In Sanskrit, Prana means breath, life force and vital energy. In yogic practices, Pranayama means expansion of the life force and expansion of the breath. For more than 5000 years, yogis have understood, through direct experience, that expanding the breath would expand life.
Today, Pranayama helps to establish regular breathing patterns to reverse the harmful effects of modern life. The benefits and effects of Pranayama are hard to understand for those who have never experienced them.
Directing the breath into various bodily energy centres can bring about experiences of expanded consciousness and incredible bliss; slow alternate nostril breathing can calm and balance the mind and emotions while strong, oral Pranayama can open new levels of experience and consciousness typically accessible only through hallucinogens or years of meditation practice.
There are various techniques for working with the breath—from traditional Pranayama to breathwork practices such as rebirthing and holotropic. We can utilise breathing’s often-unconscious process to affect our lives physically, mentally, and energetically.
Breath practices can relieve anxiety and tension and promote better integration of the mind, body, and emotions. Unlike medication, breathing techniques do not require a trip to the pharmacy for drugs with questionable side effects.
What Is Breathwork?
Breathwork is an umbrella term that relates to the practice of consciously manipulating the depth and rate of breathing to achieve a specific outcome.
Breathwork is considered an active form of meditation, the outcome of which will depend on the type of breathing techniques that you use.
How Does Breathwork Work?
Our breath is intimately connected to both our body and mind. By simply changing how you breathe (either the depth of your breath, the rate, or both), you can create an immediate response in both the body and mind.
Breathing quickly causes the body to activate the sympathetic nervous system (our fight-or-flight system) and can bring on a feeling of stress, agitation, and even anxiety. If you want to raise your energy levels, you may choose this breathing technique to assist with that.
Breathing slower, however, tends to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (our rest-and-digest system) to bring about a feeling of relaxation in the body.
Dr. Andrew Huberman from Stanford University shares on his podcast, Huberman Lab, that exhale-emphasized breathing, especially where you breathe in through the nose, pause, breath in again, and then exhale fully through the mouth, promotes feelings of relaxation in both the mind and the body.
However, inhale-emphasized breathing, where the inhale is longer than the exhale, can agitate the body enough to pay attention. This can be used to “wake up” the mind and body anytime you need to pay attention to something (i.e. driving or studying).
Our bodies also use the breath, specifically the exhale, to release toxins and metabolic waste from the body. This can lead to an incredible number of health benefits I will discuss later.
Why Breathwork is encouraged for health and overall wellbeing?
Breathwork works quickly, and you can experience the impact on both the body and the mind in a matter of minutes.
Within the first couple of rounds of breathing, there is already a noticeable change within the body. This is beneficial for people who already feel short on time or stressed about adding additional tasks to their day.
Most forms of breathwork can be done anywhere. Some techniques can be practiced while riding the elevator, sitting at your desk, or watching TV.
Please note: Some forms of breathwork may lead to feelings of dizziness or altered states of consciousness. As a result, it’s best to avoid using these techniques while driving. It’s also recommended that you practice the techniques in a safe environment, especially in the beginning, so you can understand how your body responds to the technique.
If you have any of the following conditions, do not practice breathwork without first consulting a physician:
High blood pressure
History or risk of aneurysms
If you’ve recently been injured
If you’ve recently had surgery
Severe psychiatric symptoms or conditions
Benefits of Breathwork
The physical, spiritual, and psychological benefits of breathwork are numerous. Depending on the technique you’re using, breathwork can be used to:
Decrease stress levels (includes mentally releasing the feelings of stress and turning off the stress response in the body)
Oxygenating the body, which promotes cell growth and function
Alkalizing your blood pH to decrease the risk of disease
Improve mental focus
Improve mental clarity
Process and release blocked emotion or trauma from the body and mind
Nervous system regulation by stimulating the vagus nerve
A sense of deep relaxation (mentally and physically)
Boost the immune system
Relieve feelings of anger, anxiety, depression, and grief
Help treat PTSD and c-PTSD
Help treat chronic pain
Decrease inflammation in the body
Types of Breathwork
Numerous forms of breathwork can be used to create transformation and change within the body. Some techniques are more advanced and require a certified practitioner to take you through them, while others are simple to learn and can be done safely on your own at home.
Here are some of the most popular breathwork techniques.
1. Holotropic Breathwork
This breathwork technique is typically done in a group setting under the guidance of a certified practitioner. The goal of this technique is to create change in your psychological, spiritual, and physical well-being.It also fills the body with fresh oxygen and renews the body cells.
While lying down, you’ll be guided to breathe at a faster rate for a specific time frame, allowing you to achieve an altered state of consciousness. After the technique is completed, you will be guided to draw a mandala and discuss your experience with the group.
