Breathwork therapy or a breathwork program is a process by which one makes knowing modifications to their breathing patterns with the goal of changing one’s mental or psychological state in some way.
Many people do not realize the vital role that breathing plays in our bodies. Obviously breathing ensures our survival, but improper or stunted breathing can actually cause a number of physical problems that might be avoided by engaging in proper breathing techniques. Breathing is a natural process that we typically do not have to think about on a daily basis. However, research suggests that the types of breathing in which we engage on a typical day actually does not provide our bodies with the rich benefits that come with deep breathing.
People do not breathe to their fullest potential, rarely taking what experts call “complete breaths.” A complete breath occurs when an individual breathes in deeply, with the lungs actually expanding at the maximum point of inhalation. It turns out that most of us engage in either high breathing or low breathing on a daily basis. A person who is engaging in high breathing takes quick, shallow breaths from the chest, not expanding their lungs each time when inhaling. Low breathing occurs when someone has poor posture or is constantly bent in uncomfortable positions. This type of shallow breath originates from the stomach. The ideal breath used in forms of breathwork therapy aimed at relaxation originates from the diaphragm.
Breathwork therapy focuses on mindful breathing as part of the process, forcing the participants to be mentally aware of when and how they take every, single breath. At the core of all breathwork therapy aimed at relaxation is the notion of deep breathing. The act of deep breathing brings more oxygen into the body and forces excess carbon dioxide out of the body. The increased amounts of oxygen and blood being transmitted to the brain in this process invoke the relaxation response.
There are a vast number of breathwork therapies, but some of the most popular forms originated in Pranayama Yoga exercises for breathing. Pranayama is one of the five tenants of Yoga. The ultimate end for all Pranayama exercises is to unite the body and the mind through the process of breathing deeply. One example of a Pranayama exercise aimed at bringing the body and mind together through rhythmic breathing is the Anuloma Viloma technique. In this form exercise the participant breathes alternately through the left and right nostrils – breathing in through the left nostril, holding the breath, and breathing out through the right nostril – then reversing the process. The goal of this activity is to increase communication between the emotional right brain hemisphere and the logical left-brain hemisphere. Nurturing this type of brain communication can lead to a level, proportionate psyche.
There are a number of more recent, slightly radical forms of breathwork therapy that have drifted away somewhat from the relaxing aspects of the exercises. These newer forms of breathwork therapy are very focused on elevating the participant’s consciousness to a state where major psychological issues can be confronted or a spiritual revelation can occur. Re-birthing, Holotropic, and Vivation breathwork therapies focus heavily on the process of hyperventilation (extremely rapid inhalation and exhalation with no pausing in between) to reach this altered state of consciousness. Critics of these methods have suggested that the process of hyperventilation can have unwanted physical side effects such as fainting and hypoxia, among other issues. For a truly beneficial and rewarding experience with breathwork therapy, it is best for beginners to focus on the programs aimed at relaxation.
Pranayama yoga exercises and other popular deep breathing techniques that fall into the category of breathwork therapy have a number of great physical, psychological, and emotional benefits including more energy, stronger memory, greater emotional control, a more positive outlook, benefits to the immune system, and even posture improvement.