Breathwork 101: Q & A

Over the course of the last year I’ve received so many questions about breathwork that I’ve decided to write an article with all the answers (and more) that I’ve given to the most frequently asked questions. I’ll start with the most broad and basic question:

“What is breathwork? What are its effects?” 

Breathing happens naturally, without any need for us to make it happen (one of our many miraculous self-regulating systems). So when we consciously and intentionally change the rhythm and depth of natural breath (deeper, slower or faster, holding it in or out) we call this “breathwork”, since we’re working with the breath to help us in some way.

One of the many wonderful ways that breathwork can help us is to increase energy. Blood flow is ramped up with deeper breathing and that increases oxygenation, which leads to more energy. And, at the same time, deep breathing is calming because it stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, slows your heart rate and controls the release of stress hormones.

There are a multitude of slow breathing exercises, including Coherent Breathing, 4-7-8 Breathing, Wave Breathing and Alternate Nostril Breathing, to name just a few.

For the purpose of this article, I won’t go into details about each of the these slowed down, deeper breathing styles, but will say that all of them are extremely beneficial for the health of the body and mind. They are calming and can also increase energy and focus.

They can all easily be practiced for a few minutes daily without needing to be guided…but may be easier, especially in the beginning, with someone guiding.  There are free mobile phone apps that can be helpful with counting and timing of some of these breathing techniques…and that can also help with reminders to pause and do the practice throughout the day.

“What is Conscious Connected Breathwork (CCB) and what are some of its effects on body-mind consciousness?”

Sometimes the body needs more than a soft nudge to get realigned.  James Nestor, Breath

There are also many versions of breathwork that involve slightly speeding up and connecting the inhale and exhale of the intentional deeper breathing.  The many variations of this type of breathwork are sometimes collectively referred to as Conscious Connected Breathwork (CCB).

One school of CCB is Clarity Breathwork, in which I was trained to lead group and private sessions. It has similarities, with slight variations, to other CCB schools such as Rebirthing, Holotropic Breathwork and many others.

When we breathe deeply and increase the rate of inhale and exhale, without pausing in-between (often through an open mouth) the effect can ultimately be energizing and calming as are the slower breathing exercises… however, this deeper, faster-paced, connected breathing can also bring shifts that help us explore altered states of consciousness.

CCB is usually practiced for longer periods with a guide, and can be psychotherapeutic. As a solo practice, it may be done for up to 10-15 minutes at a time for calming, energizing and clearing the mind, and often stimulates creative flow.

When practiced for longer periods of time, usually with guidance, CCB can help the breather access states of consciousness other than the everyday conscious thinking mind.

Most of the difficulties we may be having in life, and especially whatever stories (mental programming) we’ve been telling ourselves on a regular basis, are part of our self-created reality based on experiences we’ve had from as early as birth and childhood.

The expanded state that can be reached in CCB allows for new insights and perceptions. When the breather has a strong desire and the courage to look under the surface of everyday consciousness, there is potential through this type of breathing to help re-program the body, thoughts and nervous system.

New neural pathways can be created through connecting with these new ways of thinking and feeling about ourselves and others. These experiences, integrated over time, can create a new reality that is truly in alignment with an innate wisdom or inner guidance that is sometimes referred to as a ”Higher Self.”

“What physical sensations do people experience as they practice Conscious Connected Breathwork?”

As CCB creates shifts in our physiology and our energy patterns, unusual bodily sensations will often occur. Although CCB journeys can be quite a different experience each time, at some point, if practiced often enough, some of the following bodily sensations will certainly arise:

Sensations like tingling, tightness, light-headedness, vibrating, pressure in the head, ringing in the ears, cramping (tetany), even numbness in the arms and legs, or the body becoming extremely cold or hot… The sensations can be mild or quite strong.

These sensations are nothing to be concerned about for the majority of people and are all good signs that the breath is doing its job of waking up parts that may have been repressed or hidden. They are usually part of the process of going deeper within.

Whatever blocked energy or unprocessed emotions are stored in the body will gradually come up to be processed. It happens naturally and in no way needs to be forced or pushed. Of course it is very helpful to have a trained breathwork guide to help navigate through the breathwork journey while processing specific issues, sometimes related to trauma and other unhealed emotional wounds.

As one is able to navigate their breathwork experiences with acceptance, compassion and trust, these sensations can reach a threshold and the energy can then shift in the body into another layer of awareness and sensation.

When breathwork experiences are processed with openness, love and trust, it helps us learn to stay with what we are feeling and to go with the flow of the life force energy moving through us. This might involve movement, crying, laughing, making sounds, slowing the breath down or speeding it up.

As we continue to breathe and explore our deeper mind-body experience, we are creating new neural pathways. We are stabilizing consciousness into an expanded self-awareness that includes feeling self-loving and whole, joyful and at peace.

“Why do we breathe through the mouth instead of the nose during Conscious, Connected Breathwork (CCB)?”

Although regular daily breathing, even while exercising and sleeping is best done by inhaling though the nose (exhaling out either nose or mouth is fine) there are reasons you’re asked to breathe through the mouth during Clarity Breathwork sessions:

1.Because it’s a larger opening, you can move more air, more quickly, through a wide open mouth than through the nostrils.

2. Opening the mouth and relaxing the jaw allows the throat to open and allows more full-body connection as the breath moves through the tube-like opening that runs from the throat down the spine into the pelvic floor.

3. Breathing through the mouth is generally more emotive – more “emotion-connecting” than through the nose.

When someone is attending a group session (esp. online) that has severe chronic anxiety or PTSD or unresolved trauma… they need to take it slower. Everyone needs to remember not to force your body. During the journey the body may want to switch to breathing in through the nose and out the mouth. This will be a gentler version of the practice (and both nostrils must be completely clear of any blockage).

Otherwise, I always encourage everyone to explore and experience the healing power of this purposeful mouth-open technique to lessen and heal anxiety and traumas stored in the body.

So CCB can be done breathing in through either the mouth or the nose. Both are good, and generally nose breathing is gentler and mouth breathing usually evokes more “dramatic” effects.

“Is it more effective to do Breathwork privately or with a group?”

As previously mentioned, private breathwork sessions are most helpful for working therapeutically with specific issues, yet this style of breathing is often done in group sessions and the collective group energy supports each individual’s transformative journey and offers insights into the spectrum of human experience. 

In summary, the broad term “Breathwork” is simply any form of intentionally working with the breath to help us in some way.  Just the act of bringing attention to the breath can be a form of meditation as it brings attention to the present moment.

There is a vast array of techniques for consciously deepening the breath, as well as holding it in or holding it out.  The types that intentionally slow the rate of the breath are extremely healthful to practice daily as a built-in stress reliever.

Breathing exercises have also been scientifically proven to affect the heart, the brain, digestion, the immune system… and can have immediate effects by altering the pH of the blood, or changing blood pressure.

The type of Breathwork that is sometimes called Conscious, Connected Breathwork (CCB), is a faster-paced deep breathing technique and is usually guided as it can be psychotherapeutic.

CCB often leads to altered states of consciousness and helps us explore our deeper mind-body experience. Practiced over time, it has the potential to create new neural pathways that help us feel more self-loving and whole, joyful and at peace.

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