What Is Breathwork?
Breathwork is a practice that has evolved over thousands of years. Pranayama breathing, or intentional breath control, has been a part of yoga since its origins over 2000 years ago, and it has long existed outside of formal yoga practice. People still study and practice it today, and formal types of breathwork programs continue to be developed as people seek to harness its healing potential in specific ways.
A primary purpose of breathwork is to activate the body’s relaxation response. Breathwork triggers behavior in the brain and throughout the body to turn off the fight-or-flight response, which is our physical and emotional reaction to any type of stress or problem. Our breath is our channel into the inner workings of our body and is the only way we can directly influence our autonomic nervous system responsible for things like heart rate, blood pressure, and the fight-or-flight reaction.
The underlying philosophy of breathwork is that intentionally changing the way you breathe can directly affect your autonomic nervous system: deactivating the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) responsible for the fight-or-flight reaction and activating the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) associated with the rest-and-digest, calm response. Controlled, conscious breathing, often in the form of slow, deep breaths, leads to greater awareness of our emotions and thoughts, improves our flow of energy, and can improve both physical and mental health.
How Breathing Affects the Brain & Body?
The human brain constitutes a mere two percent of our total body weight yet consumes about 20 percent of the oxygen we take in when we breathe. It needs a consistent and plentiful oxygen supply to operate smoothly for our physical and mental health. The brain interprets a low oxygen supply—the result of shallow, rapid breathing—as a threat or danger, and it activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).
The fight-or-flight reaction causes a chain of events that leads to:
Increased heart rate and blood pressure
Shift of blood flow away from the core organs and into the extremities
Increased production of stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine
Decreased production of relaxation, feel-good hormones like serotonin, oxytocin, and prolactin
Decreased oxygen supply to the brain (thus perpetuating the fight-or-flight reaction in a vicious cycle)
When we breathe improperly—breathing too shallowly and rapidly, which is referred to as chest breathing—our oxygen and carbon dioxide levels become unbalanced, and our SNS remains activated. Consequently, we feel symptoms like prolonged tension, anxiety, anger, irritability, fear, or depression.
Breathwork practices allow us to intentionally shift our nervous system’s operation from the SNS to the PNS, thereby interrupting our automatic stress response. Voluntary, controlled slow and deep breathing, which is one method of breathing enhanced by breathwork, resets the autonomic nervous system, boosts the brain’s oxygen supply; lowers carbon dioxide levels in the blood; slows brain wave activity; and facilitates coordinated, calm activity throughout the systems of the body.
As the diaphragm and intercostal muscles (those between the ribs) expand and contract rhythmically and completely with each slow, deep breath, tissues are stretched and electrical signals are sent to the brain and throughout the body, inducing relaxation and a sense of overall well-being.
What Are the Benefits of Practicing Breathwork?
Practicing breathwork brings physical, cognitive, emotional, and spiritual benefits to our lives, thus improving overall functioning. Because your breath directly impacts the way your nervous and other systems operate, learning to control how you breathe can help you experience greater well-being.
“Some of the most commonly researched and reported benefits are reduction in stress, better sleep, improved digestion, improved athletic performance, improved focus, improved sex life, and improved heart rate variability. Your breath is connected to nearly every other aspect of your health and wellness, so it has a plethora of benefits.”
Physical Benefits of Breathwork
When you practice slow, deep breathing, you improve the way your body functions. Intentional breathing allows your body to use oxygen more efficiently, boosts cardiovascular and respiratory health, improves hormone and neurotransmitter functioning, facilitates healthy gut functioning, increases motor control, and induces theta wave activity in the brain. Theta waves are slow-cycling brain waves associated with meditation, dreaming (both during sleep and daydreaming), and states of flow.
Practicing breathwork is also linked to relief from chronic pain. According to the Mayo Clinic, when we experience pain, we don’t breathe deeply using our primary breathing muscles (the diaphragm and intercostal muscles) but instead use our secondary breathing muscles (located in the chest, shoulders, and neck).
When we use these secondary breathing muscles, our breath remains shallow, the SNS is activated, and our blood’s pH balance is thrown off, resulting in inflammation. Employing breathwork to intentionally use our primary breathing muscles reverses the process and helps us better manage chronic pain.
Mental Benefits of Breathwork
Breathwork has been found to have a positive impact on mental health. It can regulate mood, sharpen attention and concentration, and improve neuroplasticity, or the ability of brain cells to adapt and change in response to situations we encounter.
Neuroplasticity improves our psychological flexibility, allowing us to pause and respond thoughtfully to problems and challenges rather than reacting emotionally or trying to control life circumstances.
Also, breathwork enhances mindfulness and anchors people in the present moment, away from negative thoughts and feelings about the past or the future that contribute to anxiety and depression.
What Conditions Can Breathwork Help With?
Breathwork can help with a variety of conditions, including:
Mental clarity, focus, concentration
General mood management
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Performance (such as athletics or public speaking)
Activities that we often think of as relaxation, such as doing things like lying on the couch watching television, don’t fully relax the brain and body; instead, true and complete relaxation comes through intentional activities such as breathwork. Consistently practicing breathwork affects our entire physiology and not only helps us feel calm temporarily but can keep us calm and composed even in stressful moments.
What and how will the session be conducted?
Our individual sessions will meet your unique needs. I will support you to focus your attention and identify where and how past trauma (developmental as well as shock trauma) and traumatic stress is being stored in the physical body and how it manifests itself in health conditions.
This may include chronic tension, pain syndrome as well as behaviors that are no longer serving you. As a client, you will be supported to identify the connection between physical tension, pain areas, and trauma-related patterns.
During the session, we will utilize the concept of felt sense, verbal support, and counseling as well as focused breath and movement exercises to connect to, mobilize and start to release trauma and stress-related physical, emotional and mental tension.
How will it help?
Pierre’s online sessions have proven to be profoundly effective in supporting clients to release self-destructive behaviors such as addictions and negative thought patterns as well as improving conditions such as diabetes, nerve damage, and visual impairment. This is achieved by bringing attention to the physical body and releasing tension originating in past traumatic events.
Pierre will furthermore support you to identify and creatively use your internal and external “resources”. What results is a lasting experience of enhanced feeling of safety, relaxation, aliveness, and vitality. This leads to the reduction of trauma and traumatic stress-related activation in daily life. As a client you will be given ‘homework’ in a form of daily self-practice in breath, felt sense exercises and active mediations.
Individual sessions are conducted via Skype or Zoom platform and last approximately 75 minutes.
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