Wether you have experience with Holotropic breathing or are new to Breathwork this blog will address some questions you may have and provide you with my personal experience in Breathwork.
Disclaimer: I would first like to start this article with the disclaimer that I am not a medical professional and this article should not replace any medical or mental health professional’s recommendation. If you have never done breathwork and are considering it, please consult your medical care team.
What is Holotropic Breathing?
Let me start by telling you what breathwork has done for me. The emotional benefits of breathwork are what have been most important to me. Of all the healing modalities I have tapped into, breathwork is my favorite to facilitate, and the health benefits of breathwork are limitless.
Like any other healing modality I have chosen to learn more about and facilitate, I first had my own experience and then dove deeper. In 2016 I met Blake Spencer who facilitated holotropic breathwork in California. The word Holotropic means “moving toward wholeness” in Greek. Breathwork is a powerful healing tool that uses a simple three-part pattern of breathing. This special breath is done with an inhale through the mouth, breathing into the belly space, into the heart space, and then exhaling through the mouth.
I met Blake at an extremely transformational time in my life as I was contemplating divorce, managing the chronic illness of my significant other, healing from my own traumas, working as a County Social Worker, and trying to connect to who I was. Something felt wrong in my body and unsettled in my life, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Attending Blake’s group sessions helped me:
- Connect to myself
- Unlock and release traumatic experiences and
- Remove blocks that I didn’t know were there
Again, this is my own experience and I do not make any claims to what others have and can experience. While breathwork can be extremely beneficial to some, it is contraindicated to others ( I will discuss this later in the blog).
Fast forward to 2019 when my partner was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. We were living in a cancer center and while he was not undergoing treatments or experiencing extreme adverse side effects, I was looking for ways to occupy my time, expand my ability to heal, and expand my ability to share that with others. I reached out to Blake and asked her to train me in breathwork facilitation. I enrolled in her 6-week course and completed it by the time we were ready to come home. It was truly divine timing. I then started offering monthly breathwork circles in my community, private sessions, and corporate group sessions. The year 2020 was an enormously transformative year and I attribute that to integrating a regular breathwork practice.
What Are The Benefits of Breathwork?
Breathwork can impact many aspects of life. The known benefits of breathwork include but are not limited to:
- Aiding in positive self-development
- Boosts immunity
- Helps in processing emotions
- Heals emotional pain and trauma loops
- Developing life skills
- Increasing abundance consciousness
- Developing and increasing self-awareness
- Enriching creativity
- Improving personal and professional relationships
- Increasing confidence, self-image, and self-esteem
- Promoting deep healing at a cellular and subconscious level
- Unlocking trauma stored within the body
While breathwork has many benefits a question I often get is, “is breathwork bad for you?” Breathwork can be “bad for you” if you have any contraindications. Breathwork is not recommended for people with a history of aneurysms, cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, vision problems, osteoporosis, or any recent physical injuries or surgeries. It is also not recommended for people who experience severe psychiatric symptoms or seizures or who take heavy medication. People with any of these contraindications should always consult their medical providers.
You may be wondering, is holotropic breathwork safe? If cleared by a medical professional breathwork is completely safe. Although breathwork is safe there are many physical sensations that may occur throughout your practice. These sensations include but are not limited to; body temperature change, tingling in the extremities or face, dizziness, yawning, sleeping, crying, screaming, laughing, cramping in the extremities or back, shaking, temporary paralysis. All of these sensations are normal trauma responses and typically occur when the body is safely releasing an experience it has been holding on to.
Wonderful books that can speak more to how the body holds on to and processes trauma are, “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel Van Derk Kolk and, “Waking the Tiger” by Peter Levine. The breathwork participant is in complete control the entire time and can safely come out of any of these experiences by breathing through the nose.
Physical Benefits of Breathwork
While I personally admire the emotional and psychological benefits of breathwork, consciously breathing can help to access and activate both the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system depending on what kind of breathwork you are participating in and what the mind and body are experiencing at the time.
Using these systems to their full capacities have great health implications and physical benefits. According to an article on www.parsleyhealth.com by Dr. Zandra Palma, M.D. the physical benefits of breathwork include but are not limited to:
- Reducing stress
- Reducing inflammation
- Alkalizing your blood PH levels (which can reduce blood pressure and lower cortisol levels)
Does Breathwork Help Anxiety?
Breathwork has been known to help anxiety. At a small yoga studio in Leadville, where I live, I teach yoga and host breathwork workshops. A woman who has practiced in our Leadville studio when she vacations here, reached out to me to try breathwork for the first time. Kelsy herself is a meditation facilitator and enjoys mindfulness practices, yoga, and visualization. I have had the pleasure of working with her since last year and it has been incredible to watch her transformation. She has struggled with anxiety most of her life and wrote this blog about her experience with breathwork and how it helped her anxiety. Kelsy continues on her healing journey with many modalities but always includes breathwork now.
Does Holotropic Breathing Work?
So, does this woo-woo stuff work? There is actually a science behind breathwork. According to www.sciencebasedmedicine.org holotropic breathwork is referred to as “voluntary hyperventilation” simply another way to alter brain chemistry. Breathing is mainly about regulating CO2 (carbon dioxide). We breathe to blow off CO2, and for this reason, CO2 is the main driver of respiration.
Our respiratory drive is a feedback loop that maintains our blood CO2 levels within a very narrow range. When you voluntarily hold your breath, the CO2 levels rise, and you gasp for breath at the end due entirely to high CO2 levels (long before oxygen is a problem). When you voluntarily hyperventilate you blow down your CO2.
Carbon dioxide is acidic, so regulating its levels in the blood is also about regulating the pH of the blood. When you hyperventilate you force CO2 out, alkalinizing the blood which is called respiratory alkalosis. This affects the functioning of the nervous system, causing tingling in the mouth and fingers, light-headedness, and dizziness. So essentially holotropic breathing is a simple method for creating physiological symptoms in conjunction with meditation to enhance the sense of a spiritual experience.
When you consciously control your breathing you alter the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide that enters and leaves your body. This is what often provides the desired effects of this powerful practice.
Again, I can only speak to my experience and the experience of hundreds of my fellow practitioners, but in my mind, this is a safe and healthy way to move forward in your healing journey. Thank you for reading.
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Love and Light Always,
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