January 26, 2021
For something that's free, and that humans do effortlessly 22,000 times a day, I'm surprised more people haven't harnessed the power of their breath for its many powerful, scientifically proven benefits. As I have written about before, I believe that breathwork courses similar to what I took my twin boys through last year should be an integral part of every human being's life curriculum.
I've experienced many, many breathwork benefits firsthand (you can check out my breathwork experiences in my podcasts and articles listed in the Summary section at the end of this article), frequently weave breathwork into my daily routine, and even recently traveled to Sedona for a second time (you can watch a recap of my first breathwork visit to Sedona in this video) with Kion co-founder and CEO, Angelo Keely to undergo a transformative breathwork session with my friend Anahata Ananda, whom you may remember from the podcast episode “Magic Chocolate, Holotropic Breathwork, Grounding, Earthing, Vortexes, Crystals & More With Shamangelic Healer Anahata Ananda.”
During this transformative experience, both Angelo and I experienced some deep business insights and profound physiological breakthroughs similar to what one might harness from plant medicine journeys or psychedelics. (You can subscribe to my podcast here for free to listen to our upcoming episode this Thursday for all the nitty-gritty details of our journey with Anahata.) So, naturally, I just had to ask Anahata if she would come back on the podcast to share more about the work she does, to which she obliged—and also offered to write today's article for your reading pleasure.
So in today's guest post by Anahata, you'll discover how breathwork has been used throughout history, what a breathwork journey looks like, how breathwork actually works, how breathwork can lead to healing and spiritual awakenings, how to get started on your own breathwork journey, and much more.
Breath Is Life
Yes, breath is literally life.
Yogis, shamans, monks, and mystics from various ancient cultures and religions have used breath manipulation techniques to calm the mind, release emotional trauma, initiate spiritual connection, extend life, and heal the body.
Ceremonial breathwork journeys can be leveraged to remove physical, emotional, and mental toxicity while providing a path for self-discovery and spiritual awakening. For example, the Kalahari Kung Bushmen of Africa, through a combination of dancing, moaning, and rapid, shallow breath reach the state of “!kia,” or physical and emotional ecstasy. Bushmen who reach !kia during the ceremony are then able to heal others at the ceremonial dance.
As Ben has written about before, even Christianity—though many modern Christians are unaware of this, despite the first man Adam's origins being intimately tied to a breath of life from God into his nostrils—had deep historical ties to breathwork and breath prayer, which you can read about here and here. (The linguistic connection between the Holy Spirit and so-called “Breath Prayer” is unambiguous in the Bible, and both the Hebrew ruach and Greek pneuma used throughout Scripture denote breath, wind, and/or spirit.)
Rapid breathing techniques have been linked to psychedelic-like experiences that have the ability to shift consciousness and heal past traumas. Aubrey Marcus, who has been very forthright on his use of psychedelics, including ayahuasca and psilocybin, had this to say about Shamanic breathwork: “What I experienced and saw is that Shamanic breathing was as profound a healing experience as any ayahuasca experience that I’ve had in the past…It’s really one of the most elegant solutions.” A Shamanic breathwork journey is designed to guide you into the shadows of your psyche to face fears, heal core wounds, and retrieve aspects of yourself that have been stuck in the past, therefore reintegrating body, mind, and soul. Ben describes a similar experience with Holotropic™ breathwork in his article “The Ultimate Breathwork Ninja Guide: How To Banish Stress & Kiss High Cortisol Goodbye:” “The holotropic breathwork session I performed in San Diego got me higher than I’ve ever been without the use of psychedelic drugs, providing me via the power of my own breath with an intense out-of-body experience, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.”
As you're about to discover, modern-day breathwork ceremonies have become a powerful resource for emotional release, inner child and trauma healing, personal growth, and spiritual awakening.
History and Influences of Breathwork
Many ancient cultures have leveraged breath, dance, and music to facilitate trance states of consciousness, release dense energy, reclaim wholeness, and receive Divine guidance. Sandra Ingerman, prolific author on Shamanism notes that:
“For over 100,000 years, shamans around the world have perfected the art of traveling in consciousness to other levels of reality, gaining access to information that can seem quite extraordinary about how to treat and prevent disease, avoid negative situations, clear family issues, plan for our future, and more.”
Here is where we see the historical influence of Christianity, a Shamanic Journey, plant medicine ceremonies, Shamanic emotional clearing techniques, entity clearing, soul retrieval, and multidimensional travel influencing modern Breathwork ceremonies.
