Breathing—it’s something we all do, in fact we take on average 23,040 breaths a day but when it comes to understanding the transformative benefits, how conscious are we really? While we know meditation and mindfulness help relax the body and mind and encourage a zen state, most techniques are gentle and focused on inducing relaxation. Whereas if you’re looking for a more energising, full body awakening experience, it might be time to try breathwork. With Oprah Winfrey, Orlando Bloom, Tim Ferriss all fans of breathwork, it’s fast becoming the latest healing modality to hit the US and Australian wellness scene. So what exactly is it, how do we do it and why is it so not the same as meditation? Samantha Hoogenboom, breathwork facilitator trained in the ‘Breath of Bliss’ technique in Sydney explains.
What is breathwork?
“Breathwork is a deep breathing technique where you take in more oxygen than normal in a circular way, eliminating the pause between breaths to charge up the body with extra life-force energy and to access the subconscious mind.”
Why should we try it?
“As a result of stress, we often don’t breathe deeply enough and as a result we don’t tend to fully feel and acknowledge what’s going on under the surface. So breathwork helps to dissolve the boundaries between conscious and subconscious, between mind and body and help us step into a more expanded experience of ourselves and our lives.”
Is it a new thing?
“Breathwork has been happening for aeons of time, to evoke the same healing, shamanic, psychedelic and performance-enhancing reasons we do it today. But it was only in the 1960’s and 70’s that the practice gained popularity in the west through two main schools; Rebirthing and Holotropic Breathwork.
What does the technique involve?
“There are two main types—Rebirthing and Holotropic Breathwork. Both have similar benefits but Holotropic Breathwork is considered an intense yang practice with emphasis on the out-breath and stimulating catharsis, whereas Rebirthing is more yin with focus on the in-breath, and the out-breath as a surrender and letting go.” “Rebirthing also focuses more on clearing the initial traumas of a person’s birth. The idea being that whatever negative or scary things we experienced at birth, we have been unconsciously trying to resolve ever since.” “Outside of the two there is also a range of breathing techniques like The Wim Hof Method, Buteyko and Circular Breathwork. Buteyko emphasises slow, nose-breathing and is proven by science to help asthma, whereas circular breathwork is faster open mouth breathing.” “The Wim Hof Method has gained a lot of attention in recent years as the founder (Wim Hof) has achieved record-setting feats such as climbing Mount Everest in his underwear and swimming 66 metres underneath ice using his eponymous breathing method. His method is more focused on building physical endurance and performance, improving immune function and regulating blood chemistry and involves breathing and breath-holding exercises with ice baths.”
Breathwork vs Meditation—What’s the difference?
“Breathwork is like yoga in that it’s done to get into a meditative state however it’s a more active and dynamic journey, where emotions, physical sensation, visions, memories and insights are amplified before the meditative state is reached.” “Physically it focuses on pushing the body through the breath to have a more extreme experience than ordinary reality. Sound and movement is encouraged to help open the body and drop into an even deeper experience, so I often add tribal beats or sound healing to bring intensity and encourage moods and emotions to surface.” “Aside from movement and sound, it also differs to meditation as it encourages people to fully feel their feelings and sensations and follow the thoughts and memories rather than letting them go immediately.”
“Breathwork can increase energy in the body, treat pain, anxiety, stress, trauma, depression, grief, fatigue and other mental and emotional ailments (such as self-esteem), helps boost creativity and allows people to feel more connected, loved, secure and supported. “From a physical perspective, it helps releases tension or pain in the body and can leave you feeling deeply relaxed or buzzing with energy or higher vibrations. It also resets the autonomic nervous system, promotes the body’s natural healing functions and alkalises the blood (it’s one of the most detoxifying things you can do as 70 per cent of our toxins are naturally released through the breath).” “Emotionally, it helps you embrace whatever emotions are there as often we censor our pleasure as well as our pain. This technique helps us to remain present no matter how turbulent, traumatic or exuberant our thoughts, feelings and experiences may be, so we can ride through the extremes in life and maintain our centre. “ Recent studies show breathing in and out consciously can also help sharpen attention and burn fat.
What can you expect in a breathwork session?
“A group session begins with an introduction to breathwork, a Q&A and training on how to do it. We then begin with dancing or movement to create community and allow things to start to flow and rise to the surface, followed by a one-hour breathwork journey laying down to music with guided encouragement and empowering affirmations. Finally, we complete the session with some group sharing, reflection and integration time.”
What will you feel after?
“Every breathwork session allows you to see the power of the human spirit and our ability to overcome things, find forgiveness and acceptance and learn how to push through such crazy, unique and intense experiences. I’ve seen people turn their lives around by quitting smoking, drinking or drugs (sometimes just from one session!) or experience and overcome intense grief.” “In some cases, I’ve seen people carry the grief from babies they lost 20 years ago or from being born into a house where a parent was grieving a loved one. In other cases, clients have witnessed an angel or an ancestor who had passed or they’ve even gone back to their birth and re-experienced their very first breath. They say once you have this experience your breathing and outlook improves completely in life.”