Most people never properly learn how to do the one thing that keeps us alive: breathing. Ironic at its best, illness-provoking at its worst.
To breathe should be the most natural thing that exists. And while newborn babies know how to do it in a healthy, nourishing way, stress causes us to forget over the years.
This realization may be why breathwork has boomed in recent years. A clear testimony is that the search term has surged in Google searches – it has grown four times bigger during the last five years.
So what is it all about?
Breathwork is nothing new – it’s an ancient practice that can be found in different cultures worldwide. It can be loosely translated into breathing in specific patterns to achieve a particular goal. Depending on the combination of different types of breaths and holds, you can gain increased clarity and focus and a sense of calmness, peace and connection.
But the breathwork benefits go beyond the mental: many studies have been done on the topic showing that breathwork can help with things like
- Stress management
- Emotional management
- Blood pressure
From ancient belief systems…
Traditionally, you can find different breathwork practices in disciplines like yoga, qi gong and martial arts. It is also part of Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Shamanism, and Sufism.
In yogic traditions, controlled breathing constitutes one of the eight limbs of yoga and goes under the name pranayama. If you’ve ever taken a yoga class you may be familiar with exercises like deep belly breath, designed to reawaken the healthy breathing pattern of a toddler, and ujjayi breath (also known as ocean sound breath) that recalibrates and calms down the body and mind.
…to modern biohackers
Besides pure breathing techniques like the pranayama techniques kapalabhati, breath of fire, and nadi shodhana, alternate nostril breath, there are several styles of modern breathwork. It started in the 1970s with the emergence of rebirthing breathwork and holotropic breathwork.
Wim Hof is known for using breathwork with cold therapy, such as ice baths. There are newer styles of breathwork leveraging the power of music, movement, and meditation as part of the practice, like SOMA and Elemental Rhythm.
The science behind breathwork
Scientists have conducted many studies to examine the physical effects of breathwork. One of the observed phenomena, which is also interesting from a noetic perspective, is brain-to-brain synchrony. When you breathe in rhythm with the people around you, your brainwaves align.
Breathwork can help shift from the alpha brainwave state, which is the state of logical thinking, anxiety and being in the head, to beta, which is a meditative state.
Other studies have looked at the benefits of hypoxia, a state that participants enter during breath holds. Hypoxia refers to a shortage of oxygen and has been linked to stem cell regeneration.
How does it feel to attend a breathwork session?
The real magic of breathwork is that it gives you a taste of your own power. It can bring on profound noetic experiences with elements like
- Visuals – seeing colors, patterns, or even people with closed eyes
- Sense of interconnectedness with yourself, others and something bigger (the universe, God or your higher self)
- Out-of-body experiences – a perception that the “self” is floating outside of the physical body
A certified breathwork facilitator shared that they experienced a sensation of floating outside of their body and had literally seen how it changed perspective on issues or situations that used to bother them. All with no external support – just the one most natural thing in the world, so natural we don’t even think about it: the breath.
People commonly experience physical alterations like changes in bodily temperature, tingling, shivers, tension, a sense of heaviness or being extremely light, or the infamous “lobster hands” (known as tetany) where the hands turn stiff, and it feels nearly impossible to move your fingers. Emotions may come up for release. Breathwork can help release trauma since it connects body, mind and spirit.
The future of breathwork
Breathwork is expected to keep rising as it has similar benefits as yoga and meditation but is arguably more accessible. No need for yoga pants, fancy biohacker gadgets or even the capability to concentrate – just inhale deeply, hold, and exhale, and you’re already part of the community. Can you feel the difference?