“Breath prayer,” a spiritual practice tracing its roots to the early Christian desert fathers and mothers in the third century A.D., involves choosing a phrase of up to 12 sacred words, dividing it into two parts, and praying the first part on the inhale and the second on the exhale. For example, taking words from Psalm 23 and as one would inhale, they would pray, “beside still waters” and on the exhale, say, “you lead me.” Or these words from Romans 8:38–39 (inhale): Nothing can separate us, (exhale) from the love of God. Such phrases would be repeated silently or aloud for many consecutive minutes.
Yogis for thousands of years have utilized various breathing practices called “Pranayama” (Sanskrit for Life Control) to enhance the mind-body connection, calm the mind, heal the body, and awaken pathways to higher consciousness. In Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda makes the link between Yogic practices and longevity by acknowledging that Hindu yogi and mystic Trailanga Swami lived to 280 years.
Today, breathwork journeys vary greatly in their format and may blend breathing techniques, various shamanic and cultural practices, energy healing modalities, vibrational sound healing, aromatherapy, psychology principles, and more. Basically, there is no one way, or right way, to approach a breathwork journey as many styles are being woven together by masterful facilitators to orchestrate profound experiences with a range of benefits. For example, Leonard Orr, who devised Rebirthing Breathing in the 1970s, claimed that his breathing process enables participants to release repressed early traumatic childhood memories.
According to various studies pranayama breathing techniques have many positive impacts on physical health including enhanced sleep, improved brain function, stress reduction, lowered blood pressure, and enhanced mindfulness. In their article “10 Excellent Health Benefits of Kapalbhati Pranayama,” Shwaasa Yoga Center shares that the Kapalbhati (Sanskrit for “skull shining,” also known as Breath of Fire) breathing technique offers the following benefits: organ cleansing, lung clearing, weight loss, blood purification, emotional wellbeing, and mental clarity.
Transpersonal psychologists and husband and wife duo, Stanislav and Christina Grof developed Holotropic™ (translates as moving towards wholeness) Breathwork technique as a process to accelerate their patients' healing and personal growth process. According to an article on Good Therapy on Holotropic Breathwork, the Grofs discovered that oxygen deprivation—which occurs through prolonged, deliberate breathing at an accelerated pace—can induce states of altered consciousness. Their approach proposes that this altered state allows the participant to access hidden conscious memories from past experiences that may facilitate healing, emotional release, and awareness shifts from past imprints.
In the 12-year study, “A Clinical Report of Holotropic Breathwork in 11,000 Psychiatric Patients in a Community Hospital Setting”, Dr. James Eyerman concluded that Holotropic™ breathwork offers a non-drug alternative for the induction of psychedelic therapeutic experience with 82% of participants reporting transpersonal experiences and no adverse reactions. For more on Holotropic Breathwork, you can check out the Grofs' site here.
Note: Holotropic™ breathwork cannot be practiced without the guidance of a certified professional Holotropic™ breathwork facilitator. Over the course of a 2-3 hour-long (typically group) session, evocative, rhythmic music is played throughout the intense breathing portions, which then transitions into meditative music towards the end, as you enter a trancelike state.
No discussion about the power of breath is complete without including Wim Hof. The Wim Hof Breathing Method includes a combination of specific breathing practices, cold therapy, and a commitment to activities that challenge comfort zones to overcome fears and limitations and unleash inner power. Benefits of his method include increased energy, heightened focus, increased willpower, enhanced sleep, and improved immune function. Mind-blowing studies conducted on Wim Hof and his method have documented his ability to voluntarily influence his sympathetic nervous system and immune system through breath and mind control alone. These findings shatter previous human potential limits empowering us humans to awaken the hidden potential of our minds through breath and other modalities.
For more on Wim Hof, listen to Ben's podcasts with Mr. Hof himself:
- Conquer The Cold And Get Quantum Leaps In Performance In This Exclusive Interview With The Amazing Iceman Wim Hof.
- The Iceman Returns: Wim Hof On Climbing Frigid Mountains In Underwear, Eating Only Once A Day, Activating Hormones With Breathing & More.
You can also click here to see how Ben wove Wim Hof-esque breathwork into a recent 5-week breathing practice he and his twin boys completed.
