Even the most health-conscious and wellness-loving of us can, from time to time, end up feeling stressed and close to tears. Case in point: as I’m writing this on a Monday afternoon, I just can’t get over the fact that I woke up at 1:30 a.m. this morning and couldn’t fall back asleep. At this point, relaxation and healing of any kind sound blissful, which is why I’m considering Breathwork as my next wellness strategy. It just so happens to be a favorite routine of Christy Turlington and Gisele Bundchen, among others who swear that this is the most intense healing you’ll experience–inclusive of yoga, Reiki, meditation, and acupuncture. So what is it?!
Breathwork isn’t just deep breathing. Founded upon the principles of pranayama, Breathwork as it is currently practiced separately from yoga developed in the 1960s. It’s an active meditation technique that leads you to expel negative energy that’s stuck in your body, and it can be practiced in a group setting, with a coach, or solo. Devotees swear that you undergo a transcendent experience, physically, emotionally, and spiritually; convulsions, inability to speak, visions, weeping uncontrollably, laughing out loud, and other wonky outpourings are common. Breathwork isn’t supposed to make you relaxed like a massage, but on another level of consciousness, like gamma ray-meditation and deep sleep. Not surprisingly, it has been described as an “all-natural high.” Which I thought was reserved for raw vegan chocolate ganache?!
So how does this work? There are many different techniques and disciplines to Breathwork, just as there are many styles of yoga. To try at home:
- Start by lying down on a yoga mat and laying a blanket on your body in savasana. You may wish to use eye pillows or essential oils to help you get in the energy-fluid state. Lavender and bergamot are both relaxing, and frankincense creates a spiritual vibe.
- Take an open-mouthed inhale deeply into your diaphragm, or your solar plexus chakra.
- Take another, shallow/sharp breath into your chest.
- Deeply exhale out your using mouth.
- Once this has been established for a number of rounds, start sending your breath to the area of your body/chakra that needs your attention.
- Focus on your breath and feel the energy moving through your body.
At this point, you may experience clenching of hands or jaw, inability to speak, or a heaviness on your body. According to LA-based Breathwork coach & healer Ashley Neese, “When you notice heaviness or tension while you’re breathing, it’s your body’s way of showing you where you’re holding throughout the day.” If you feel it in your solar plexus, it might be your insecurities leaving your body; if the chest is feeling tight, you might be unloading some heartbreak from the past.
But does this hold water, scientifically? Physiologically speaking, what Breathwork induces is essentially hyperventilation leading to excess oxygen and reduced CO2 in your blood. While Breathwork teachers point out that increased oxygen in your blood leads to raised level of consciousness and beautifully glowing, younger skin, it is worth noting that this alkalotic (alkaline blood) state can cause numbness, tingling, muscle twitching, and spasms. Most dangerously, hyperventilation can cause the blood vessels in your brain to constrict, reducing its blood flow and oxygen–so caution must definitely be exercised. The great thing is that if you feel faintness, you can always go back to your normal breathing.
While I don’t have any deep-seated trauma that Breathwork is best known for curing, I’m still curious about how it could help lift unconscious barriers and hidden hurts. When I tried Reiki for the first time, I went in as a skeptic and came out as a convert, having discovered a deep-seated trauma that I wasn’t even aware of. With Breathwork, I’m curious to discover which part of my body exhibits signs of blocked energy, and whether I would truly feel like the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders. Any (nontoxic, ahem) experience that leads to greater self-awareness is worth trying out, in our book.
Have you ever tried breathwork? What were your experiences with it?
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Photo: Christy Turlington via Instagram