The Many Benefits Of Breathwork—And How To Start Today
We unravel the what, why, and how of breathwork
Like many things wellness, breathwork has gone mainstream during the Covid era. In a world where you cannot control the transmission of the virus and its effect on the world, we try to find some semblance of control and peace of mind by focusing on the things that we can control—such as our breathing.
There’s a reason why “take a breather” and “catch one’s breath” are popular idioms. Breathwork has old roots and has surprisingly many benefits. In fact, it is an effective form of meditation, when meditation becomes such a difficult task to achieve because our minds are unable to shut down and find silence.
So, what is breathwork?
“Breathwork is any time that you become aware of your breathing and start to use it to create a physical, mental or emotional benefit for yourself.” said Richie Bostock a.k.a. The Breath Guy.
In simpler terms, it’s about manipulating our breathing to help us achieve a some mental or biological outcome such as control a panic attack, feel a bit calmer, ground down after a stressful event, try to sleep, or even achieve physical feats.
Breathwork has roots from ancient yoga traditions and is based on “pranayama,” which means “the regulation of the breath through certain techniques and exercises.” And while there are many different techniques to follow, the basic rule is simple: use your breathing to empower yourself.
“We use our breath to heal our mind. We use our breath and our mind to heal our body and we use the breath the mind and the body to heal the spirit. Breathwork is the glue that ties your mind, body, and spirit awareness together,” says Sage Rader.
Benefits of breathwork
Just like meditation and yoga, breathwork is able to positively benefit your mental and biological well-being. Those whose lives have been enormously impacted by breathwork say that it has reduced their stress and anxiety, increased their energy levels, improve sleep, eliminate toxins, and let go of past trauma.
In fact, one person has been known to push the boundaries of the physical body just by mastering breathwork. Wim Hof, who is also known as “The Iceman,” has set the Guinness World Records for his ability to withstand freezing temperatures—and he credits his success to breathwork. More than withstanding icy cold lakes, Wim Hof has also demonstrated that he can influence the way his body reacts to pathogens such as bacteria and viruses through his breathing. Currently, there are 8 published studies since 2012 that have validated this feat.
While it’s easy to be skeptical of breathwork and toss it aside as some woo woo wellness for those who are not familiar with it, it actually has many scientific legs to stand on.
Mark Hyman, M.D., a New York Times best-selling author and head of strategy and innovation at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, says that science confirms breathwork’s claims on physical benefits: “There are so many studies that show deep breathing is one easy, accessible practice that can help to balance the mind and body, and reduce the stress response. Breathwork has been shown to increase parasympathetic activity, heart rate variability, physiological flexibility, [and] is one of the greatest tools I have in my medical toolbox to help individuals manage stress. Research has shown over and over again that learning to relax is one of the most important keys to long-term health and vitality.”
What can I expect from a breathwork session?
It’s easy to do breathwork at home using guided breathwork meditation available online. Erika Polsinelli, a Kundalini breathwork teacher, says that a simple 20- to 30-minute breathwork practice every morning when your brain is still relaxed and in a sleepy state can help change your outlook for the whole day.
But for maximum benefits, you’ll want the guidance of an actual instructor, who can introduce you to the fundamentals of breathwork and help you through the whole session. The relaxing effects of a breathwork class can be immediate, but doing it regularly will have profound snowballing effects on your overall mood and well-being.
Rachel Hosie wrote about her own first-time breathwork experience in 2020 with The Breath Guy himself, and while she went into it skeptical, she came out of the session a changed woman. And yes, a few tears were involved, too.
“Richie Bostock took us through a session designed to create a blissful sense of energy, meaning you're calm but feel like you can take on the world. The session involved breathing to music — deep breaths in, relaxing out… The pace changed at times, and it was harder than I expected. But Bostock's calming voice definitely helped. Towards the end of the session, Bostock took us through a visualization…and this is when the tears started. I wasn't sure why I was crying, but I couldn't stop the tears rolling down the sides of my face. From the sounds around me, I could hear other people were crying too. Aside from being moved to tears, I did feel somewhat lighter after the session. And I wasn't sure whether I'd been brainwashed or genuinely did feel both calmer and more energized,” wrote Rachel.
I’m sold! Where do I start?
There are many breathwork instructors who offer online guided materials and subscriptions. Even Wim Hof himself offers a variety of videos and courses on breathwork on his website.
But if you’re ready to really get into it and have a proper instructor to guide you through the process, photographer and yoga instructor Sara Black is offering classes on breathwork, meditation, movement, mantra, and kriya that can help you ease into the practice.
“We're all tired of this close-open, up-down seesaw. While we can’t control what happens on the outside, we can master what happens within,” Sara wrote on her Instagram.
Currently, she has a Masterclass on kriya, meditation, and breathwork happening on all Saturdays of February. Registration is still open for her Enliven Retreat happening on March 4-6 at The Farm at San Benito, which is inclusive of accommodation, vegan meals, and yoga and meditation.
If you want a more personal practice, she is also available for one-on-one mentoring on Himalayan breathwork and kriya yoga. This ancient Himalayan breathwork practice nurtures self-healing, and can be done in your home or in one of her partner establishments in BGC. Sign up here.
One-on-one classes serve as an introduction to the world of breathwork, and can be expensive to maintain. So if you’re at the stage where you are ready to incorporate it into your daily routine for cumulative benefits, as Erika mentioned, you can start looking for guided meditations available online.
Youtube Channel Breathwork Beats has a plethora of guided breathwork videos that cover different holotropic or DMT breathing techniques such as breath of fire, alkaline breathing, and Wim Hof’s breathing. You can find different guided breathwork practices on their channel depending on your needs for the day such as calming breathwork, energizing, anxiety fighting, and confidence boosting.