The Format of a Breathwork Journey
As there are many facilitators and breathwork styles, there are no two breathwork experiences that are alike. Breathwork can be facilitated in a private one on one setting, with couples, intimate groups, large group ceremonies, and even virtually.
The setting and format will range tremendously based on the approach of the trained facilitator, Shaman, or healer. It can be structured and clinical, informal, or very sacred and ceremonial.
Most often, and especially in sessions with me at my Sedona facility or via the type of sessions Ben and his wife Jessa did with tantric breathwork practitioners Christina Hassler and Stefanos Sandos, a participant lies on their back on a pad that allows space for expression in a private space away from other distractions. The process usually incorporates various fast-paced breathing techniques with engaging music and guided support to facilitate deep emotional releases, heart-opening, and spiritual expansion.
Some journeys will utilize the vibrations of sound healing instruments such as drums, rattles, didgeridoo, gongs, or crystal bowls to deepen the experience. Those trained in emotional clearing modalities and energy healing techniques will incorporate those to support you through the process.
The use of scent is often utilized through essential oils or smudging with sage or palo santo. If the breathwork guide has established the container as a safe, judgment-free, and welcome space for cathartic verbal and emotional expression, then be prepared that during the journey you may hear a cacophony of sounds and emotions that are otherwise socially shamed and oppressed.
Allow the journey to unfold taking you where you need to go.
At the completion of the ceremony, there is usually some sharing, journaling, interpretation of the experience, and guidance for integration and next steps. Those who deeply integrate the insights received are the ones who gain the most benefit from breathwork. In other words, spend time to reflect on how the shifts that you experienced affect your life now. What changes will you implement? What is now possible? For those who are navigating the integration of deep traumas, ongoing support for proper healing and integration may be called for until fully realigned.
Here's what Ben had to say about his two Shamangelic breathwork journeys with me:
“It involved an INCREDIBLE hour of deeply transformative music, paired with breathwork, energy work, aromatherapy and host of other tricks Anahata has up her sleeve for both personal and business transformation. I’m not super into “woo” as most of you know, and I try a TON of stuff to see what actually works and what doesn’t, and her work is super unique, profound and effective. We came away with a huge amount of exciting new insights and developments for our business, for ourselves and for our families.”
You can listen to the first podcast I recorded with Ben, “Magic Chocolate, Holotropic Breathwork, Grounding, Earthing, Vortexes, Crystals & More With Shamangelic Healer Anahata Ananda.,” for more on his experience, and tune into this Thursday's podcast to hear about Ben's experience with Kion CEO Angelo Keely.
How Breathwork Actually Works
Fast-paced breathing acts as a catalyst to bring to surface subconscious experiences that can initiate cathartic emotional releases and awareness shifts if facilitated properly. Prolonged rapid breathing creates a hyperventilation state that shifts the ratio of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the body.
It is thought that the reduced oxygen levels may induce states of altered consciousness and open the mind to other dimensions and timelines.
Clinical psychiatrist Rick Strassman, author of DMT: The Spirit Molecule, proposes that it is N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), released from the pineal gland, that initiates this psychedelic-like experience. Although it remains somewhat of a mystery as to what exactly is occurring in the brain, the pineal gland, and with the alchemy of various brain chemicals, it is clear something is happening to shift consciousness.
To create this effect, there are many breathing techniques that could be utilized, some include:
- Diaphragmatic Breathing – Also known as belly breathing, diaphragmatic breathing can help strengthen the diaphragm by placing the emphasis of the breath on the diaphragm rather than the chest. To practice, place one hand on your upper chest, and your other hand below your ribcage. As you breathe in through your nose, you'll feel the air moving downward as it gently raises your stomach. Your lungs will expand with air while your diaphragm contracts and moves downward. Upon slow exhale through pursed lips, your diaphragm muscles relax and move upwards, driving the air out of your lungs through your breath.
- Kapalbhati “Breath of Fire” – One of six cleansing practices mentioned in Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Kapalbhati is said to purify, rejuvenate, and refresh your body and mind and involves gentle inhales followed by short, powerful exhales. To practice, after settling in a comfortable seated position with spine straight, place both hands on your knees with palms facing the sky. Take a deep breath in. Upon exhaling, contract your lower stomach, forcing the breath out in a short burst. Allow your next inhale to flow into your lungs automatically by releasing your abdomen. Repeat 20 times, relax for a moment to observe how your body feels, then complete two more rounds.
