known as “Breathwork.”
Breathwork is a general term used to describe any type of therapy that utilizes breathing exercises to improve mental, physical, and spiritual health. No matter what we call it, whether therapy – or just taking some time to breathe deeper, it works.
Most people know this as a form of breathing for relaxation, and there are many forms of “breathwork therapy” out there. Each technique has its own unique method of using breathing for healing. Breathwork draws from Eastern practices like yoga and Tai Chi while incorporating Western psychotherapy techniques. This type of therapy seeks to combine a few other elements of relaxation and includes breathing exercises, art, music, talk therapy and bodywork. This therapy can be used with individuals, couples, and groups.
CONDITIONS BREATHWORK TREATS
In general, the goal of breathwork is: “to support people in achieving a greater sense of self-awareness and capacity for self-healing.” It also helps people work toward overall improvement in mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. There are breathwork therapists known as Breathworkers, and they guide participants through various therapeutic breathing techniques. Breathwork therapy can be a benefit to people experiencing issues such as:
- Chronic pain
- Anger issues
- Trauma and posttraumatic stress
- Grief and loss
- Emotional effects of physical illness
TYPES OF BREATHWORK APPROACHES IN THERAPY
There are several kinds of breathwork therapy available today. Some of which I’m a fan of and others that seem a little strange. Breathwork practitioners begin with an in-depth interview about present concerns and past experiences. One on one and group sessions include in-depth intuitive counseling and typically one hour of breathing practice. However, many of these have similar foundations. Some well-known types of breathwork include:
Clarity Breathwork. Clarity Breathwork addresses any and all issues that hinder the healthy flow of energy and breath. It is based on the idea that most people do not breathe to their full capacity (amen to that)! The main goal of a Clarity Breathwork Practitioner is to teach people how to breathe fully. This may release the emotional energy that keeps them stuck.
Biodynamic Breathwork. Fully known as BioDynamic Breath and Trauma Release System, this modality integrates six elements. The goal is to release tension, support natural healing, and restructure internal systems. The categories of biodynamic breathwork are breathing, movement, sound, touch, emotion, and meditation. This approach recognizes trauma is stored in both psychological and physical ways. Trauma may be stored through emotional patterns, chronic stress, and blocked energy. Biodynamic Breathwork aims to restore balance to these systems. Treatment sessions might incorporate exercises like deep, connected breathing and revisiting ingrained memories and sensations. It might also include music or sound therapy, vocalization, and even dance therapy.
Holotropic Breathwork. In this type of breathwork, the goal is to achieve “wholeness” of mind, body, and spirit. Sessions are facilitated by certified practitioners who have completed the Grof Transpersonal Training program. With the aid of “evocative” music and occasional bodywork, participants are guided through breathing exercises while lying down. Holotropic Breathwork is often conducted with groups, and allows people to work in groups and support each other’s processes. Participants sometimes create mandalas (symmetrical drawings) related to their experience immediately after the group breathing exercises – may seem a little over the top, but it is said that this part of the program brings the whole experience together. Sessions end with sharing and discussion. This is designed to help participants integrate what they have learned about themselves.
Rebirthing Breathwork. This type of breathwork is also known as Conscious Energy Breathing. The goal of “Rebirthing” is to help people release energy blockages that have been stored in the body and mind due to suppressed trauma – literally since the day they were born. A little over the top in my humble opinion, but practitioners say its a necessary component of the entire experience. Participants are asked to lie down, relax, and breathe normally. Through the use of “conscious-connected circular breathing”, inhibitions surface, the tensions of past trauma are then illuminated. Deep relaxation is used to promote brain waves that lead to the release of subconscious issues and pent-up energy. Tension is a state of physical stiffness in the body that can cause pain and even emotional reactions like anxiety. Physical relaxation aims to undo this tension and progressively relax specific muscles and muscle groups. Psychological relaxation occurs when the mind is relatively free of stress and distraction, and this is also taught during the sessions.
OTHER EXAMPLES OF BREATHWORK EXERCISES
All forms of breathwork therapy are centered on the act of breathing in and out. But each model incorporates its own breathwork exercises. Overall, breathwork exercises involve deep, focused breathing that lasts for an extended period of time. Some examples include:
- 20 connected breaths. The participant is asked to breathe in and out 20 times. They take four sets of four short breaths and one deep breath. It is suggested that the breathing be done as in-hale through the nose, and ex-hale though the mouth. Participants may experience “non-ordinary” states of consciousness as a result of this exercise.
- Breathe in and hold your breath. Don’t have an hour to sit and focus on breathing? Try this exercise: Take 10-20 deep breaths and hold each one for 7-10 seconds, exhaling slowly. This will help you to relax, and it’s a great technique to help to relax and regain focus.
NOTED POSITIVE RESULTS OF BREATHWORK
Supporters argue that breathwork can be extremely effective in the treatment of several physical and mental health issues. The Stanislav and Christina Grof Foundation cites the following research in support of the benefits of Breathwork:
- Dr. Stanislav and Christina Grof at the Esalen Institute concluded that the alteration of consciousness that occurs during Holotropic Breathwork incites not only phenomenal influence but also positive physiological effects.
- In 1996, a study conducted by Sarah Holmes found that participants who received Breathwork experienced a reduction in “death anxiety” and an increase in self-esteem.
- A study conducted by Binovera (2003) found that Breathwork participants reported better communication with others and a deeper understanding of the world around them.
People interested in Breathwork should be aware of any potential risks. Some of the research shows that some forms of Breathwork are not recommended for people with a history of aneurisms, cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, vision problems, osteoporosis, or any recent physical injuries or surgeries. It is also not recommended for people who experience severe psychiatric symptoms or seizures or who take heavy medication. Potential participants may want to consult with their primary care physician and seek a certified professional before engaging in breathwork therapy.
Today, the field of Breathwork continues to evolve. Dozens of models and certification programs are available to interested participants and practitioners alike. Many organizations contribute to the training, research, and expansion efforts of Breathwork therapists around the world. These include:
- The Stanislav and Christina Grof Foundation (formerly called the Association of Holotropic Breathwork International) (AHBI)
- Rebirthing Breathwork International (RBI)
- The Global Professional Breathwork Alliance (GPBA)
- The International Breathwork Foundation (IBF)
If you engage in a form of breathing, or Breathwork therapy, or just take a few minutes and experience deep breathing and meditation during the stresses of the day, you can’t go wrong. It will help you feel better, gain more clarity and experience better focus – plus help fire up those endorphins for better health.
I wish you the best and hope you enjoy your next session of relaxation and deep breathing! Brian