Self discovery comes at different times in our lives and in different ways. I know that my journey led me to Sayulita and it was through the wellness community that everything became so clear. One of the classes that gave me that clarity that I was exactly where I was supposed to be was a breath work class. I felt a lightness I had never felt before; it was transformational! If there is a breath work class in the calendar – TAKE IT!!
Breath work describes a group of exercises that teach you to manipulate your breathing rate and depth with the goal of bringing awareness to your breath and ultimately providing the same benefits you might get from a meditative practice. Most formal practices involve 20 minutes to an hour of sustained, rhythmic breathing techniques. People who practice breath work describe feeling tingling sensations throughout their body, feelings of clarity, alertness, increased mind-body connection and even emotional purging.
You’ve probably read about the benefits of deep breathing — even a few deep breaths can lower blood pressure and cortisol levels and increase parasympathetic tone, but breath work is a little different. Formal breath work practices exert some even more impressive positive effects on the body and work in a different and almost opposite way. Here’s the science behind the magic.
Alkalizes your blood PH
The physiologic changes we see during sustained, rhythmic breathing are caused by a shift of the blood pH that follows hyperventilation – a state called “respiratory alkalosis.” Thanks to the field of anesthesiology we know a lot about what the body does during respiratory alkalosis.
You probably remember that we take in oxygen during the inhale breath and get rid of CO2 with every exhale. When we take faster breaths we get rid of more CO2. CO2 is an acidic molecule, so you can think of hyperventilating as getting rid of acid in the blood and shifting to a higher, or more alkaline pH (thus the term respiratory alkalosis).
Increases muscle tone
When the blood becomes more alkaline a few things happen. First, calcium ions floating around in the blood go into hiding, binding onto large proteins in the blood called albumin. The body now experiences a short-term low-calcium state which causes increased firing in sensory and motor neurons. The artificially low blood calcium now manifests in the neurological system as tingling sensations, smooth muscle contractions and increased muscle tone. If you’ve ever not been able to move your mouth after a breathwork class you know this feeling too well.
Has an anti-inflammatory effect
Neurons in the autonomic nervous system also fire more during hyperventilation, releasing epinephrine (what many people call “adrenaline”). A 2014 study out of Yale School of Medicine found that the epinephrine surge causes the innate immune system to increase its anti-inflammatory activity and dampen its proinflammatory activity. Subjects who were taught a breathwork routine had less severe inflammatory responses after exposure to IV bacterial toxins than those who didn’t. The paper was the first in scientific literature to describe voluntary activation of the innate immune system.
Elevates your mood
The “high” feeling some people experience during breath work can also be explained by hyperventilation and respiratory alkalosis. Increased blood pH decreases oxygen delivery to tissues (a phenomenon called the Bohr Effect). Within one minute of hyperventilation, the vessels in the brain constrict, reducing blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain by 40%. The effect is probably responsible for the feelings of wellbeing that breath work practitioners experience. That’s right — you are actually getting a little high in your Kundalini yoga class.
Arguably the oldest form of ‘breath work’ there is, Pranayama (a Sanskrit word that translates to “breath control”) is a series of yogic breathing techniques that are designed to liberate the flow of prana (life force energy) and increase spiritual self-realization. Pranayama can either be practiced alongside yoga asanas (poses) or by itself. There are eight types of Pranayama with dozens of individual methods described in the Vedas (ancient Indian religious texts). Some of the more common ones are Skull Shining Breath (or Kapalabhati), Alternate Nostril Breathing (or Nadi Shodhan), and Conqueror Breath (or Ujjayi).
Created by transpersonal Czech psychiatrists Stanislav and Christina Grof, Holotropic breath work was created in the 1970s as a way of helping people to experience deep inner healing and transformation. After studying and experiencing the therapeutic effects of the drug LSD, the Grof’s developed their holotropic model after the ban of this psychedelic drug in the 1960s. The intention was to design an experience that was similar to LSD with its mind-altered effects but without the side effects (and legal issues). Holotropic breath work is often practiced to the rhythm of primal music, with participants breathing rapidly under instruction for up to two hours or more. Afterward, the practice is accompanied by drawing mandalas and discussing what happened. This is a breath work technique that must be practiced with a qualified practitioner. The ultimate goal is to access higher states of consciousness and connect with the soul.
This is a breath work technique that was developed by visionary Leonard Orr in the 1970s. Orr reported having re-lived his own birth in a bathtub, which is what inspired him to devise this method. The goal of this technique is to connect you with the subconscious mind, release traumatic childhood memories, and experience a kind of invigorating ‘rebirth’ (hence the name). It utilizes a circular breathing technique alongside the guidance of a trained facilitator. Some forms of rebirthing are conducted in a bathtub to mimic the process of being born (or reborn in this case).
Shamanic breath work is a modern adaptation of old circular breathing techniques with the purpose of getting a person in touch with their inner healer (shaman), link to blog post. This is a practice that was developed primarily by visionary teacher and shaman Linda Star Wolf in the 1990s. During a shamanic breath work experience, participants begin by smudging, chanting, and setting an intention. They then breathe rhythmically to primal music (such as the sound of drums), with some practitioners involving chakra healing, spirit animal contact, and other practices in the breath work session. Other than connecting with your inner shaman, shamanic breath work’s aim is to help you experience more wholeness, healing, and inner guidance.
A relatively new technique (although based on ancient pranayama methods), the Wim Hof method was developed by Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof – also known as “The Iceman.” He earned his nickname thanks to a series of intense physical feats, such as being able to withstand freezing cold temperatures and ice baths for prolonged periods of time. His method involves three central pillars: exposure to cold, breathing (controlled hyperventilation), and meditation. The breath work part of his method involves taking thirty power-breaths and then after that, taking a deep inhale and retaining your breath as long as comfortable, then exhale. Afterward, inhale deeply for another 10-15 seconds, retain, and then exhale. This process is then repeated for up to three more rounds. The Wim Hof method is aimed toward increasing physical and mental wellbeing and has been scientifically linked to a number of benefits.
If there is one thing you try during your time in Sayulita we can’t recommend Breath work enough. The release you experience can change your whole outlook. Stay informed on the local classes on our calendar.
Via Parsley Health Blog & Lonerwolf