Breathing comes naturally. So why are some of the world’s most influential brands and wealthiest stars investing so heavily in breathwork? Celebrity endorsements from the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, Justin Bieber and Beyoncé have turned this ancient practice into a wellness trend, fuelling the need for people to explore types of breathwork in the pursuit of health and happiness.
Most of us breathe without even thinking about it, but inhaling oxygen is a crucial and powerful process that influences the body on a molecular level. As well as transporting oxygen to the blood and being essential to life, deep breathing has been a significant part of ancient healing practices for millennia. The breath has long been considered the body’s life force. It is the ‘prana’, in yoga; the spiritual essence of martial arts in Japan and a vital component of chi in Chinese philosophy.
Having been revived in the 60s and 70s thanks to social and cultural reforms, breathwork has since been the subject of widespread scientific research and is herelded for its health benefits. In recent years, breathwork has been incorporated into every gym class, spa day and influencer’s reel to inspire those in pursuit of connected health. With a plethora of techniques, teaching practices and therapy areas, here’s how to figure out what types of breathwork are right for you.
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In our busy lives, breathwork is an easy exercise we can fit into our day that doesn’t require any special equipment or financial outlay. Breathwork involves using different breathing patterns to influence our mental, physical and spiritual health. There are techniques perfect for beginners, advanced practitioners and everyone in between. While some are designed to alleviate stress and induce relaxation, others can be used to boost energy and focus the mind. Popular types of breathwork broadly fall into these categories:
Sometimes called ‘Pursed Lip Breathing’, Controlled Breathing involves disrupting the body’s natural breathing pattern. For instance, you may be required to hold your breath, exhale, empty your lungs and inhale for a count of four. This is known as box breathing.
Deep relaxation breathing (DRB) is commonly used to combat anxiety and stress. In this case you focus on breathing using the entire diaphragm rather than just the belly. Often used in meditation and yoga, it helps to lower the effects of cortisol on the body and calm the mind.
Popular with wind instrument musicians and singers, circular breathing is also a powerful tool in meditation. By visualising each long, slow exhalation and inhalation, someone can let go of negative energy and focus their thoughts. When a person engages in a continuous flow of circular breathing this is called ‘Conscious Connected’ breathing.
Developed by psychologists Stanislov and Cristina Grof in the 60s, Holotropic® breathwork is said to have a similar effect to a psychedelic substance. Involving deep breathing through the nose and mouth at an accelerated rate it reduces oxygen to the brain and unlocks a state of higher consciousness. This can be especially beneficial for deep healing practices.
With origins in yoga, this specialist practice is used to control the breath in varying patterns to yield different results. Types of breathwork that fall under this umbrella include Lion’s Breath, in which a person produces an audible pant sound and alternate nostril breathing, which involves closing off one nostril at a time and inhaling deeply.
Breathwork can be a positive contributor to all aspects of your health. It is known to reduce stress and anxiety, boost your immunity, improve digestion, lift your mood, calm the nervous system and manage pain. So, which one should you choose?
First of all, ask yourself why you’re considering incorporating breathwork as part of your commitment to a healthy mind and body. Are you using breathwork to tackle a specific problem, such aiding your recovery from addiction? Has breathwork been advised to help with mental health problems, such as anxiety or stress? Or are you just seeking to grab a moment out of the madness, relax and unwind?
Next, it will make a difference whether you’ve decided to have a go yourself at home, as part of an exercise class or if you’re using breathwork as part of focused therapy.
Types of breathwork for stress
Both slow breathing and fast-paced breathwork can help improve stress, anxiety and depression levels. In particular, diaphragmatic breathwork has shown effectiveness on reducing stress. The infamous ‘Ice Man’ Wim Hof uses a combination of circular breathing techniques, cold exposure and meditation to help relieve stress and improve immune function. This type of breathwork is best guided by a trained professional.
Types of breathwork for addiction
Breathwork is often prescribed as part of a holistic treatment plan for alcohol and drug addiction. Once the toxic effects of substances have safely left your system, psychotherapy and other somatic healing practices, such as breathwork, are used to interrupt challenging though patterns and behaviour. If you’ve completed a residential rehab programme, breathwork can be an excellent tool to aid your recovery when you return home.
Types of breathwork for health conditions
Diaphragmatic breathing is not only a popular relaxation technique, studies show it is also especially beneficial for people with compromised breathing due to a health condition, such as asthma, cancer or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Always speak to a respiratory therapist before commencing treatment.
Types of breathwork used in therapy
Most progressive therapists use a combination of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and holistic practices, including breathwork therapy. Sessions may take place face-to-face or in group sessions to help people overcome challenging feelings and emotions. Some of the most popular include:
Founded by Leonard Orr, this type of breathwork therapy is typically used to treat reactive attachment disorder. Through guided Conscious Energy Breathing (CEB) it helps people to revisit repressed emotions and learn how to process them physically and mentally. It starts with quick and shallow breaths, without breaks, and can last for up to two hours. Sometimes, participants may be submerged in water during the treatment.
This type of breathwork involves controlled and conscious breathing and is often used during meditation. It may take place with guided music and is beneficial for treating stress, anxiety and depression.
Centred around increasing happiness, Vivation is a type of breathing therapy that uses circular breathing to improve well-being. It can help to reduce stress; release negative thinking; deal with grief; resolve past trauma; and break free from habits and addictions.
As the name suggests, this self-healing practice can help people to overcome excess baggage and transform the way they think and feel. It can include other somatic practices, such as movement, toning (sounding out the chakras) and acupressure.
This type of circular breathing therapy usually starts with a one-to-one counselling session to define the aims of the practice with an opportunity for reflection afterwards. It is a wonderful way to block destructive thought patterns and increase consciousness to facilitate healing.
Delamere uses breathwork to treat a wide range of addictions and compulsive disorders as well as mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. In combination with psychotherapy, breathwork is one of the somatic interventions we use to help people tap into the reasons for their behaviour patterns and learn to reframe them.
Our purpose-built wellness retreat in Cheshire offers multiple spaces for relaxing and restorative breathwork therapy. Whether it’s forest bathing in our six acres of woodland or taking part in group meditation sessions, our therapists are experts in harnessing the power of breath for deep healing.
During your stay with us you will learn how to use breathwork in your daily life to interrupt negative thoughts that may be fuelling unhealthy behaviours. Every residential programme is built around your needs and considers every aspect of your health: emotionally, physically and psychologically to help you live life free from trauma.
If you are interested in breathwork for therapy, call us confidentially to speak to a member of the team today.
Alex is the Admissions Manager at Delamere. Alex has organised more admissions into treatment than most. Find out more about Alex on our team page.
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