2. Rebirthing Breathwork
This technique, called conscious energy breathing, is used to help people release blocked emotions, energy, and even trauma.
Under the guidance of a qualified practitioner, you will be instructed to create a pattern of connected, circular breathing. This means you’ll breathe in a way where there is no space or retention of the breath between the inhale and exhale.
Through this continuous circular breathing, you may experience an emotional release as past traumas and blocked emotions surface. After this release, people tend to feel a state of inner peace and even higher levels of consciousness.
3. Box Breathing
This technique, used by the Navy SEALS to manage their emotions during high-stress situations, can be done alone at any time.
Box breathing is great for people who find themselves highly stressed, experiencing anxiety, overwhelm, or other heightened states of emotions. The goal of this technique is to bring the mind back to the present moment and release emotional tension or stress.
To do this technique, imagine drawing a box with your breath by inhaling for a count of four. Then hold your breath for four counts, exhale for four counts, and hold again for four counts. Complete this process a minimum of four times for optimal results.
4. Diaphragmatic Breathing
Also known as “belly breathing,” this is another technique that can be done alone. Diaphragmatic breathing is used to release tension and stress, become present in the moment, and relax the body. This is a great technique to use at night before you go to sleep or after you lay down to sleep as it promotes full-body relaxation and calm.
To use this technique, sit or lie down, placing one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. Focus on breathing in a way that causes your belly to expand when you inhale and collapses or contract as you exhale.
By having your hands on your stomach and chest, you aim to have the hand on the stomach rise before the hand on your chest. You can complete as many rounds of this technique as you’d like until you achieve your desired state of relaxation.
5. 4-7-8 Breathing
The 4-7-8 Breathing technique uses counting the beats of your breath to promote relaxation, focus, and being present in the moment. With this technique, you’ll breathe in for four counts, hold the breath in for seven counts, and breathe out for eight counts.
In addition to bringing the mind back to the present moment so you can focus on your breath, the longer exhale encourages you to empty your lungs fully.
6. Alternate Nostril Breathing
This form of breathwork is a popular yoga breathing technique. To perform this technique, as the name suggests, you will cover or close one nostril with your thumb or forefinger, then take a nice deep breath in and out through the open nostril.
After each inhale and exhale round, you will switch and close the other nostril and repeat. For optimal benefits, perform this technique for ten minutes.
This technique is popular because it helps regulate the nervous system by turning off any active stress response in the body and turning on the parasympathetic nervous system (our relaxation system).
Your breath is one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal to completely transform your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.
Whether you choose to work with a certified practitioner or practice techniques on your own, you can experience the incredible health benefits of this tool at any time.
Huberman Lab Podcast
Elemental Awakening Breathwork
Wim Hof Method
Breathwork Experience with Catie Clapp
Breathwork is more than an exercise of breathing correctly or with intent.
We will explore breathing techniques that can be tools for major transformation and healing.
This breathwork experience will encompass a range of whole-being therapeutic practices and exercises used to relieve mental, physical, and/or emotional tension.
Unlock trapped energy and flush out the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual bodies and reset with this breathwork journey.
Catie Clapp B.Ed. P.C.C, YTT 400, BreathWork Facilitator Catie Clapp has spent over 20 years as a high school teacher helping youth find their way transitioning into adulthood. Following burnout, illness and surgery and the breakdown of a marriage, Catie went back to the basics to find her way back from surviving to thriving. After over 400 hours of yoga teacher training, a year of professional life-coaching (ICF, PCC) training, a year of BreathWork and embodiment/somatic training, she partnered with her sister to open a wellness centre in Ottawa called Willow. She has since moved out into the countryside to be closer to nature (her nature) where she spends more time communing with plants and animals. She hosts transformationational retreats at Kismet Farm, helping serve those who have dealt with loss, struggle with addictions as well as those dealing with generalized anxiety and depression. Catie believes the first step we must take is to go inward and to listen to the wisdom of our body. Catie’s vulnerability, empathy, and understanding of the human experience helps others feel comfortable working through their own stress/tensions to feel more joy and freedom. We are all on our own path and our own timeline. Sometimes we need support getting us back on that path. Catie holds many certifications BAH, B. Ed, Career Counselling training, Yoga Teacher Training (400 hours), Mind Rebel ™ Professional Coach Certification – Embodiment (ICF, PCC), as well as Somatic Experiencing Training, and is passionate about her work as a BreathWork Facilitator (Level 4, David Elliott Breathwork). When she is not enjoying precious moments with her four children, ages 13 to 17, you can find Catie finding quiet on a nearby nature path with three fur babies, Milly, Lulu, and Amey-Cat, perfecting the “Worm” or singing and humming to the sound of her own beat.