We’ve all had those moments or seasons where we’ve been intensely stressed, needed a break, or just wanted to try something new to gain clarity on a situation. When life gets difficult, many of us turn to meditation. But what if meditation doesn’t cut it? Or you simply can’t reach that state of transcendence? Then perhaps it’s time to consider breathwork.
You might have seen breathwork named the “latest wellness craze.” Some people even refer to it as “meditation on steroids.” Buzzwords aside, it’s a truly unique practice that can be life-changing.
Best of all, it’s accessible, doesn’t have to cost anything and most people can learn how to do it.
What is breathwork?
It’s a practice of mindful, controlled breath.
Breathwork practitioner and owner of Five Sense Collective, Kirscha Cramer defines it as “A practice that employs the conscious use of the breath. An innate ability we all have, with an unconscious intelligence that allows us to self-regulate to improve physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing.”
What can it do for you?
According to breathwork practitioner Ali Levine, there are many benefits of breathwork. “On a basic level, breathwork allows you to find peace, calm, lower your stress, restore your nervous system to a parasympathetic system, rest and digest vs. a fight or flight reaction. It can also help your immune system over time, and your overall health.”
Levine began to explore breathwork after a difficult period in her life and discovered it had an incredibly profound impact. “I became a certified practitioner after going through my own spiritual awakening back between 2019 to 2020. Breathwork was a soul transformation,” she tells me. “I became a daily meditator after meditation saved me when I was going through postpartum depression. After some time, mindset work by itself wasn’t working for me anymore. That’s when I found breathwork, or I would say the breath found me. Once I accessed this wisdom, it became the place I came back to every time and it felt like home. The breath has continued to show up for me in many ways and help me move from breakdowns to breakthroughs and access the highest frequency and consciousness of myself in all situations of my life.”
Even if you aren’t going through a challenging time, Levine tells me breathwork has many benefits including:
Reduced stress and anxiety
Lower blood pressure
A boosted immune system
The basics of breathwork
Much like meditation, you can begin your breathwork practice at any time. The key is to simply commit to it as part of your self-care routine.
Cramer tells me, “Breathwork can be practiced regularly by setting aside a specific time each day to focus on the breath, such as in the morning or before bed, and incorporating different breathing techniques. You can learn these techniques from your own research or from an expert instructor, such as our Academy breathwork teacher Bryant Wood. As with all new practices, consistency and accountability will be helpful.”
Give this a try – “A very simple breathwork exercise a beginner can do, is breathe in (inhale) for four and exhale out for eight and repeat three times. If that feels good in the body, then do it five to ten times,” says Levine.
Cramer also suggests “box breathing,” which is sometimes known as square breathing. “This technique helps to slow down the breath and can be done anywhere, at any time, and can be a good starting point for those new to breathwork.”
Here’s how to do it:
Breathe in for a count of four
Hold the breath for a count of four
Exhale for a count of four
Even better, box breathing requires no prior experience and is even easy for beginners to do. “The technique allows for flexibility and can be adjusted to suit the individual’s needs and comfort level, for example, by starting with a count of two and then increasing to a count of four as the individual becomes more comfortable with the technique,” she says.
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What to expect during breathwork
Levine tells me that during a breathwork session, as conscious breathing increases, the airways of our lungs open more expansively. “That allows more oxygen in the body which then changes the alertness of our brain. What happens next is our parasympathetic nervous system counteracts this, and brings our body back to a homeostasis state. When we continue this for more than a few minutes, our brain tells our body we are safe and we are able to go deeper with our breath and nervous system.”
While everyone has their own unique experience with breathwork, I’ve tried it several times. Overall, my sessions (especially one I had with Levine) have been profound with my entire body tingling, seeing visions, crying, and being in and out of consciousness. There’s something very psychedelic about a really deep breathwork session.
But keep in mind…
Breathwork can have physical risks. So if you’re not taking instruction from an expert or teacher— it is important to listen to your body and not push too hard. “If you feel lightheaded or uncomfortable during a breathing session—it’s best to work within your limits,” says Cramer.
And as always, check in with your healthcare provider before beginning a new wellness practice.
Where should you start?
If you’re interested in breathwork but want to experience it for yourself before working with a practitioner or going to a class, there are always resources online.
While Levine holds online workshops as well as private remote sessions, there are plenty of free resources on YouTube. Wim Hof, who is one of the most renowned figures in the breathwork industry has several free YouTube videos available. You may also want to check out Samantha Skelly’s YouTube channel. She trained Levine and has lots of videos devoted to the practice.
Have you ever tried breathwork? What was your experience like? Tell us about it in the comments!