What Is Breathwork? History, Science, Benefits, and Techniques Pt 1

What Is Breathwork? History, Science, Benefits, and Techniques Pt 1

If you’ve landed here, chances are you’re looking for ways to improve mental fitness, and you can rest assured that breathwork does indeed provide an effective way to do this. So, what is breathwork? In this article, we look at the history, science, and benefits of Breathwork.

The Rise and Rise of Stress Levels

If you feel your stress levels are on the up, you’re most certainly not alone. Statistics show that the stress levels people experience has been on a continuous rise. According to the American Institute of Stress, 77% of people regularly suffer physical ill-effects of stress, while 73% suffer psychological symptoms as a result of stress. In the UK, the Mental Health Foundation found that in 2017, 74% of people felt unable to cope due to stress at some point during that year. The same picture appears in other developed nations. Burnout, mental health problems, and absenteeism from work or college are on the increase. 

What Are People Stressed About?

Stress has many causes. Among the most common; pressure at work, financial difficulties, loss of a loved one, divorce, moving house, and mental health or emotional problems such as anxiety or low self-esteem. As you can imagine, raised stress levels can then lead to an array of health issues and heighten problems such as insomnia, depression, and anxiety. 

If you do a survey among your friends and colleagues, chances are that most of them feel stressed at some point each week, with some feeling the pressure on a daily basis. So, how do you reduce your stress levels? 

Common Ways to Reduce Stress

What do you do when you’re stressed out? Perhaps you meditate, you exercise or meet people at a weekly knitting club. Any enjoyable pastime can help including socializing, playing an instrument, or walking the dog. But what if your stress levels have gone through the roof? 

One scientifically proven method to reduce stress is Breathwork. Let’s take a closer look by examining its origins, relevant scientific research, and introduce some breathwork exercises. 

What is Breathwork?

Breathwork is a very broad term describing the use of breathing techniques to induce relaxation and supercharge your well-being. Many types of breathwork varieties exist. In this article, we look at the history of breathwork and describe the different breathwork techniques. We’ll also examine what science has to say about the effectiveness of breathwork. 

At that point, you’ll be keen to try out some breathwork exercises. The good news is, we’ll introduce some easy techniques through the Breathonics app.

Finally, we’ll talk about the role Silentmode can play in helping you to master these powerful breathwork methods. 

The History of Breathwork

Throughout human history, people have been using breathing exercises to improve their mental, emotional and physical well-being. Yoga and Tai Chi incorporate breathing techniques while shamanic breathwork and newly-developed breathing techniques also belong to the larger breathwork technique group. The best-known breathwork techniques of today include pranayama, Vipassana, qigong, and tai chi. With each method, you control your breathing in a specific manner to bring about a sense of well-being on a physical, mental, and emotional level. 

Over the last 50-75 years, breathwork has really come to the fore as a health-enhancing methodology, and scientists have taken note, so much so that the volume of research into its benefits is now significant. 

As a result, breathwork is now a proven way to improve physical, mental, and emotional health. What’s more, endurance athletes have also developed breathing techniques to increase stamina and quality of performance. 

Why Are People Doing Breathwork?

So, what exactly do people who do breathwork gain from doing so? Here’s a list of reasons for taking up breathwork exercises: 

  • Stress reduction
  • Relaxation
  • Personal growth
  • Healing from personal trauma
  • Facilitating mindful living
  • Improving emotional and mental health
  • Boosting the immune system
  • Finding happiness
  • Reducing negativity
  • Boosting self-awareness and self-esteem
  • Improving performance
  • Enhancing the ability to cope with everyday stresses and strains

 

Later in this series, you’ll find out what science has to say about the effectiveness of breathwork. While some of the benefits have not been proven yet, thousands of people across the world do daily breathwork activities and document the rewards. 

Breathwork Types

Here are the breathwork methods commonly used today: 

Holotropic Breathwork

Holotropic breathwork was developed in the 1970s by Dr. Grof and his wife in his work as a psychotherapist and transpersonal therapy inventor. Initially, Grof had used LSD as a psychotherapeutic tool. After the drug was made illegal, Grof sought new ways to help clients release trauma and bring about healing. 

The term itself means moving toward wholeness, and that is what holotropic breathwork is about today. If you want to discover this technique, your best bet is to find a holotropic breathwork therapist to guide you. For the most part, people use this method in a group or under the supervision and guidance of an experience holotropic breathwork instructor. 

The technique itself is simple. You spend 1-2 hours breathing at accelerated speed using your stomach to forcefully exhale and inhale. Music enhances the process of entering an altered state of consciousness. In the course of your holotropic exercise, you can expect a variety of experiences such as outburst of laughter, crying, muscle cramps, visions and more beyond. 

While some warn of possible health risks such as hyperventilation, others attest to the immense therapeutic benefits of holotropic breathwork. If you’re considering this method, consult your physician and contact an experienced holotropic breathwork practitioner.

Rebirthing

Rebirthing is similar to holotropic breathwork with the omission of music and emphasis and achieving a relaxed exhalation each time. Like the previous method, rebirthing also originates in the 1970s when Dr. Orr developed this method. According to him, he was guided in its creation by Mahavatar Babaji, an immortal yogi. The thinking behind this method is simple. By breathing in this specific way, you simulate your own birth and end up rebirthing. Orr believed that during this rebirthing process, traumas and hurt dissipate, and you emerge a new, happy person.

Pranayama

This is the oldest known breathwork method. Prana signifies “life energy”, and Yama means “control”. Using a variety of exercises, you control your breath to bring about a healing process, and judging by the latest research, the ancient yogi who developed this technique was spot on. Controlled breathing practices can have a positive impact on our stress response, help us focus, and induce more positive emotions. 

Exercises include:

Omkar: chanting and extending your exhale with the OM mantra

Kumbhaka: holding your breath after inhaling or exhaling

Nadi Sodhana: alternate nostril breathing

Kati Mudra: Inhaling or drinking air into your gut to detox

These are just some of the many pranayama techniques.

With Breathonics we focus on Diaphragmatic Breathing. So what is it and how can it help you improve your mental fitness.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing is one of the breathwork methods that has made its way into conventional medicine. Ample research proves its benefits and effectiveness when it comes to combatting stress and inducing relaxation. 

You do diaphragmatic breathing exercises lying flat on the ground. We will provide you with a step-by-step guide later in this series while also outlining scientific research results. 

The Wim Hof Method

The Wim Hof Method combines cold therapy and breathing exercises. Unlike rebirthing and holotropic breathwork, the creator of this method has made providing a scientific basis for the success of this breathwork method a cornerstone of his work. 

Wim Hof started out studying martial arts and yoga from a young age. After he was left looking after four children following the suicide of his wife, Hof sought ways to ease his depression. Soon, he discovered that he was drawn to cold water and began researching the reasons. This led to him developing the Wim Hof Method. Scientific research proves the benefits, as you will discover later in this article. 

So, what does the Wim Hof Method consist of? The good news is, you can complete a cycle in 5-10 minutes. Inhale and exhale without pause or interruption 20-30 times. Each time, keep some oxygen in your lungs right up until your last exhale. At that point, fully empty your lungs and hold your breath for as long as you can. Then, take your last inhale and hold your breath for 15-30 seconds, squeezing your forehead a little to stimulate blood flowing to your brain. Do this cycle two to three times. 

Interestingly today, the Wim Hof method is not only popular because of common breathwork benefits but also thanks to its performance-enhancing effects for athletes. Hof discovered significant boost in performance when partaking in extreme physical challenges. 

We would like to stress the importance of consulting a doctor before taking up any of these practices. 

Congratulations on finishing Pt 1...