Transformational Breathwork: what is it, and how is it so powerful?
Posted by : Ashley Southard /
On this week’s podcast, we had the pleasure of speaking with Nicole Rager, Transformational Breath Practitioner, about how something as simple as breathing create healing in the body – on a mental, emotional, and physical cellular level.
So, how can my breathing be so transformational?
“It is the one physical link between the bottom up (involuntary; unconscious) and top down (voluntary; conscious) processes of the brain."
Human beings are the only living beings that hold their breath when experiencing stress or conflict. Example – when you slice your finger, you probably reach for your cut hand, take a deep breath, and hold it. When you are about to cry, you likely hold your breath. We’re actually harming ourselves more by doing this, and breathwork aims to reduce, if not eliminate, the way we hold our energy and block our breathing.
Your breath is the only thing that’s with you from the moment you are born until the moment you die – that is, in itself, pretty powerful. Proper breathing makes life easier and more enjoyable overall – it releases tension, reduces anxiety, promotes physical health, and can even aid physical pain. Transformational breathwork takes proper breathing to another level entirely; it is used to:
- Release trauma
- Improve physical health
- Improve mental health
- Develop life skills
- Aid in coping from stress and/or trauma
- Enhance creativity
- Reduce negative cognitive behaviors
- Process emotions – consciously and subconsciously
- Increase self-confidence
- Improve self-awareness
- Support a healthy change or healthy lifestyle overall
- Reduce, and often eliminate, depression
- Promote and enhance overall wellbeing
- Clear energy when you’re “stuck” – whether it’s in a creative process, in what direction to go with your life, or just… not sure what your next step is
What are the different types of breathwork?
There are many, but the most common you’ll find are:
Pranayama is the yogic method of breathing that generally induces calm (though there are forms that are energy-inducing, such as kundalini methods of breathing). The focus of the pranayama is to remove the blocks that hinder the flow of prana – life force energy.
Practicing pranayama means controlling your breath to make it more even, relaxed, and smooth, allowing your brain and body to sync into unison, promoting a more relaxing and enjoyable experience in the moment. It’s done in an effort to regulate the energy flow to the 72 thousand nadis (the channels in your body through which energy and consciousness, or prana, flows). When your energy is flowing properly, your chakras are balanced, and you reach your optimal wellbeing.
There are currently over 50 types of pranayama according to the Vedas, but about 14 methods practiced most commonly, all of which entail 3 components: purak (inhalation), kumbhak (holding of the breath) and rechak (exhalation). Most often, in addition to breath regulation, you will use hand mudras and alternating nostril breathing.
Rebirthing breathwork, AKA Conscious Energy Breathing (CEB):
CEB uses the breath in a similar way to Holotropic breathwork (see below) to release blocked emotions and energy that are thought to have been stored in the body unconsciously from birth or having built up through life, using deep relaxation techniques to illuminate unprocessed, or repressed, emotions that have a physical impact on the body. Conscious, connected breathing is used to facilitate the release of repressed trauma and the emergence of peace.
Rebirthing Breathwork was developed in the 1970’s by Leonard Orr, who said that he relived and released his childhood traumas through breathwork in a bathtub. Upon his “rebirth,” Orr made it his goal to bring the same peace to others.
Holotropic breathwork usually uses music (but not necessarily always – sometimes your breath/the breath of others around you is enough) as a catalyst to access deep, unconscious emotions and physical tension in order to release them. Done in groups or in personal one-on-one sessions, holotropic breathwork is meant to induce altered states of consciousness, which is how the unconscious issues are released.
This state is accessed through controlled circular breathing, meaning there is no pause at end of exhale – you inhale right away. It’s a process that has been scientifically proven to induce brain wave activity that nearly mimics the trance-like state of the brain when on LSD
Your brain on LSD…or holotropic breathing: the delta and theta patterns in the brain on an EEG show that the slow waves (delta) dominate the brain pattern
How did this all start? In the 1960’s, Stanislav Grof began his research with LSD to help people to process trauma and access intuitive states. After LSD was banned for clinical research, he focused on breathwork: he was able to have people reach an altered state similar to that of the brains that reached an alter state when on LSD.
Holotropic is far more than just mental and emotional: holotropic breathing increases the oxygen in your body, stimulating blood flow and helping your blood cells function optimally. Physically, it improves heart rate variability, which decreases future possibility of heart attack.
How can you experience the transformational benefits of breathwork?
First, clear any breathwork therapies with your main healthcare provider, especially if you have heart issues or dizzy easily. The best way to get the most out of your breathwork, and ensure you’re doing it safely, is to find a breathwork practitioner in your area (thanks, Google!). Make sure to speak with the practitioner to verify his/her background and training prior to working with him/her.
Everyone’s experience will be different – because everyone’s traumas and emotion are different. Perhaps holotropic breathwork isn’t your jam, but Pranayama is. No matter what, you can know that you’re not doing any harm to your body by breathing – so go ahead and give it a try.