Breathwork – What Is It?


Breathwork refers to many forms of conscious alteration of breathing, such as hyperventilation or connecting the inhale and exhale, when used within psychotherapy or meditation.

Proponents believe the technique may be used to attain alternate states of consciousness, and that sustained practice of breathwork techniques may result in spiritual or psychological benefits.

Origins Of Breathwork

It has been used as a label for yogic Pranayama and Tibetan Tantric Tummo, traditional spiritual practices from which the modern Western therapies most probably derive.

Occasional use of the term Breathwork to describe Buddhist Anapanasati, “mindfulness of breathing” or “conscious breathing” appears to be misleading, because the meditator breathes naturally, without attempting to change the length or depth of the breath, simply observing it.

This too can be debated as some practitioner would contend that whenever attention is focused and the object of attention changes, in this case breathing typically becomes longer, deeper and more relaxed.

While using movement, Tai Chi and Qigong also make conscious use of the breath.

When the modern breath-oriented therapies were first developed in the 1970s, they were often, as well as the previous spiritual and therapeutic history of working with breath, influenced by ideas from psychotherapy or the human potential movement.

Leonard Orr and Stanislav Grof are two practitioners from whose work many of the more recently created types of breathwork have derived the basis of their techniques.

Different Types

Leonard Orr’s style of working with the breath, Rebirthing-Breathwork is based on the technique of conscious connected breathing; connecting the inhale and exhale without pause or lock in between them.

Stanislav Grof’s Holotropic Breathwork can include hyperventilation, which Grof believes can aid emotional integration.

There are many other types of Breathwork which have emerged over the last few decades, including Integrative Breathwork, Transformational Breathwork, Shamanic Breathwork, Kris Kassidy’s Breakthrough Breathwork, Clarity Breathwork, Conscious Connected Breathing, Vivation, Radiance Breathwork, Zen Yoga Breathwork, and others.

Older non-Western techniques such as Yoga, Pranayama, Tai Chi, and Chi Kung are also offered as classes and written about in the West more frequently than in the past.

Orr founded conscious breathing as one of the five aspects of spiritual purification that he still supports today. In his low intervention approach, there is breathing guidance at different points and no encouragement for movement or externalising emotion.

Grof’s Holotropic Breathwork emerged from his study of the healing potentials of non ordinary states of consciousness since the mid-50s.

It utilizes deep, fast breathing in combination with loud evocative music. In Holotropic Breathwork, the sessions are less facilitator-directed and more client-directed, believed to be guided by an innate healing intelligence.

Trained facilitators support each individual’s process as it emerges with various techniques including bodywork.Kris Cassidy’s Breakthrough Breathwork Meditation combines music, massage, and energy work with verbal support to facilitate profound physical, emotional, mental and spiritual breakthroughs.

Physical movement and emotional release are encouraged to promote a deeper connection with the Higher Self. Aaron Hoopes, founder of Zen Yoga calls breathwork a fundamental aspect of the physical body.

If you are truly concerned with your health and genuinely want to care for your body, you are missing a major if not critical opportunity to satisfy these concerns if you fail to learn how to breathe properly and effectively.


There have been several criticisms of breathwork safety, with critics pointing out the well-known physiological dangers associated with hyperventilation, such as hypoxia. There is little peer reviewed scientific evidence of its effectiveness in treating illness.

Although altering the breathing can be relaxing to some people, hyperventilation is also a symptom of panic disorder.

Some psychiatrists have suggested that more extreme forms of breathwork might bring about psychotic episodes in some people. Other believers in the earlier esoteric ideas underlying much Breathwork have also raised concerns about unskilful or premature psycho spiritual awakening of patients or meditators.

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