I first became convinced of the power of breathwork through a Shamanic breathing technique developed by esoteric author and artist Orryelle Defenestrate-Bascule around ten years ago. To the best of my knowledge Orryelle has never described the technique outside of private instruction and workshops so out of respect I'll avoid detailing it here. Suffice it to say it's a unique combination of intense rhythmic breath and sound/mantra that produces a very rapid altered state of consciousness and heightened sense of body awareness.
The obvious effects of physical and mental rejuvenation in the week or so following that session were startling to say the least. This, it turns out, is one of the hallmarks of ecstatic breath practices; a resetting and energising of the entire body-mind that produces an afterglow that is noticeable to yourself and others.
Fast forward several years of traditional forms of pranayama, Wim Hof, Holotropic breathwork, Buteyko and Rune Yoga (yes, that's a thing) and I'm now even more convinced that focussed breathwork may be one of the powerful tools we have at our disposal for radically altering our minds and bodies.
Of course systemised breathing practices are evidenced in Yogic, Tantric and Shamanic cultures dating back thousands of years. For several decades the therapeutic benefits of breathing techniques to explore consciousness, manage stress and overcome trauma have been routinely studied in clinical settings. More recently what has gained interest in the fields of sports performance and medicine is how profoundly we can influence aspects of our physiology in ways that were previously considered unchangeable. What is obvious is we are only scratching the surface of what might be possible.
Whilst using breathwork to set world records, heal disease, achieve enlightenment and realise your life purpose is all well and good, my interest is in how we can leverage these practices towards body transformation goals. Importantly, is it possible to combine breathwork with diet and training to produce results that might be otherwise unattainable? The answer is yes we can.
It's important to note that breathwork is not one singular thing, there's countless practices with countess applications; some require training, some are simple to learn on your own. In my experience the areas most applicable and actionable from a health and fitness perspective are:
Rejuvenation, longevity and anti-ageing - the state of intermittent hypoxia induced through extended breath holding techniques stimulates the activation of the bodies own stem cells along with a host of other benefits. Sit with the implications of that for a moment!
Detoxification - conscious deep diaphragmatic breathing has a profound cleansing effect on lymphatic and circulatory systems.
Enhanced Recovery - one of the hallmarks of genetic elite athletes is they recover way faster than regular folks. One of the fastest ways to put yourself into a parasympathetic recovery mode is to focus on extending exhalation relative to inhalation. Doing this for set periods of time dramatically speeds up recovery along with adaptation to training. See a simple method described below.
Resetting Self-Image and behavioural modification - To me this is perhaps the most profound application of breathwork. Our self-image has a governing influence on our behaviour, attitudes, health and appearance. As woo as it may sound, the more powerful breathwork techniques gives us access to states of consciousness where we can imprint a self-image more in line with our goals rather than it accruing by happenstance.
GIVE ME FIVE MINUTES AND I CAN MAKE YOU BETTER
One of the first breathing techniques I teach is designed to stimulate the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system. Largely because everyone needs to spend more time in a regenerative "rest and digest" mode and learn how to turn down the ambient stress in their life. It's safe and easy to learn and allows you to practice proper breathing mechanics and, if done regularly, will improve almost every health marker you can name.
The first time you do this find somewhere you can lie down comfortably for five minutes.
Get comfortable and just notice how you breathe naturally without trying to control it. Gently place one hand over your belly and one across your chest and notice which hand rises first when you inhale. If your belly moves first fine, if it's your chest place your attention on breathing into your lower back. This cue will naturally encourage better belly breathing.
Inhale through your nose and gently exhale through slightly pursed lips and let yourself settle into your natural rhythm for a few breaths. You can leave your hands on your chest or now place them by your sides.
Begin inhaling through your nose for a count of 4 and without pausing exhaling through your mouth to a count of 8. Breathing should be relaxing - never strain. If you can't comfortably maintain the 8 second exhale switch to 3:6 seconds or 2:4, the 1:2 ratio is more important than the duration.
There should be no pause between either the inhale or the exhale and both should be smooth, gentle and relaxed.
After four minutes just let your breathing fall back into it's natural rhythm and you're done.
You'll notice you feel incredibly relaxed after just a few minutes of this and there's a reason why. Essentially you're using your breath as a dial for your nervous system; inhalation stimulates the sympathetic system, exhaling the parasympathetic. By extending the out breath you begin to down regulate the stress response, stimulate the vagus nerve and enter into a restorative mode. The method is mechanical and predictable and offers a host of health benefits from improved oxygenation of the cells and muscles to normalising blood pressure and improving circulation. As little as five minutes will initiate those benefits, if you do ten minutes a day for a month you'd be surprised at what a difference it makes in your health and wellbeing.
If you want to know more about different styles of breathwork and how you can use them to better achieve your goals shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm currently running one to one sessions and group workshops in person and via Zoom.