What if I told you that there is a new invention designed to balance your stress levels; improve your sleep; positively affect your immune system, bring your body into a state of optimal health; and has a positive influence on your mental well-being? Besides that, it’s also a completely natural, no-waste, fancy tool, small enough to fit into your most petite pocket, comfortable enough to wear on your body during the day and at night, and weighs nothing. And it’s for free. Wouldn’t you get your hands on it immediately? Table of Contents But Why Would You Practice Breathwork, and How Does it Work? Reasons to Practice BreathworkThe Historical Origins of BreathworkPranaThe Breath of God“The Slower you Breathe, the Longer you Live”About Slow ‘Resonance’ BreathingHow does this work?Other Slow Breathing TechniquesHow to Practice Resonance Breathing: A Little ExperimentReasons to Practice Slow BreathingStart your Slow Breathing PracticeWhat about Fast ‘Circular’ Breathing Practices?The Transformative Power of Circular BreathingAn Altered State of ConsciousnessDifferent Styles of Circular BreathingTypicallities of Circular Breathing Practices: Reasons to Practise Circular BreathingSo. Let’s get back to where we started.“What is breathwork?”Slow down with Breathing and Balance your Stress LevelsShake things up with a Circular Breathing Practice Well. What if I told you that you have it already with you every night and day? Operating in the background, keeping you alive and nourishing your body day and night. Meet your new best friend: your breath. It’s time we get to know this genius fella and use it properly. You may be familiar with the buzz around breathwork. Yoga schools, Leadership Gurus, and Transformational Programs have embraced the breath’s transformative power and use it to show people the benefits. Both mentally, physically, and spiritually. But what is ‘breathwork’ exactly? It’s a term to describe practices aimed at controlling your breathing. By controlled breathing, I mean somehow changing your typical breathing pattern. Either slowing your breath down, speeding it up, or directing it towards a specific body part, like your belly, back, or chest. But Why Would You Practice Breathwork, and How Does it Work? Photo by Paul Nicklen Reasons to Practice Breathwork Whether you are the typical biohacker, always searching for how to optimize your physical health and state of being, or a traumatized veteran looking to heal his PTSD. Whether you’re a yogi on his path of spiritual awakening or a busy doctor trying to find new ways of balancing her stress levels, everyone can be drawn to breathwork since there are so many different benefits on various levels. Although it depends on which style of breathwork you practice, some scientifically proven benefits of breathwork include: Physical Scientifically Proven Benefits of Breathwork Lowers blood pressure and improves circulation – How does deep breathing affect office blood pressure and pulse rate? by Hisaro Mori et al. 2005 Increases energy and boosts immunity – Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans by Mattijs Kox et al. 2014 Improves sleep – Self-Regulation of Breathing as an Adjunctive Treatment of Insomnia by Ravinder Jerath et al, Front Psychiatry 2018 Improves digestion and can improve the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux – The effect of breathing exercises on patients with GERD: a meta-analysis by Kaijie Qiu et al 2020 Detoxifies and Releases Toxins. 70% of our toxins are released through the breath. Book: ‘Breath. The New Science of a Lost Art’ – James Nestor, 2021 Can boost athletic performance – Book: ‘Breath. The New Science of a Lost Art’ – James Nestor, 2021 Mental Benefits of Breathwork Increases feelings of comfort, relaxation, pleasantness, vigor, and alertness. And, decreases symptoms of arousal, anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion – How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing by Andrea Zaccaro et al, Front Human Neuroscience, 2018 Reduces stress and anxiety – Effects of paced respiration and expectations on physiological and psychological responses to threat by K . D. McCaul, et al., 1979 Improves focus – Coupling of respiration and attention via the locus coeruleus: Effects of meditation and pranayama by Michael Christopher Melnychuk et al., 2018 Improves attention, emotional state, and levels of cortisol – The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults by Xiao Ma, 2017 Helps manage depression – Yogic breathing helps fight major depression, study shows by Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, 2016 Helps to heal from trauma and manage PTSD – Breathing-Based Meditation Decreases Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms in U.S. Military Veterans: A Randomized