Breathwork has quickly become an absolute essential part of my practice. From my first experience at Synthesis, I was absolutely hooked. Ever since then I have been reading all the books I can find on it, and practicing as many different techniques as possible. This blog summarises the main ones that I have tried.
Breath is the link between the mind and the body – Dan Brule
But before we dive in to the different techniques, I would like to state that breathwork is for life, not just for Christmas. Whatever our goal from breathwork it’s important to appreciate it is a process. I once read, and frustratingly I can’t remember where, that we will only be confronted with that with which we are ready to confront. Meaning breathwork, like so many other modalities, is like peeling back the layers of an onion. As we continue with our breathwork practice, more and more walls come crumbling down as we are able to go deeper into ourselves, perhaps due to feeling safer to do so.
So I encourage you to explore this topic – try different techniques, seek support from different breathwork practitioners, and read books. And keep exploring. Stay curious. Maintain a beginners mind. Aim to enjoy the process, rather than focusing on the outcome you want from your practice.
On this note, while it can be helpful to set an intention going in to a session it’s equally important to ‘hold it lightly’. Sometimes perhaps just letting go of expectations, and the accomplishment of goals within our practice, and surrendering to the experience as it naturally unfolds.
Let’s dive in!
Holotropic breath work was created by Dr. Stanislav Grof when psychedelics became illegal. A session lasts 2.5 hours and the instructions are simple – breath at a slightly quicker rate, and deeper, than you usually do. Well I took that to the extreme during my session, at times taking the deepest breaths possible with a loud and powerful exhale through pursed lips. I found breathing to the beat of the music incredibly powerful and experienced deep emotional states during the 2.5 hours. Read my blog post here about the experience which includes seeing deep, beautiful and vivid colours – even though we were in a very dark room with eye masks on! Holotropic is the one for you if you want the closest to a psychedelic type experience.
Book: Holotropic Breathwork
The official website describes it as: “Transformational Breath® is a gentle, simple technique that helps people to open up the full potential of their breathing system for better physical and emotional well-being. It teaches a pattern of conscious breathing that is natural, safe and healthy and which can have many benefits, including increased energy, better immune response and increased ability to deal with stress in a healthy way.”
I often find transformational breathwork very emotional, very healing. Afterwards I always feel incredibly grounded, centred, calm, yet energised. It always provides clarity of thought – it’s like I can see my world more clearly after the usual day to day craziness has ‘muddied the waters’. Within the breathwork practice there may be times when you make noise, such as an “aawwwwwwww” when exhaling, you may be asked to hold the breath (I find this weirdly….beautiful!), or to stomp your arms and feet on the ground. And when things get real crazy you might be asked to stamp your feet and make a noise at the same time! This has gone from something I felt incredibly awkward about to my favourite part of a session. Breathwork has begun to show me how much I was holding on to. It’s showed me how important it is to vocalise your thoughts/emotions, to discharge that energy in the body. Essentially it’s showed me how uncomfortable I have been at doing this (hence why I was holding on to so much). I’m still very much a work in progress here.
Biodynamic Breathwork and Trauma Release System
I was introduced by BBTRS reading the book Feel To Heal. BBTRS is made up of six components: breath, movement, music, emotion, meditation and touch. I have read and heard some incredibly stories from BBTRS and it’s healing capacities. This might be the one for you if you feel trauma is contributing to your health/life challenges.
Katie and I have been doing online sessions with Conor O’Doherty (@consciousbreathing) recently. An element of biodynamic breathwork is related to the ‘seven belts of tension’. BBTRS’s website state:
“Dr Wilhelm Reich discovered that there are 7 segments of “body armouring” that results when energy is bound by muscular contraction and does not flow through the body. He believed that the chronic muscular spasms develops as a defense against the breakthrough of overwhelming emotions and organ sensations, particularly anxiety, rage and sexual excitation. The seven segments can be identified by the main feature of each area: the eyes (Ocular Segment); the jaw (Oral Segment); the neck (Cervical Segment); the heart (Thoracic Segment); the waist (Diaphragmatic Segment) ; the belly (Abdominal Segment); and the pelvis and legs (Pelvic Segment).”
Book: Feel To Heal
Soma is all the craze at the moment and their 21 day awakening journey is a brilliant experience that I can highly recommend. Soma breath also uses music and movement and uses a lot of breath holds to induce hypoxia. This has been associated with increased stem cell production, and reduced inflammation. Just have a look at the testimonials!
