Breathwork has become a bit of a buzzword amongst those in the health and wellness world. Maybe you’ve taken a yoga class where you do different breathing exercises or heard something about Whim Hoff and his infamous breathwork techniques.
The popularity of breathwork is quickly rising, and for good reason. It’s much more than simple breathing exercises. Breathwork is something that can seriously transform your life. It comprises several different techniques that are used for healing both body and mind.
What Exactly Is Breathwork?
There are many types of breathwork techniques, some of which have been used for thousands of years in the practice of yoga. While modern-day breathwork might be a bit different than these ancient teachings, the premise of breathwork is the same.
Breathwork, regardless of the type you’re doing, is the act of consciously manipulating your breath for a set period of time through various breathing methods. Breathwork isn’t yoga and it’s not meditation. It does share similarities with each, however.
Modern forms of breathwork are derived from yogic philosophy, of which pranayama is a central component. The word pranayama is derived from two Sanskrit words: prana (life force energy) and yama (restraint, control). Life force energy can be likened to the breath, and pranayama can roughly be translated into “breath control.”
There are a handful of pranayama techniques in yoga. If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, you might’ve practiced ujjayi (also known as ocean’s breath), alternate nostril breathing, breath of fire, and others.
The breathwork of the ancients is still practiced today, but modern breathwork has evolved to include several other breathing techniques that focus on the breath as a method of therapeutic healing.
Breathwork Is Not the Same as Meditation
If breathwork isn’t meditation, how do they differ?
If you’ve ever meditated before, you know all about the constant chatter that goes on in the mind. These constant thoughts are often referred to as “monkey mind,” which is a concept of Buddhist teachings. The Buddha likened the mind to something full of a bunch of drunk monkeys, swinging back and forth on tree branches, constantly chattering and bouncing around nonstop. In essence, our minds never really stop. Meditation is a method of recognizing our thoughts, and being conscious of the way we inhale and exhale through the noise.
Breathwork can be a much different experience than traditional meditation. Meditation is an excellent opportunity to look within, but it tends to keep us stuck in the mind. Breathwork, on the other hand, uses different breathing techniques that can help get you out of your head by manipulating the breath in different ways.
What Are Some Different Breathwork Techniques?
There are several different breathwork techniques—some simple and others more complex. If you’re new to breathwork, check out some of the following easy methods for working with your breath.
In this simple breathwork technique, inhale for a count of 4 through your nose, hold for a count of 2 and exhale from your mouth for a count of 6. The main objective of 4-2-6 is to pause after each inhalation and make your exhalation longer than your inhalation.
To practice deep breathing, lie down on the floor or find a seated position. If you choose to lie down, place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart, inhaling slowly for a count of 10 and exhaling deeply for another count of 10. You’ll feel the belly expand on each inhalation and gently fall on each exhalation. Doing this for just 5-10 minutes can have a significant effect on the way you feel.
In those moments you need to find some balance in your life, equal breathing can help. Equal breathing is known as sama vritti in Sanskrit and is practiced just as its name implies: each inhalation and each exhalation are of equal length. To practice equal breathing, find a length of breath that is comfortable for you so you can keep it up through the entire practice. Typically each inhalation will be between 3-6 counts.
Ujjayi breath is typically one of the first pranayama techniques taught in yoga classes. It is an excellent introduction to pranayama and is often referred to as “ocean’s breath” for the soft ocean-like whisper it produces in the throat. It is also referred to as “victorious breath” as it allows for victory over the thoughts in the mind. To perform ujjayi breath, inhale deeply through the nose and exhale deeply through the nose, constricting the throat to make a soft whispering sound. It’s similar to if you were to open your mouth and exhale to fog up a mirror held in front of the mouth, only the mouth stays closed. The tone of the breath becomes steady and smooth, much resembling the sound of the ebb and flow of the ocean’s tide.
Why Breathwork Works
Breathwork has gained popularity because of its capacity to support wellbeing. Breathwork has shown to increase inner peace, clarity, balance, connection and more. Breathwork is also effective in working through stress, sadness, fear and grief. It’s an excellent opportunity to turn inward, to release what no longer serves you, and harness your infinite potential.
Over the past five years, Google searches for “breathwork” have increased exponentially. Many experts in breathwork agree this continuous upward trend has to do with just how noticeable the results of breathwork really are. Some techniques can work quickly, offering a sense of overall wellbeing, relaxation, and peace after just one session.
Science simply backs up what those who practice breathwork seem to experience for themselves. Research shows that something as simple as making your exhalation two seconds longer than your inhalation activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which lowers your heart rate and sends your body into a state of relaxation.Deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, is another breathwork technique that shows serious potential for promoting wellbeing. Deep breathing can help increase attention both during breathing exercise and after breathwork is complete. Deep breathing also shows to reduce cortisol levels, which is also referred to as the “stress hormone.”