Controlled Longitudinal by Emma M Seppälä et al., 2014 Diaphramatic breating may also help in treating eating disorders, chronic functional constipation, hypertension, and migraine – Effects of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Health: A Narrative Review by Hidetaka Hamasaki, 2020 Drawing: Pranayama posture and the Chakra and Nadi system in Sanskrit The Historical Origins of Breathwork The oldest known method and term for breathwork is Pranayama. Pranayama comes from the ancient Vedic traditions. It originated in ancient India around the sixth and fifth centuries BCE. Early yoga texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and Hatha Yoga Pradipika mention Pranayama. Some examples of famous Pranayama techniques are Bastrika, Breath of Fire, and Alternate Nostril Breathing. If you practice yoga, there is a great chance you’ve already done some Pranayama practices in your yoga class. (Read more on the Differences between Pranayama and Circular Breathing Practices). Prana ‘Pranayama’ consists of the words ‘Prana’ and ‘Yama’. Prana translates to the breath of life but also to the words vitality and spirit. Yama means to control. Pranayama means to control your breath of life. In other words, to master your life-force energy. An interesting side note on the meaning of Prana (spirit) is that the word spirituality comes from the Latin word spiritus, meaning “breath of life”. And did you notice that in the word ‘respiration,’ you could also hear the word ‘spirit’? All points in the direction that ancient societies strongly believed in the interconnectedness of breath, body, mind, and spirit. The Breath of God Not only Vedic society was busy controlling their breath and mastering life with their breathing. Also, in Christian mythology, the breath is rooted at the beginning of all life, as “then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). In other words, ‘all life began with one divine respiration of God’. “A Master of Breath is a Master of Life.” ‘Creation of Adam’ Michelangelo “The Slower you Breathe, the Longer you Live” In ancient Yogic wisdom, they even say that the time you have on earth here in your bodily vehicle depends on how many breaths you take. Your lifespan is not measured in years but in the total respirations you take. They believed each person has a fixed amount of breaths to take in their lives. Depending on which person you are. The longer you take your breaths, the longer you live. In other words, the more control you have over your breath, the slower you can breathe, and the longer you live. It’s as simple as that 😉 It’s not strange if you think of the emotional states that speed up our breathing (when not working out), such as fear, anxiety, and stress, which are unhealthy for our system. Generally speaking, the faster you breathe, the more stress you have, and vice versa. About Slow ‘Resonance’ Breathing Modern science [study: Breathing at a rate of 5.5 breaths per minute with equal inhalation-to-exhalation ratio increases heart rate variability, 2014] backs up this ancient hypothesis of ‘the slower you breathe, the healthier you are’, as it shows that a breathing ratio of 5,5 times per minute (± 6 seconds in and 6 seconds out) is the most optimal ratio for a healthy bodily system, as it increases HRV (heart rate variability, which is an indicator of stress in the body. When our HRV is high, it reflects greater resilience to stress and higher physical and psychological well-being levels. Interestingly, it also supports social engagement, helping us feel a greater sense of openness and connection in our relationships [article: Heart rate variability: How it might indicate well-being, by Harvard Health Publishing Staff, 2021]. Slow breathing can also lower resting blood pressure and reduce stress and anxiety [study: The physiological effects of slow breathing in the healthy human, 2017]. How does this work? You can see your breath as your body’s brake. The breath functions like a car brake to help you speed up or slow down processes in your system. It has a direct effect on your autonomic nervous system. Having the capacity to activate the sympathetic ‘Fight or Flight’ system or the parasympathetic ‘Rest and Digest’ system. Read more about how slow breathing influences your autonomic nervous system and how we feel here: The Effect of Breathwork on our Autonomic Nervous System]. (Not so) fun fact. To give you an idea of slow versus fast breathing and how much closer we are to hyperventilation than to a healthy restorative state. A (healthy) ratio of 6:6 means breathing for ±6 times per minute. An average adult takes about 16 breaths a minute. Hyperventilation is >20 breaths per minute. A rate over 24 breaths per minute indicates a severe condition. Other Slow Breathing Techniques When breathing in a rhythm of 6:6, we call this Resonance Breathing. But there are many other calming, slow-breathing practices available, such as: Resonance Breathing – 6:6 or 5:5 or 4:4 in and out Box Breathing – creating a ‘square’ with your breathing. Breathe in for 4 counts, pause for 4 counts, breathe in for 4, and breathe out for 4. 