Breathwork is one of the most effective modalities I’ve encountered for holistic wellbeing and transformational empowerment. While it’s primarily engaged as a somatic and body-centered practice, it has the capacity to catalyze shifts in awareness that can bring about deeply meaningful insight and understanding.
In facilitating hundreds of group ceremonies and private journeys since 2013, I have witnessed profound (some have said “life altering”) experiences regularly in this work – everything from symptoms of chronic anxiety abating to relationships transformed as one partner becomes more resourced to show up honestly and authentically. And while big experiences such as these are possible, at its foundation, breathwork is simply a powerful tool to support resiliency, clarity, and peace.
WHAT IS BREATHWORK?
Breathwork originated from ancient Eastern traditions over 2,500 years ago, and the term is now widely used to encompass a variety of practices that engage the breath to affect the body and consciousness, from yoga pranayama to anxiety-reduction techniques and dynamic processes to enter states of non-ordinary consciousness.
The breathwork I facilitate in group ceremonies (and private sessions) is an evolution of the dynamic practices that burgeoned in the late 1960’s through the work of Stanislov & Christina Grof (Holotropic Breathwork) and Leonard Ore (Rebirthing Breathwork). They used connected breathing techniques to enter states of expanded consciousness, and to release tension and “armoring” in the body. The orientation is towards “integration” and “wholeness,” and their work was informed by Wilhem Reich, a German psychotherapist working in the 1920’s who described “muscular armor” as tension in the body that disrupts a person’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Thus, the practice is one of integrating these dissociated aspects and energies of ourselves, and reconnecting to the full spectrum of our embodiment.
In the past fifty years, practitioners have evolved numerous breathwork systems out of these two schools, including: Transformational Breathwork, Clarity Breathwork, Integral Breathwork, Shamanic Breathwork, BioDynamic Breathwork, and many others. All use connected breathing as the core practice, while integrating other influences and techniques to support the process of “de-armoring.”
I am not aligned with a specific school of breathwork; I offer an experience in which the core technique is engaged, held within a container of support that is a reflection of my experience as a healing arts practitioner. I bring deep knowledge of physiology and respiratory anatomy from training in Hatha Yoga, as well as a more energetic and spiritual perspective from training in shamanic healing (and yogic subtle body anatomy). My orientation is one of offering a safe and strong container for deep transformational work, in which you are compassionately and skillfully supported to meet all that arises in your experience.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
On a physical level, we know that the breath is constantly (and most often unconsciously) affected by our life experience, and that the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is constantly processing information about the body and external environment. We tend to hold and restrict our breath when faced with situations that feel stressful and overwhelming, and in situations where we feel safe and relaxed, the breath is smooth and free flowing. Over a lifetime of stress (work, relationships, family, the pace of modern life, etc.), trauma, disassociation in response to overwhelm, and even postural and speech habits, most adults have developed compromised breathing patterns that inhibit wellbeing of body and mind.
With conscious breathwork, we have the opportunity to restore the natural breath and unwind nonproductive patterns. Diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the vagus nerve (a primary mediator of the parasympathetic response), and it has been shown to improve heart rate variability (HRV), which tracks stress and recovery and is now a widely accepted biomarker of systemic health.
While there is a fair amount of research on the breath’s effect on physiological response and indication for cultivating a diaphragmatic breath done via the nose for optimal health, there hasn’t been extensive study as to what happens in more conscious, activated breathwork sessions in which we temporarily engage an active inhale done through the mouth, and passive exhale. While we can explain some of the physiological responses to activated breathing – just as we can explain the biochemistry of taking hallucinogens and entheogens – there is another dimension at play (consciousness) that is simply not yet possible to comprehend. Many people report experiences similar to those experienced in “flow states” catalyzed by meditation, running, psychedelics, and other activities in which the constant barrage of mental rumination suspends and there’s a greater sense of clarity, connection, peace, and unity. In this regard, studies have shown that brain activity (particularly in the prefrontal cortex in a process called transient hypofrontality) shifts in these “flow states,” which could explain the experiences of relaxed alertness and timelessness that people often experience in this work. Flow states are also characterized by shifts in brainwaves from more activated beta to alpha (and theta), taking us into a daydreaming mode where there’s less internal resistance and more relaxed availability. As we move deeper, the brain releases anandamide, a neurotransmitter produced in the brain that binds to the THC receptors. It is referred to as the “bliss molecule,” and is said to boost “lateral thinking,” which is potentially responsible for the many “aha” moments people seem to experience with breathwork, along with states of abiding peace and bliss.
Again, this is all referential indication of what might transpire in conscious breathwork, and my orientation is one of mitigating the tendency towards hyperventilation, while also guiding a process that can catalyze therapeutic emotional release and access to expanded states of awareness that can bring about profound benefit in one’s life.
What will I be doing? What can i expect?
Our time together will begin with an introduction to the process and Q&A. For the breathwork journey, you will be reclined on your back and breathing for approximately 75-minutes. The breathing technique is done through the mouth and emphasizes an active, full inhalation and passive exhalation. For those who practice yoga, please note that this type of breathwork is quite different from pranayama, which is generally done through the nose in a more controlled manner.
The journey is supported by a dynamic soundtrack – everything from powerful drumming to ethereal soundscapes. In group ceremonies, I will be moving around the room offering individual guidance and support, which can include some brief verbal instruction, as well as light hands on work to activate breath flow. While some facilitators offer verbal guidance throughout, I limit this to keep awareness in the somatic and limbic process, as opposed to bringing awareness back into the mind and conceptual frameworks.
