Whether you’re a wellness world wizard or a casual dabbler at best, chances are you’ve heard the term breath work more than once, used to describe the intentional manipulation of the breath as it enters and exits the body. And whether you’re using breath work to harness transformative changes or just want to quiet the mind and be present in your body, breath work can be a powerful tool! Learn more about the fundamentals of Conscious Connected Breathwork (CCB, or simply ‘breathwork’ as one word) in our Q&A with breathwork facilitator Jenn Mansell here.
Methods, environment and tools differentiate the various schools of breath work practice, three of which we’ll outline here: pranayama, holotropic and Wim Hof. Read on for a breakdown of each – and the unique benefits they offer.
Originating in the ancient Yoga Sutras, pranayama is one of the earliest yogic breath practices – prana means “life force energy” in Sanskrit, and yama is defined by expansion, extension and control. When we purposefully inhale, exhale and hold our breath in a specific sequence, we are able to channel our prana – turns out, that hard sought-after life force already lives within all of us.
Practiced as a purifying form of meditation, pranayama is commonly used during Kundalini yoga, whereby the breath is controlled to channel different states of consciousness, relaxation and wellbeing. If you’ve ever done a Kundalini class, chances are you’ve already experienced techniques such as alternate nostril breathing or breath of fire, used to ignite the nervous system and keep you energized, all with the goal of better connecting your body to your mind.
The one-word term ‘breathwork’ is the official way we use to describe more modern breath work practices such as holotropic and Wim Hof. They find their roots in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but have become especially popular over the past five years among those seeking self-healing and to reach a state of wholeness.
Founded by psychiatrists Stanislav and Grof in the 1970s, holotropic breathwork (HB) was developed to achieve non-ordinary states of consciousness as a form of therapy to manage mental health (no psilocybin required!). Using controlled and quickening breathing patterns to impact your mental, emotional and physical states, HB gained traction within the New Age movement’s spiritual followers. Amongst those who practice HB to expand their awareness rather than use it therapeutically, many claim it helps you achieve a cathartic state of higher consciousness. Conversely, it can also unlock past traumas, however practitioners advise that this may happen during HB sessions if it’s a necessary step on the path to healing.
The eponymously-named Wim Hof method was created by Wim Hof AKA The Iceman, a Dutch extreme athlete who lived by the belief that you could accomplish impressive physical feats by honing command over your body through breathing and exposure to extreme temperatures. Involving powerful inhalation, relaxed exhalation and prolonged breath holds, those who practice Wim Hof put forward that it can lead to benefits including boosted immunity, improved sleep, less stress and more focus.
With powerful inhalation and relaxed exhalation, the Wim Hof method is repeated 30 times. On the 30th breath, exhale to 90% for as long as you can, only inhaling fully when you need to, and then holding for 15 seconds. Repeat this three times. The goal of this deep breathing is to engage the diaphragm and fill your lungs to capacity to maximise oxygen levels and blow out carbon dioxide, in order to help with a variety of issues including depression, mood and pain management.
Although unique and its resulting effects can vary from feeling like a warm hug to a flowing wave, breath work is a simple reminder that no time spent in the body is wasted.