4:7:8 – Breathe in for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7, breathe out for 8. Try these slow breathing techniques in our (free) Spinoza App (iOS, Android). Go to the Breathwork section, and pick your Breathing Practice of choice. How to Practice Resonance Breathing: A Little Experiment Don’t you get a story more easily with the help of experience? Join me to experience the calming effects of deep, slow Resonance Breathing. It will only take 5 minutes. Set a timer at 5 minutes. Close your eyes and start breathing through your nose towards your belly. Breathe in for 6 seconds, breathe out for 6 seconds. When this is too uncomfortable, or you feel out of breath, breathe in and out for 5 seconds, or 4 even. But keep your breathing as slow and relaxed as possible. Try to keep breathing towards your lower belly, keeping your shoulders relaxed and your eyes closed. When the alarm goes off, keep your eyes closed for another minute and notice how you feel. How did you feel after the breathing practice? When you practice it correctly, it should have a calming effect on your system. Isn’t it incredible how easily you can control your state of being with just breathing? Reasons to Practice Slow Breathing As this slow breathing has a strong calming effect on our body, some reasons to start incorporating Resonance Breathing in your daily routine are: When you’re experiencing stress in your daily life If you feel overstimulated and overwhelmed by everyday activities in daily life If you are recovering from burn-out If you find it difficult to wind down after a busy day of work If you have difficulty falling asleep When thoughts keep you up at night When you find creating a steady meditation practice challenging, this is an excellent option to use the breath as your meditation. When you have high blood pressure When you have an elevated heart rate due to stress When you experience constipation, skin rashes, or other somatic symptoms as a result of stress If you want to improve your overall health and give dedicated time to your body to calm down, rest, and digest Start your Slow Breathing Practice If you want to begin a daily Resonance Breathing practice, start with a daily practice of 15-20 minutes before bed. You can even practice it in bed, lying down, ready to fall asleep immediately. Resonance Breathing helps with calming your system down after a busy day. What about Fast ‘Circular’ Breathing Practices? So. If your breathing system functions as a car brake, can’t it also serve as a gas pedal? It can. When used in a ‘circular’ way, our breath has the potency to create movement inside our system. It causes you to release stuck energy that may be stored in your body, resulting in a deeply cleansing and possibly joyfully liberating experience. It can help bring what may be hidden in the subconscious to the surface – where it can be observed and revised. Circular breathing is an umbrella term for breathing practices that leave no pause between inhalation and exhalation. The techniques include deep breathing towards the belly and inhaling more oxygen than you release. By breathing this way, your oxygen levels will rise temporarily, bringing your body into a state of ‘stress. This can come with strong bodily sensations like cramps and tingling sensations. Practicing this for the first time can be an overwhelming experience, and we strongly advise you to only practice this under the guidance of a trained breathwork coach. The Transformative Power of Circular Breathing The intense, active, deep breathing part of a circular breathing practice has the potency to bring you into a higher state of consciousness. This altered state of being can bring significant personal insights, reveal trauma, and evoke strong emotional releases. Some would describe their circular breathing practice as powerful as “ten years worth of therapy in a single session”. In Circular Breathing sessions, “add-on” components, such as mindful body awareness, music, or movement, are often used to increase their efficacy. An Altered State of Consciousness Different Styles of Circular Breathing You may have heard of Conscious Connected Breathing, the Wim Hof Method, Rebirthing, and Holotropic Breathwork. These all fall under the umbrella of Circular Breathing, having in common that they don’t leave pauses between in- and exhalation and can be used for transformational purposes. Typicallities of Circular Breathing Practices: There are no pauses between the