Breathwork, A Comprehensive Guideline

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Written By Gholam Rahmani

Call it breathwork or breath therapy, anyone who practices this will have tales to tell after following the techniques. But what is it and how does it work? Breathwork promotes psychological, physical, and spiritual healing through the use of specific and focused breathing techniques.

Although ancient Eastern practices heavily influence some types of breathwork, there has been an improvement to the elements with the coming of Western science. Who can face the world – breathless? That’s why life and well-being are submissive to breathe – the grand master of existence. Proper breathing or perhaps altering the breath when needed has its profound benefits. It heals, improves overall well-being in terms of physical, emotional, and mental health.

Before going into the core details of breathwork, one thing is sure  – breathwork is not the same as the usual deep or mindful inhaling and exhaling. So, let us advance and get accustomed to the many types of breathwork that are worth giving a try.

9 Types of Breathwork

Since breathwork is of different types and also has its benefits, one can decide the best technique that is more appropriate. Some of the practices receive more attention than others.

Naturally, each type has its unique elements which help in achieving therapeutic goals. But, all of them do overlap in one way or the other. Be it as it may, breathwork accesses suppressed trauma, facilitating deep healing. Here are the most common types that have clinched a place in people’s heart.

Clarity Breathwork

It was Leonard Orr who introduced this form of breathwork. Although it is similar to some types, yet the differences are spelled out.

Unlike other traditional therapy, Clarity Breathwork opens the subconscious mind, allowing one to attain a new level of self-awareness as well as clarity.

A complete breath opens up any blocked or constricted energy channels. When this happens, all physical, emotional, and behavioral issues causing hindrance are finally cast out of the body.

Clarity Breathwork brings about powerful cellular transformation. This technique encompasses –

  • Circular breathing
  • Somatic exploration
  • Intuitive Counseling.

Before 1999, there was nothing like Clarity Breathwork – the initial name was Rebirthing Breathwork. But in a bid to include the entire lifetime experiences, order than focusing only on the healing trauma that occurs at birth, the name came into existence.

This type of breathwork lays more emphasis on living for the moment and forgetting about physical immortality.

Rebirthing Breathwork

This Leonard Orr’s type of breathwork is perhaps one of the most popular among others. According to Orr, who said that while in a bathtub on a particular day, he was able to recall his birth, hence the name Rebirthing Breathwork. After that experience, he was kind enough to teach others how to release trauma-based energy blocks that occurs after birth.

What are the Orr’s originated steps that help to recall one’s birth? They are as follows –

  • Lay down, relax the body absolutely and keep breathing the usual way.
  • Once the body is fully relaxed, use circular breathing to access and release unresolved trauma as well as other related issues.
  • Submerge the body in water and only breath through a snorkel. This pattern was the preferred choice in the 1970s but are not as frequent these days.

Holotropic Breathwork

A psychiatrist, Dr. Stanislav Grof, and Christina, his wife were the two persons who introduced this unique type of breathwork. Holotropic Breathwork is the most controversial type among other ones. That’s because it uses deep and rapid breathing to draw out a non-ordinary state of consciousness.

But its awareness grew the more when it was clear that it causes psychosis or seizures in persons who fall prey to it. Even at that, the idea was to bring into awareness unconscious issues. Only those who know the in and out of Grof’s method can practice it.

However, since this is a guide, here is what to expect –

  • It takes different groups of people to conduct Holotropic Breathwork. The aim of allowing people to work in dyads is for them to support each other all through the processes.
  • As soon as a group breathing exercise ends, everyone creates mandalas about their breathwork experience.
  • At the end of the sessions, everyone will share their experiences openly for all to learn.

Middendorf Breathwork

Ilse Middendorf is the German who brought about the renowned Middendorf Breathwork. In the mid-1930s, she laid her method to the open, but it was only in Berlin. Thirty years later, she decided to let other practitioners become acquainted with her techniques.

Persons practicing Middendorf Breathwork do not in any way have to control or force the breath – it should flow in and out on its own. While breathing, consider checking to know if the following occurs –

  • Bodily movements
  • Thoughts
  • Emotions
  • Sensations.

This type of breathwork improves body awareness by allowing the mind to focus on the present moment. All breathwork techniques are heading towards one direction which is to heal – including this one. This type finally found its way to the U.S in 1986.

Transformational Breathwork

The knowledge about this type of breathwork came from a female doctor – Dr. Judith Kravitz. She started by practicing Rebirthing Breathwork, but came up with her idea later on and named it Transformational Breath. Her breathing techniques involve repeating uninterrupted full, relaxed breaths.

According to health experts, among other breathwork in use today, Transformational Breath is one of the most effective types. Its elements include the following –

  • A unique and elegant blend of body mapping
  • Metaphysics
  • Kundalini Yoga
  • Breath analysis
  • Other high-octane types of physical as well as spiritual healing.