- Breath Holds – Breath-holding is an important component of pranayama yoga and has a wide array of benefits, including stem cell health preservation, resistance to infections, inducing feelings of relation, and more. There are many ways to practice breath-holding, but one way is simply holding your breath for one minute, resuming normal breathing for 90 seconds, then repeating another one-minute hold. Repeat a few times and gradually reduce your normal breathing rests by 15-seconds each cycle. Important: Never practice breath holds underwater.
Think of the breath as a broom that is capable of going into the basement of your life and clearing out the oppressed unresolved residue that has accumulated and has been negatively affecting your beliefs, emotions, and consciousness. These releases pave the way for core healing, integrated wholeness, internal alignment, and the wisdom of the soul to be accessed. The breath is a wise Shaman and, if given permission and direction, will go where it needs to go in order to bring light to the darkness within.
Healing & Spiritual Opportunities Through Breathwork
Aside from dissolving stress and tension, releasing built-up emotion, expanding perspective, re-establishing courage and strength, and bringing about an internal realignment with body, mind, and soul, breathwork has the potential to also heal deep, core wounds and promote spiritual awakening.
When there is a safe, supportive, confidential environment; an experienced trustworthy facilitator; a process for accessing subconscious memories; and permission to express emotions without judgment or inhibition, that is the perfect setting for healing core wounds.
We all have experienced some form of loss, heartbreak, abandonment, judgment, or oppression. Some of us have experienced physical, sexual, or psychological abuse. Others are navigating PTSD from various life events. Depression, addictions, anger, insecurity, and control issues are just some of the many socially common symptoms that indicate unresolved issues. When left unattended, these imprints begin to create distortions and chaos in your health, relationships, career, finances, and sense of self.
Most of us harbor repressed emotions due to the fact that expressing emotions is often socially shamed, there were no role models demonstrating emotional intelligence, or our emotions made others feel uncomfortable, so we stuffed them. Boys are told, “Do NOT cry, you’re being a sissy” and girls are told, “It’s not polite to be angry, no one likes a bitch.” So, most of us don’t really know how to process anger or grief in a healthy way. It is more socially acceptable to bitch about our pain and grievances over drinks than to address the situation, honor our emotions, express in a healthy setting, and learn from the experience.
Oppressed emotions may include anger or rage from situations where you were hurt, or experienced some injustice, betrayal, or abuse. A cathartic release of pent-up anger often lightens the density and begins the healing process. Because as a society we don’t really know how to grieve properly, it's likely there may need to be some tears shed. Grief is a natural process of honoring losses and disappointments in life. Your breathwork journey may trigger a good cry to honor what has been lost or passed in order for you to make space for what is birthing.
Leverage this process to surrender and let go of the feelings, beliefs, or experiences that no longer serve you. It’s also a beautiful opportunity to shed karma from your family and ancestral lineage, residue from past lovers, etc. that you have been holding that isn’t even yours. The breathwork journey is also the perfect opportunity to check in with your inner child: What does your inner child need to feel safe, loved, seen, free, and happy? You may not have been able to control this as a child, but now you can reparent those parts of you that felt alone, unsafe, hurt, misunderstood, or unloved. Mending these wounds will begin to dissolve those feelings of insecurity and unworthiness and pave the way to trust and love again.
In addition to healing core wounds, breath is the key that unlocks the door to consciousness, perspective, higher knowledge, and divine guidance.
The spiritual intelligence of the breath will guide you on a journey into those dark corners of your psyche to make the unseen seen again and light the path for your soul to follow. According to Wim Hof, the breath literally detoxes the brain cells and activates the mitochondria, alkalizing and oxygenating the blood flow throughout the brain and body. Shifting the oxygen ratios and enhancing blood circulation to the brain begins to clear the pituitary gland (3rd Eye Chakra) and pineal gland (Crown Chakra), which the yogis identify as the energetic spiritual gateways to higher consciousness. It’s not uncommon to see images, colors, connect with spirit guides, reunite with loved ones that have passed, or commune with your higher self through breathwork.
Getting Started On Your Breathwork Journey
Trusting your intuition to direct you to the right facilitator, format, and style is part of the experience. Be selective as not all ceremonies or facilitators will be the right fit for you. Breathwork guides range vastly in their skill set, experience, training, and style. Not all facilitators are experienced in handling the physical, psychological, or emotional releases that may occur.