inhale and the exhale. Diaphragmatic breathing: active inhale into the belly with relaxed chest expansion. Intense inhale and relaxed exhale: breathing out is a passive movement (let go). This has the effect that you take in more oxygen than you release carbon dioxide. Reasons to Practise Circular Breathing Contrary to slow breathing or Pranayama practices, Circular Breathing is not only practiced to create a calm mind and relaxed body. Circular breathing is a transformative breathing practice, bringing peace and calm to your body and mind AFTER the practice, but it is usually quite intense DURING the practice. The more intense styles of Circular Breathing practices, such as Conscious Connected Breathwork, Rebirthing, or Holotropic Breathwork, when practiced for more than ±10 minutes, can bring deep personal healing. But this doesn’t have to be the main reason for a person to practice it. Circular breathing doesn’t always have to bring up intense emotional and spiritual experiences. Some do the practice to reach an altered state of consciousness to heal trauma or get new insights on life. But, others practice circular breathing, such as the Wim Hof Method, mainly for its health benefits (read more about the benefits here: What is Conscious Connected Breathing?). A simple energizing form of Circular Breathing, similar to the Wim Hof method, is our Energizing Breathwork Practice inside our Spinoza App (iOS, Android). Find this in the Breathwork Section. There can be numerous reasons to start practicing Circular Breathing, as it has many benefits. Here are some examples of reasons to start exploring Circular Breathing practices: If you are curious and ready for the next step in your journey toward self-inquiry and want to expand your consciousness If you want to hack your health and optimize physical processes in your body When you are looking for new ways of healing trauma If you want to let go of emotional baggage When you want to tap into your subconscious and the answers that are stored there When you want to prepare for a psychedelic experience When you want to integrate things you’ve learned in your psychedelic experience When you want to experience deep, nourishing peace and relaxation When you want to find new ways to deal with stress When you want to release anxiety and stress and alleviate (mild) depression Do you want to learn more about Circular Breathing and how to practice it? Read more in this article: What is Conscious Connected Breathing? So. Let’s get back to where we started.“What is breathwork?” Well. Maybe you’ve noticed while reading this article that there are many styles and breathing methods that are all called ‘Breathwork’. It’s as broad as for example ‘yoga’. Or ‘bread’, or ‘car’. There are many styles and practices to explore to meet your needs at this moment in life. So, two more important questions are: What are the benefits of the different types of breathwork? Where am I in life at this moment and what do I need? Will I benefit more from slowing down or shaking things up? Slow down with Breathing and Balance your Stress Levels Do you feel rushed in life and the urge to find more calm, clarity, and ways to balance your body and mind? Then, exploring a daily morning or evening ritual with pranayama practices and slow breathing to balance your autonomic nervous system is what you need. Examples of some simple slow breathing practices are: Resonance Breathing – 6:6 or 5:5 or 4:4 in and out Box Breathing – creating a ‘square’ with your breathing. Breathe in for 4 counts, pause for 4 counts, breathe in for 4 and breathe out for 4. Repeat for 10-20 minutes. 4:7:8 – Breathe in for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7, breathe out for 8. Repeat this pattern for 15-20. This one is ideal if you can’t fall asleep at night. You can find all these calming practices in our Spinoza App (iOS, Android), which is for free. Shake things up with a Circular Breathing Practice Do you feel stuck in life and need movement and a (literal) new, fresh wind to shake things up? Starting a Circular Breathing Practice could be a way to explore to release what wants to come out. We advise you to always first start with Circular Breathwork with a certified breathwork coach. Starting a breathwork practice is like going on a fantastic journey with and within yourself. You can compare it to going on a trip around the world without a concrete plan. You just hop on the bus to a destination that feels right, explore it for a little while, and then move on to the next destination that you veel called towards. Trying breathwork is really all about making it a fun exploration, tapping into yourself every day, and keep on asking the question: “What do I need today? What does my body feel like? Do I need to chill? Do I need to get moving?”.