Breathwork affects all layers of being (physical, emotional, mental, and transpersonal/spiritual), and during the journey, you might experience everything from physical sensation (many describe energy coursing through the body) to cathartic emotional release and states of deep peace and connectedness. You might also have insights about aspects of your life, and inspiration for how to move forward from a place of greater inspiration and alignment. Each journey is unique – both from session to session and for each individual participating – some experiences might feel more relaxed and peaceful, while others may be quite intense in regards to both cathartic release and altered state of awareness.
The journey will conclude with time to rest and integrate the experience – similar to shavasana in yoga – followed by some time for closing comments, shares, and questions.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
The benefits of conscious breathwork include:
Increased physical energy and vitality, along with greater relaxation and sense of anchored presence
Somatic healing and integration; liberating tension patterns held in the body as a result of chronic and acute stress, trauma, overwhelm, loss, etc.
Increased resiliency; greater capacity to RESPOND to life with conscious choice, instead of reacting unconsciously
Improved immune function; lowered blood pressure; hormonal balance; reduced inflammatory states in the body; optimized oxygenation, cell function, and pH balance; improved sleep
Greater mental clarity, creativity, and inspiration; heightened inspiration and productivity in work and personal endeavors
Release of self-limiting thought forms and beliefs; shifting from being a victim of life to empowered as a creative agent
Greater capacity to experience joy, spontaneity, pleasure and play
Heightened awareness and ability to see the bigger picture of your life and relationships
Greater sense of connection to Source/Nature/God; transpersonal and mystical experiences that open the doors of perception and connection to that which transcends one’s limited sense of “self”
HOW SHOULD I PREPARE? WHAT SHOULD I BRING?
As this process can be energetically demanding, it is best to attend when you are physically healthy and not fighting a cold or have a compromised immune system. I recommend being well hydrated and consider taking electrolytes a couple days in advance to support your body’s pH level. Please DO NOT come to a ceremony or session under the influence of any intoxicants.
For group breathwork ceremonies, please bring the following to ensure you’re comfortable for the duration of the journey:
Yoga mat, blanket, and THIN pillow to support your head
OPTIONAL: Eye pillow or bandana to block out ambient light and support the inward journey
OPTIONAL: Journal & pen to capture insights that arise during the journey
OPTIONAL: A sacred item or talisman to place by your mat or on the group altar
OPTIONAL: A snack! You'll want to avoid eating a large meal prior, so best to bring some protein-rich snacks for after the session.
As body temperature can fluctuate in this work, I recommend wearing comfortable, layered clothing. As you'll be breathing deeply and fully, it is best to avoid tight and restrictive clothing, especially at the waist band and chest.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT FOLLOWING A SESSION?
Each person will have a unique experience and the resulting state can be wide ranging. You might feel energized and exhilarated after the session, or you might go through a deep emotional release that leaves you feeling tender and energetically sensitive. Considering the physical and emotional landscape of this work, the following self-care tips can help post-session:
I recommend not scheduling any major social/work/family commitments immediately following the ceremony; it’s best to give yourself time to integrate the experience without having to switch gears immediately.
Drink plenty of water and electrolytes
Eat grounding, protein-rich food
Take an Epsom salt bath to support the detox process, as well as magnesium absorption from the salt
Take a walk in Nature or sit in a park; avoid heavily congested areas immediately following (such as bars, busy restaurants, crowded areas, etc.)
And most importantly, be gentle and kind with yourself; the "unwinding" can continue post-session, so don't be surprised if you feel energized, tired, sensitive, and/or emotional for a few days following the ceremony.
Contact me for support and/or questions; I am available by phone and email should you want to presence anything that's arising in your experience, or have questions about what surfaced in your journey.
ARE THERE ANY PRECAUTIONS TO CONSIDER?
While active breathwork is of value to anyone interested in healing, personal growth and self-realization, some background in therapeutic and/or spiritual work is helpful to remain in a state of witnessing awareness while the body processes old energetic holdings.
The intensity of the experience has some correlation to the depth and vigor of your breathing, and you are always encouraged to honor your limits, and to back off anytime by releasing the active process and breathing slowly, softly, and naturally. Our orientation to this work is always one of utmost self-respect, compassion, and non-harming, and I encourage you to engage a pace that allows you to stay present to what’s arising in your experience. We are not trying to “blast through” or “blast off” – the intention of this work is not to have a peak experience, but to positively impact your day-to-day experience and ability to live a meaningful, inspired, and healthy life. You are ALWAYS in control of the breath, and again, you can adjust the dial of this practice as needed.
As breathwork can be physically and emotionally demanding, it is contraindicated for those who are pregnant, have severe hypertension or cardiovascular disease, epilepsy, bipolar disorders or schizophrenia*, and recent major surgeries and/or communicable diseases. If any of these apply to you, I encourage you to contact me to discuss potential modifications, and assess whether this process will be beneficial. I would also ask you to alert me to any history of significant trauma, so I can support you accordingly during this process.
*A note on schizophrenia and bipolar disorder: Breathwork falls into the category of modalities (along with extensive meditation, psychedelics, and other deep spiritual practices) that have potential to catalyze a state of experience in which the sense of “self” and “I” and “ego” suspends. For those predisposed to psychotic and/or mood disorders, the concern is that stability will be disrupted and episodes triggered. While the breathwork engaged in this ceremony will be relatively light in regards to duration and context, it does have the potential for intensity (both in regards to expanded awareness and accessing undigested emotional layers). As my primary concern as a facilitator is your safety and well-being, I strongly encourage you to consider whether this type of practice feels appropriate given your history and psychological state. If you feel strongly called, you might also consider a private session in which you have the steady presence and support of a facilitator throughout the experience.
The gifts of entering into a sacred, experiential process for healing and growth are many, and I look forward to sharing this profound work with you!
For reference articles on breathwork, somatic healing, trauma, and general healing and development, please visit the Resources page.