Remember, during your journey you will likely be revisiting some tender core wounds or trauma, facing dragons you fear, or expressing uncomfortable emotions that make you feel embarrassed. A trustworthy experienced guide will help you to navigate through the shadows and into the light again.
Do your research and stalk potential facilitators to get a feel for who you vibe with. You are looking for someone you feel safe and with whom you completely trust. Without safety and trust, you will not be able to completely surrender, therefore limiting the depth and impact of your journey. Ask respected friends or colleagues for recommendations and listen to your intuition, trusting that you will know when it feels right.
Only you will know if this process is summoning you to provide medicine for your body, mind, heart, or soul. If you are being called, remain open, release expectations, and allow the ancient wise Shamanic healer known as breath to alchemize the perfect tailored journey of healing and awakening for you.
Once you are ready to begin your breathwork journey, there are certain steps you should take in order to prepare your body.
First, to deepen your experience, spend some introspection time prior to the journey to explore how you are feeling and use this time to set your intention.
Next, it is best not to engage this process with a full belly of food as it may inhibit the intensity of breathing, diminish your experience, or cause nausea. With thinner blood the breath is able to circulate through the body and brain more efficiently, clearing physical and emotional toxicity. Most facilitators recommend fasting before your journey for a period of time, which may be just a few hours or all day depending on your guide.
Finally, it is usually recommended to wear comfortable, non-binding clothes that allow for free uninhibited movement.
I will leave you with a word of caution before you being your breathwork journey: Due to the fact that breathwork engages some intense breathing, it is not advisable for those with cardiovascular ailments, a history of aneurysms or seizures, high blood pressure, or recent surgeries. If you have a health condition and are unsure if breathwork is right for you, consult your doctor. It is also not recommended for pregnant women as it may elicit fetal distress. For those with mental illness or severe PTSD, a more gentle approach guided by a psychiatric or medical professional may be more suitable.
Personally, as a high-performance coach, Shamanic healer, and soul guide, breathwork is my most favorite modality for profound accelerated healing and awakening. Having guided over 8,000 people through Shamangelic breathwork for 20 years, I have witnessed this process create miraculous shifts, core trauma healing, radical forgiveness, soul path clarity, too many miracles to count.
I have had the blessed gift of guiding each beautiful tender soul through their journey which may include sobs of grief, cathartic rage, heart expansion, tears of joy, and much more. For my own personal path, breathwork has been unparalleled in my own transformational awakening journey.
If you would like to learn more or participate in a breathwork session with me, I invite you to visit Shamangelic Healing, where I offer in-person sessions, private tailored retreats, ceremonies, group retreats, breathwork facilitator training, high-performance coaching, and virtual courses.
I have trained extensively with gifted Shamans, energy healers, and spiritual teachers from North America, Peru, India, and Asia in order to artfully integrate the fields of self-empowerment, Shamanic teachings, emotional release, energy healing, relationship counseling, meditation, yoga, and empowered living.
For more information, you can listen to my Shamangelic Healing Podcast, which is designed as a platform for sharing deep authentic conversations about REAL LIFE issues.
Additionally, here are some of Ben's resources on breathwork:
- Magic Chocolate, Holotropic Breathwork, Grounding, Earthing, Vortexes, Crystals & More With Shamangelic Healer Anahata Ananda.
- How To Blast You (And Your Child’s!) Physical, Mental, & Spiritual Resilience Through The Roof With Breathwork.
- Breathwork vs. Psychedelics, Tantric Sex, Relational Alchemy, Questions That Lead To Love & Much More With Stefanos Sifandos & Christine Hassler.
- Biohack Your Breath With Nose “Boners,” Carbon Dioxide Inhalation, Tibetan Longevity Stretches & Much More: How To Unlock The New Science Of A Lost Art.
- The Ultimate Breathwork Ninja Guide: How To Banish Stress & Kiss High Cortisol Goodbye
- Potent Breathwork Tactics From A Navy SEAL Commander, Staring Down Your Wolf, Operating Calmly Under Stress & More With Mark Divine.
- Pee Strips, Power Lungs & Pulse Oximeters: How To Flip The Switch On Your Body’s Own Natural Ability To Heal Itself (& Little-Known Ways To Breathe Better).
- The Zen of “The Zone” – How To Breathe The Right Way When You’re Working Out.
How about you? Have you tried any of these forms of breathwork? What have you found works well for you? Leave your thoughts, personal experiences with breathwork, or questions about breathwork below, and I'll get back to you.