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Somatic and Spiritual Benefits of Breathwork

Breathwork is a powerful practice that involves using conscious breathing techniques to bring about physical, mental, and emotional transformation. By intentionally manipulating the breath, we can shift our state of consciousness, activate the body's natural healing processes, and release stress, trauma, and emotional tension. Whether you're looking to reduce anxiety, increase focus and clarity, or deepen your spiritual practice, breathwork can be a powerful tool for transformation and healing.

Breath-Holding: Understanding the Body's Stress Response

When we experience stress, our body's natural response is to activate the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers the "fight or flight" response. This response is designed to help us deal with immediate threats by increasing our heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate.


One of the ways our body responds to stress is by holding our breath or breathing rapidly and shallowly. This response can lead to a buildup of carbon dioxide in the body, which can cause feelings of dizziness, tension, and discomfort. In some cases, holding our breath can also serve as a way to numb or dissociate from difficult emotions or experiences.


By disconnecting from our breath and our body, we may be able to temporarily avoid feeling pain or discomfort. However, holding our breath or breathing shallowly can actually worsen feelings of stress and anxiety over time. It can create chronic tension in our body particularly around the neck, shoulders, jaw and diaphragm.


As we contract from within, this holding in the nervous system can also affect our pelvic floor. By practicing deep, slow breathing techniques like diaphragmatic breathing or alternate nostril breathing, we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system and promote feelings of calm and relaxation, even in the midst of stress or discomfort.


Try this practice: 14 mins guided practice to release pelvic floor tension


Can Breathwork Reduce Stress & Anxiety?

woman doing breathwork in meditative position

Yes, Breathwork can help reduce stress and anxiety. There is a growing body of scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of breathwork for stress and anxiety management. Breathwork has also been shown to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the "rest and digest" response in the body. This can help to counteract the effects of the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the "fight or flight" response.


One study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that a specific breathwork technique, called Sudarshan Kriya, reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression in participants after just one week of practice. The study concluded that "Sudarshan Kriya Yoga can be a useful complementary tool in the management of anxiety and depression."


Another study published in the Journal of Psychophysiology found that slow, deep breathing can help reduce cortisol levels, which is a hormone associated with stress. The study also found that slow breathing increased heart rate variability, which is an indicator of the body's ability to adapt to stress.


Overall, breathwork can be an effective tool for reducing stress and anxiety, and the science supports its effectiveness. Regular practice of breathwork techniques can lead to improved emotional regulation, greater resilience to stress, and an overall sense of calm and wellbeing.


Somatic Breathwork: How Breath Affects Body

woman doing breathwork sitting down

Breathwork can have a significant impact on our vagal tone, which is the activity of the vagus nerve that helps regulate the parasympathetic nervous system. The vagus nerve plays a critical role in regulating heart rate, digestion, and other autonomic functions, and is known to have a calming effect on the body. By practicing deep and slow breathing, we can increase our vagal tone which makes us more resilient to stress. This can help to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and promote feelings of relaxation and calm.


When we breathe deeply and slowly, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body's rest-and-digest response.

On the other hand, shallow or rapid breathing can activate the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body's fight-or-flight response. This can lead to increased heart rate, blood pressure, and feelings of anxiety or tension.


By intentionally controlling the breath through techniques like deep breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, or alternate nostril breathing, we can shift our physiological state and promote relaxation and calm. This can help to reduce stress and anxiety, improve immune function, and promote overall health and well-being.




Using Breathwork to Heal & Process Emotions

woman meditating in breathwork

Breathwork can be a powerful tool for processing trauma and emotions. The exhale is a powerful tool for releasing emotions, as it stimulates the body's relaxation response and activates the parasympathetic nervous system.


A study published in the journal Emotion found that consciously extending the length of the exhale can increase activity in the parasympathetic nervous system and reduce activity in the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the "fight or flight" response. This can help to regulate emotions and promote a sense of calm and relaxation.





Here are some breathwork practices that focus on using the exhale to release emotions:

  1. Sighing breaths: Take a deep inhale through the nose, and then release a long, audible exhale through the mouth with a sighing sound. Repeat several times, allowing yourself to release any tension or emotions on the exhale.

  2. Extended exhale breathing: Inhale for a count of four, and then exhale for a count of six or eight. Repeat for several breaths, focusing on extending the length of the exhale and allowing yourself to release any tension or emotions on the exhale.

  3. Box breathing with a longer exhale: Inhale for a count of four, hold the breath for a count of four, exhale for a count of six or eight, and then hold the breath for a count of four. Repeat for several rounds, focusing on extending the length of the exhale and allowing yourself to release any tension or emotions on the exhale.

  4. Breath of fire with a longer exhale: Inhale and exhale rapidly through the nose, pumping the belly with each exhale. After several rounds, pause and take a deep inhale, and then exhale slowly through the mouth with a sighing sound, allowing yourself to release any tension or emotions on the exhale.


Tips to Practice Healing Breathwork

  1. Set an intention for your practice. Before you begin, take a few moments to set an intention for your breathwork practice. This could be a specific emotion or feeling that you would like to release, or a general intention to promote healing and well-being.

  2. Choose a comfortable position. Find a comfortable seated or lying position where you can breathe deeply and freely. You may also want to use props, such as pillows or blankets, to support your body and help you relax.

  3. Focus on your breath. Begin to focus your attention on your breath, noticing the sensation of the air moving in and out of your body. Take slow, deep breaths, filling your lungs completely and exhaling fully.

