Yasmine Ross
Written & Posted by Yasmine RossRelationship Coach, Writer

Breathwork Techniques and Benefits for Mind and Body

21 Apr, 2023
Featured for Breathwork Techniques and Benefits for Mind and Body

Along with the growing health movement, from intermittent fasting to cold plunging, another health trend that seems to be rising is breathwork. Breathwork is a broad term used to describe any practice that focuses on controlling and regulating one's breathing. Now some people may find breathwork redundant, after all aren’t we constantly just doing “breathwork” by breathing? Though breathwork may seem simple, this practice has a rich history with roots in ancient spiritual and philosophical traditions from all over  the world. Breathwork is increasingly recognized as a powerful tool for physical, mental, and emotional health, with a growing body of scientific research exploring its benefits. It isn’t simply just inhaling and exhaling.

The Origins of Breathwork

Breathwork has been used for thousands of years in various cultures around the world. In India, for example, yogis have been practicing pranayama, which translates to "breath control" in Sanskrit, has been a key component of yoga for thousands of years. The practice involves different breathing techniques that are designed to bring balance and harmony to the body and mind. Similarly, in China, Taoist masters have long used breathwork techniques to cultivate chi (life force energy) and improve overall well-being. Qigong, a Chinese practice that dates back to at least the 3rd century BCE, also incorporates breathing techniques as a means of promoting health and vitality.In ancient Greece, philosophers like Pythagoras and Hippocrates also recognized the importance of breath control in promoting health and vitality.

One of the most well-known forms of breathwork in the Western world today is the Wim Hof Method, named after the Dutch extreme athlete. The method combines cold exposure, breathing techniques, and meditation to improve physical and mental health. According to Hof, the method is based on ancient Tibetan practices and modern scientific research.

Breathwork today has gained popularity as a complementary therapy for various physical and mental health conditions, as well as a tool for personal growth and spiritual development. Various techniques have been developed, ranging from simple breathing exercises to more intensive practices that involve hyperventilation or extended breath holds.

The Biological Mechanism of Breathwork

There are many different methods of breathwork, each with its own unique approach and goals. Some forms of breathwork focus on controlling the rate and depth of breath, while others involve more complex techniques like alternate nostril breathing or circular breathing. Some forms of breathwork also incorporate movement or meditation.

One popular form of breathwork is the 4-7-8 breathing technique, which involves inhaling for four counts, holding the breath for seven counts, and exhaling for eight counts. This technique has been shown to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety.

Another popular form of breathwork is holotropic breathwork, developed by psychiatrist Stanislav Grof in the 1970s. This technique involves breathing deeply and rapidly for an extended period of time, typically accompanied by music or other forms of sensory stimulation. The aim of holotropic breathwork is to access non-ordinary states of consciousness and promote healing and personal growth.

Breathwork can have various biological effects on the body, and the specific mechanisms can depend on the type of breathwork being practiced. However, some of the key biological mechanisms of breathwork include:

  1. Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system: Certain types of breathwork, such as deep diaphragmatic breathing and slow breathing, can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the "rest and digest" response. This can help to lower heart rate, blood pressure, and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
  2. Improved oxygenation of the blood: Breathwork can help to improve the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs, resulting in increased oxygenation of the blood. This can help to improve overall health and energy levels.
  3. Increased circulation: Some types of breathwork, such as Kapalabhati breathing in yoga, can increase circulation to various parts of the body, including the brain. This can help to improve cognitive function and overall health.
  4. Release of endorphins: Certain types of breathwork, such as holotropic breathwork, can induce altered states of consciousness, which can lead to the release of endorphins in the body. Endorphins are natural painkillers that can help to promote feelings of relaxation and well-being.
  5. Regulation of the autonomic nervous system: Breathwork can help to regulate the autonomic nervous system, which controls various automatic functions in the body, such as heart rate and blood pressure. By regulating the autonomic nervous system, breathwork can help to promote overall health and well-being.

It's important to note that the biological mechanisms of breathwork are still being studied, and more research is needed to fully understand how breathwork affects the body.


Breathwork encompasses a wide range of practices, techniques, and methods, and the specific method used can depend on the individual's goals and needs. However, there are some common elements that are often included in breathwork practices. Here is a general overview of the method of breathwork:

  1. Find a comfortable and quiet place to practice: Breathwork can be done in various settings, but it's important to find a place where you can be comfortable and free from distractions.
  2. Get into a relaxed and comfortable position: Depending on the type of breathwork, this may involve sitting, standing, or lying down.
  3. Focus on the breath: The core of breathwork involves focusing on the breath and consciously controlling it. This may involve techniques such as deep diaphragmatic breathing, slow breathing, or breath retention.
  4. Observe the breath: In addition to controlling the breath, breathwork also involves observing it. This may involve noticing the quality, rhythm, and depth of the breath.
  5. Practice for a specific period of time: Depending on the type of breathwork, the practice may last for a few minutes or up to an hour or more. It's important to practice consistently and regularly to experience the benefits of breathwork.
  6. End the practice slowly: After the practice, it's important to end slowly and gradually. This may involve taking a few deep breaths or simply allowing the breath to return to its natural rhythm.

It's important to note that breathwork can be a powerful tool, but it should be practiced with caution and under the guidance of a qualified teacher, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions. Additionally, it's important to approach breathwork with an open mind and a willingness to explore and experiment with different techniques to find what works best for you.

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