The Oxygen Advantage
Packed with science and the method I, perhaps incorrectly, view as most relevant for performance enhancement. However case studies include people resolving their asthma, anxiety, as well as achieving weight loss, even when all diets and exercise programs have failed. Do not underestimate the role of the breath on cellular metabolism and thus body composition. The method has some fascinating at home tests you can do on yourself to assess, essentially, how well you are breathing. A key point is we should almost always be breathing through our nose and if this means taping your mouth shut at night to retrain ourselves to do this then that is what should be done…seriously! The main idea here is that when you stop mouth breathing and learn to engage in slow, nasal breathing, you better oxygenate your tissues and organs.
According to Patrick McKeown, author of The Oxygen Advantage, many of us our over breathers.
Your BOLT Score – The Body Oxygen Level Test
In his book Patrick introduces us to the BOLT test. Patrick explains how as far back as 1975, researchers noted that the length of time of a comfortable breath hold served as a simple test to determine relative breathing volume during rest and breathlessness during physical exercise.
The BOLT is a very accurate tool for determining this relative breathing volume.
To perform the test on yourself follow the instructions below – you’ll need a timer on hand.
- Take a normal breath in through your nose and allow a normal breath out through your nose.
- Hold your nose with your fingers to prevent air from entering your lungs.
- Time the number of seconds until you feel the first definite desire to treat, or the first stresses of your body urging you to breathe. These sensations may include the need to swallow, or a constriction of the airways. You may also feel the first involuntary contractions of your breathing muscles in your abdomen or throat as the body gives the message to resume breathing.
- Release your nose, stop the timer, and breathe in through your nose. Your inhalation at the end of the breath hold should be calm.
- Resume normal breathing.
Patrick states in his own blog on this test that “to achieve your full potential, a BOLT score of 40 seconds should be the goal”.
Book: The Oxygen Advantage
It was a similar experience to Transformational Breathwork. Clarity Breathworks website states (and I agree!) “It deeply supports the clearing away of old energies, patterns, conditioning, negative thoughts and emotions and opens the doors wide for new life and greater consciousness. Most of us don’t breathe fully, we hold back the breath and have been doing so most of our lives. When we start to breathe fully and consciously we are easily able to release what we have been holding and open to an incredible expansion of consciousness, including greater forgiveness and self-love. This inner change brings about shifts in our outer lives for the better.”
Wim Hof Method
Many are aware of the Wim hoff method now, partly because you can’t help but love Wim Hoff himself! This method focuses on breath, meditation and cold exposure (such as taking a cold shower for us civilised folks). It has been shown to modulate (‘strengthen’) the immune system.
The Flourish App
I couldn’t write a blog on breathwork without mentioning the Flourish App created by Richie Bostock. This has been an almost daily part of my morning or/and evening routine since it came out 2-3 months ago. It includes 30-55 minute guided breathwork sessions with beautiful music and visualisations that are truly healing. The recent additions to the App (i.e new sessions, as of June 2020) are the best yet. If you want to explore breathwork in the comfort of your own home, then check out the App.
Richie’s book is called Exhale.
Dr. Weil And The 4-7-8 Breath
The 4-7-8 Breath (also known as the Relaxing Breath) is the perfect, portable stress antidote, as it puts the practitioner in a relaxed state almost immediately. Dr. Weil explains and demonstrates in the short video:
It’s this simple:
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight. This is one breath.
- Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Dan Brule – The Bruce Lee of Breathwork
And finally (really!) I must mention Dan Brule who has played another significant role in my journey thus far. His book Just Breathe is a must read and a great way in to breathwork.
Book: Just Breathe
I can’t recommend enough the value in exploring breath work if you interested in improving any component of your health: physical, metal, emotional or spiritual. Also be mindful of which type of breathwork you are using and for what purpose. I often recommend breathwork for clients who have suffered with trauma for example. Sometimes they comment on how they are already doing breathwork – two rounds of the Wim hof method is often the specific response. It does seem Wim Hof is the the most well known method out there. However, I am not sure this is the right tool for the job – biodynamic breathwork might be a more appropriate option. That’s not to say other methods may not be of value – they just may not be of the most value when we consider the various options available to us.
Breathwork, like mindfulness, should be included in school curriculums. I genuinely see it as an important life skill many of us seem to have lost, as bizarre at that sounds. Wake up with a dry mouth? You’re likely mouth breathing through the night. Stressed? You’re likely not breathing optimally. I’m looking forward to diving in to the world of breathwork even more over the coming weeks, months, years and sharing my journey along the way.
So who else should make this list? What experiences have you had? What other techniques have you used?