  4. Visualize releasing emotional pain. As you breathe, visualize yourself releasing the emotional pain or tension that you are holding in your body. You may want to imagine the pain leaving your body with each exhale, or visualize it dissolving into the air around you.

  5. Stay present with your emotions. As you practice breathwork, you may experience intense emotions or sensations. Stay present with these feelings, allowing them to be present without judgment or resistance.

  6. Take your time. Be patient with yourself and allow the process to unfold naturally. You may need to practice breathwork several times before you begin to feel a release of emotional pain.

Remember that breathwork can be a powerful tool for emotional healing, but it is important to approach it with caution and under the guidance of an experienced practitioner if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or concerns. With regular practice and a commitment to healing your trauma and ancestral wounds, breathwork can help you release emotional pain and promote greater well-being and vitality.



How Breathwork connects us to Deeper states of Consciousness

Deeper states of consciousness refers to levels of awareness that go beyond our everyday waking consciousness. In these states, we may experience a sense of expanded awareness, inner peace, and connection to the divine.


Some examples of deeper states of consciousness include meditation, hypnosis, trance states, and psychedelic experiences. These states can be characterized by a slowing of brain waves and a shift in perception, allowing us to access deeper layers of the mind and connect with our inner wisdom and intuition. In these states, we may experience a sense of unity with the universe, a feeling of interconnectedness with all things, and a heightened sense of empathy and compassion. These experiences can be profound and transformative, and can help us to access our innermost truths and deepest sense of purpose.


Breathwork can be a powerful tool for accessing deeper states of consciousness and expanding our awareness beyond the limitations of our everyday experiences. By consciously manipulating the breath through techniques like deep breathing, circular breathing, or holotropic breathing, we can alter our brain wave patterns and shift our state of consciousness.


By consciously manipulating the breath through techniques like deep breathing, circular breathing, or holotropic breathing, we can alter our brain wave patterns and shift our state of consciousness.

In particular, the use of rapid or intense breathing techniques can induce altered states of consciousness that may be similar to those experienced during meditation, psychedelic experiences, or mystical states of consciousness. These altered states of consciousness can allow us to access deeper insights, connect with higher states of consciousness, and gain a greater understanding of ourselves and the world around us.



Kumbhaka

There are several breathwork techniques that can be used to enter an altered state of consciousness and access deeper levels of awareness.


One such technique is holotropic breathing, which involves rapid and intense breathing through the mouth while lying down or sitting in a comfortable position. As the breath becomes faster and deeper, the body can enter a state of heightened arousal, leading to altered states of consciousness and heightened sensory experiences. In this state, individuals may experience vivid imagery, heightened emotions, and a deep sense of connection to themselves and the world around them.


Other techniques, such as deep breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, and alternate nostril breathing, can also help to shift the body into a more relaxed state and promote deeper states of awareness and consciousness.


My particular approach combines elements of kumbhaka with observation practice / witnessing. You can try it here for free. It is the pauses in between the breath itself, that offer us this powerful resting place of stillness and healing. This is mirrored in many fields, where the white space of emptiness contains everything we need. Perhaps because stillness offers us more potential to express / create, for the essence of our very existence to paint its story, or perhaps just because it gives us a break from having to do or be anything. Something within stillness itself takes us into the essence of our soul.


Kumbhaka is a Sanskrit term used in yoga and pranayama to refer to the practice of pausing the breath after inhalation (antara kumbhaka) or after exhalation (bahya kumbhaka). This practice is believed to have numerous physical, mental, and spiritual benefits, including improved respiratory function, increased energy, and heightened states of consciousness. During kumbhaka, the body is able to absorb and utilize more oxygen, leading to improved cellular function and increased vitality.


During kumbhaka, the body is able to absorb and utilize more oxygen, leading to improved cellular function and increased vitality.

The practice can also help to quiet the mind and promote feelings of inner peace and stillness. In addition, kumbhaka is believed to help activate the body's prana, or life force energy, which can help to promote overall health and well-being.




Tips to practice breathwork

  1. Find a comfortable and quiet space where you won't be disturbed. Create a relaxing atmosphere with soft lighting, soothing music, and comfortable clothing. Practising in the morning is a great way to start your day with focus and clarity. You can try my free guided morning practice here.

  2. Choose a technique that resonates with you. There are many different types of breathwork techniques, so it's important to find one that feels natural and comfortable for you.

  3. Set an intention for your practice. Whether you're looking to reduce stress, increase energy, or connect with a deeper sense of self, having a clear intention can help you focus your breathwork practice.

  4. Start slowly and gradually increase the intensity of your breathing. It's important to ease into your practice and avoid hyperventilating, which can lead to dizziness or lightheadedness.

  5. Pay attention to your body and any sensations that arise. As you practice breathwork, you may experience physical or emotional sensations, such as tingling, warmth, or a release of emotions. Allow yourself to fully experience these sensations and trust in the process.

  6. Practice regularly. Like any form of exercise or meditation, breathwork requires consistency and practice to see the full benefits. Try to incorporate breathwork into your daily routine, even if it's just for a few minutes at a time.


Are you feeling stuck in your personal growth and seeking to uncover what's holding you back? My course on exploring and integrating the shadow self can help you tap into the unconscious patterns and beliefs that may be keeping you from living a fulfilling life. Through a variety of techniques including breathwork, meditation, and introspection, you'll learn to identify and integrate the aspects of yourself that you may have been repressing or denying.


This process can help you to increase self-awareness, improve relationships, and cultivate greater authenticity in your life.



Are You Ready To Discover Your Inner Alchemist?

As always, if you're ready to start healing please reach out to me

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