What Are Breathing Techniques?
It is estimated that roughly ninety percent of the population is breathing incorrectly. In many ways, proper breathing should be a top priority but the majority of us are using less than fifty percent of our breathing capacity. When we take in less oxygen as a result of shallow inhaling which means we aren’t fueling the body, blood, and cells with adequate energy.
Alexander Lowen once said, “The importance of breathing need hardly be stressed. It provides the oxygen for the metabolic processes; literally it supports the fires of life. But breath as “pneuma” is also the spirit or soul. We live in an ocean of air like fish in a body of water.” The power of breathing has been used throughout generations and cultures for millennia in various capacities and purposes. These individuals discovered that while breathing is among the most automatic of body processes, there is a conscious element that is necessary for a wide range of benefits both internally and externally. From this understanding breathing techniques have been developed that run the gamut of time, attention, practice, and purposes.
Breathing techniques are the result of centuries of discovery regarding the benefits of focused breathing. They range greatly based on their purpose and the breathing commands used to perform them. There are techniques for the novice and the experienced breathwork enthusiast. Some people may remain using the first technique they have found or elevate to more technically distinct methods. Those who begin focused breathing techniques may do so until their subconscious breathing improves or continue the practice throughout life. Breathing exercises do not have to take up a significant portion of your time. Setting aside intentional time to focus on your breathing is the most important thing, as well as the quality of your efforts.
The number of breathing techniques developed over the years is difficult to estimate, but there are some primary methods that have been used and proven themselves worthy of being named and used. Breathing techniques are used in a wide variety of settings and generally require some form of certification.
Holotropic Breathwork (HB) was developed in the 1970s by psychiatrists Stanislav and Christina Grof. They developed the method as a therapeutic tool used to be used to achieve altered states of consciousness. Essentially, the LSD movement of the 1960s that resulted in individuals experiencing psychedelic side effects proved to be unsafe and the psychiatrists wanted a way to achieve these same results without dangerous means. As the participant does the work of breathing while the facilitator simply guides them in finding their own personal internal radar to ultimately flush away negative energies. The participant will be instructed to breathe rapidly and evenly as they eventually reach an altered state, which can be described as intense medication, where they expect to derive a deeper understanding of themselves.
Dr. Gay Hendricks, the author of Conscious Breathing and many other books, developed The Breathing Box method where he guides participants through a four-week course on proper breathing. The method is relatively self-paced and takes just 10 minutes a day. Dr. Hendricks is one of the longest practicing practitioners of breathwork with over three decades of experience refining and perfecting his methods. His overall goal in breathwork is overall wellbeing and trauma release. His work as a whole is focused on his patients being able to achieve their personal optimal quality of life through Conscious Living skills, including breathwork.
This is the method used by Dr. Kaminsky and the breathing technique taught in his Craniosacral Therapy office in New York City.
The Wim Hof Method is based on three pillars: breathing, cold therapy, and commitment. Through these means, the goal of the Wim Hof method is achieved: realizing your full potential. This method is based on the principle that our body has the ability to adapt but our inner power has been weakened by our environment and reliance upon artificial means of sick care.
Through these three pillars, the Wim Hof method boasts multiple benefits including reduced stress, increased energy, improved sleep, heightened focus, greater cold tolerance, stronger immunity, and enhanced athletic performance.
Dr. Kaminsky at Craniosacral Therapy NY states that every patient can benefit from focusing on their breathing, even if it is minor. Integrating focused breathing techniques into your routine has been scientifically shown to combat mood disorders, reduce pain, fight insomnia, address headaches, chronic pain, TMJ, scoliosis, and even improve processing, concentration and athletic performance to name just a few of the major benefits.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now approved breath training as a treatment for hypertension. Thousands of studies have shown that breathwork improves anxiety, fatigue, depression, and more factors that can also play into elevated blood pressure. Each method focuses on specific positive outcomes, but the overall benefit is improved quality of life.
Breathing techniques have been used for thousands of years to connect, mind, body and spirit. Pranayama is perhaps the most studied method still used today. The name comes from the term, prana, which is the energy in all living things. It is described as the force of energy that makes up the body and the spirit. Pranayama is referred to as the science of breath by many practitioners. There are different types of pranayama that can be practiced from simple abdominal breathing to complex yoga-style breathing techniques.
The four parts of pranayama are rechaka (exhalation), puraka (inhalation), bahya-kumbhaka (suspension of the breath after exhalation), and antar-dumbhaka (retention of the breath after inhalation). As the practitioner advances, they will begin incorporating inner retention and outer suspension.
Pranayama has essentially become an umbrella term for many of the other forms of ancient breathing techniques. There are many types, but the primary ones include Anuloma villoma, Ujjayi, Bhramari, Sheetali and Sheetkari, and Surya bhedana too name a few. Dr. Andrew Weil developed the 4-7-8 breathing technique based on pranayama teachings.
When a baby is born it instinctively knows to take a breath. At that moment it is no longer receiving oxygen from its mother through the umbilical cord and is now inhaling oxygen into his or her own lungs. In an instant the entire physiology of a child takes a shift.
From birth to around six months old babies breathe primarily through their nose and use their abdominal muscles to engage the diaphragm for inhaling and full oxygen saturation of the lungs. As we age three other muscle groups become stronger and play a larger role in breathing: the diaphragm, intercostal muscles, and abdominal muscles. We become chest breathers and with this change we live to survive, instead of living to thrive.
The unfortunate side effect of chest breathing, occurring in children and adults with the dominance of the other muscle groups, is a decrease in the intake of an adequate amount of oxygen. Chest breathing leads to more shallow and less focused breaths. The minimal amount of oxygen is drawn into the chest area, and very little reaches the full capacity of the lungs.
It turns out belly breathing isn’t just important for infants and children. Adults who practice belly breathing inhale an exponentially greater amount of oxygen into the lungs, providing the whole system in greater abundance. Oxygen is necessary for life and health at a functional cellular level. When sufficient amounts of oxygen are brought in through belly breathing a host of benefits arise. Increased energy, improved focus, enhancements in mood, nutrient supply increases throughout the body, muscles relax, and many more benefits.
The three most common techniques, Holotropic breathwork, Gay Hendricks and Wim Hof differ in some ways in their specific technique approaches and in some of their goals.
The Holotropic breathing approach sets out to get its participants into an alternate state whereby they inevitably come to a greater understanding of themselves, while Hendricks desires for his participants to help the body release stuck negative energies and traumas.
The Wim Hof method further separates itself from just the category of a breathing exercise in that it incorporates a three-pillar approach. breathing, controlled immersion in cold water therapy, and the third is cultivating the mindset that allows you to optimally utilize the first two methods for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual gain and utmost well-being.
Other Notable Methods
Entry into breathing techniques can feel daunting with the various methods and new phrases used to describe or instruct the breathing. There are notable breathing methods that the most novice to the breathing technique world can practice and experience benefits.
Another method is the 4-7-8 method mentioned earlier. This approach is also referred to as the relaxing breath and is said to naturally tranquilize the nervous system. The practitioner follows these steps:
- Place the tip of the tongue on the tissue behind the upper front teeth and leave it there for the entirety of the exercise.
- Exhale completely through the mouth, whoosh sound should be heard.
- Close the mouth and inhale through the nose quietly while counting to four mentally.
- Hold your breath for seven seconds.
- Exhale completely through the mouth eight seconds, allowing a whoosh sound to be heard.
With the multitude of benefits, integrating breathwork into your regular habits is one that will benefit you greatly. As Dr. Kaminsky states, every patient can benefit from focusing on their breathing, even just a little.