Integral Breathwork

Often called the new world paradigm of breathwork – this type is a combination of Optimal Breathing and Transformational Breathwork. This Denis Quellette and Mike White’s style can bypass any form of over breathing. They opted to blend their style with Optimal Breathing because it is less risky, less intense, and more gentle to the body. In the end, one can reach an altered state of consciousness.

It takes a 6-hour seminar to conduct Integral Breathwork. This type of breathwork teaches about breathing, how to access the way a person breaths and exercises that improve the pattern of breathing. After that, one will also need an extra one hour to learn how to address the trauma and tension in the body.

This type of breathwork depends on the natural wisdom of the body and its healing capacity.

Zen Yoga Breathwork

Although experts classify this type of breathwork as a distinct type of yoga, it popped up on the list due to its proper breathing technique. This initiative by Aaron Hoopes is an elegant combination of Qigong, Tai Chi, and Shanti Yoga.

Zen Yoga Breathwork uses gentle stretching, flowing movement, mindful breathwork, and meditation to reduce body stress and promote serenity. It has countless physical and psychological benefits, some of which are –

  • To improve circulation
  • To increase flexibility
  • To alleviate chronic pain.

There are many types of breathwork too numerous to mention. Apart from the above-listed types, the most common types are as follows –

  • Integrative Breathwork
  • Radiance Breathwork
  • Reichian Breathwork
  • Shamanic Breathwork
  • Vivation Breathwork.

Wim Hof and Dan Brulé

Wim Hof Method of Practicing Breathwork

Before the age of 60, Wim Hof had run without shoes and shirts above the Arctic Circle, had a long bath at the North Pole, where he languished under ice for up to 90 minutes. The middle-aged man claimed; his special kind of breathing practice named the Wim Hof Method saw him through the challenges.

  • To learn and be the one that later did the unbelievable like Hof, follow these steps.
  • While relaxing in your house or home, workplace, or just anywhere, sit tight and start with 30 quick, deep breaths.
  • Then allow air to pass through your nose and go out from your mouth.
  • After that, breath in as deep as you can and exhale afterward, then hold your breath for some time before inhaling.
  • Like most pills and all that, Hof’s therapy can go on and on as long as there are need and will.

Wim is holding a special Thailand Wim Hof Method retreat in December 2019

Dan Brulé’s Method of Breathing

In a book written by Dan Brulé after his 21-day challenge, He made a suggestion (not a must) to the public. He said that practicing this method for 10 minutes in the morning, afternoon, and evening brings good tidings of health benefits.

Some of his best techniques are as follows –

The Therapeutic Zone

This pattern involves inhaling until its past 5 seconds and exhaling the same way.

Alternate-nostril Breathing

Block the right nostril using the right thumb, then exhale and inhale, one breath at a time through your left nostril. Switch, but this time use your right hand’s ring finger to block the left nostril. Then exhale and inhale through the right nostril.

Breathwork and Meditation

Breathwork goes nowhere without meditation. But how does it work? Here is how to fully meditate while practicing breathwork

  • Choose a quiet place at the right time. Then take a relaxed posture seating in a cushion or chair.
  • As you gently close your eyes, create a kind and soft heart within yourself.
  • While seated, try to notice body sensations like feelings and sounds, present thoughts and expectations. Allow such body sensations to have their way like the waves of the sea.
  • When you are fully relaxed, start feeling every breath that goes in and comes out of your nostrils. While all these are happening, allow your breath to find its own long or short, soft or deep rhythm.
  • Naturally, sometimes, thoughts and memories or sounds and body sensations may carry away your attention. When this starts happening, tag each body sensation or thought with a name, but don’t stick to it, allow it to pass by.

Whether your thoughts or feelings are painful or pleasurable, finding peace in the midst of it all brings steadiness and well-being.

  • After about 20 to 30 minutes of sitting down and relaxing of the body, open the eyes, look around the place, then arise. As you leave, allow that same spirit of loving awareness to be part of that day’s activities.

Old-timers see the Art of meditation as a simple process, but beginners find it hard to adapt. All it takes to thrive in this art is a kind heart. However, daily practicing of sitting with awareness will gradually increase the centeredness of the mind and understanding.

Benefits of Breathwork

Like every other good thing that manifests with time, so is breathwork and its benefits. Carry on without stopping, and these health benefits of breathwork will arise for the good of the body.

Reduces Anxiety

Persons who are undergoing constant stress tend to experience shallow and quick breathing. But practicing deep and conscious breathing will stir up the parasympathetic nervous system. To combat stress in the long run, breathe deeply and slowly as it sheds off anxiety.

Increases Clarity and Focus

To fully oxygenate the brain, try breathing slowly and consciously. Sometimes, taking a big decision makes the heart to beat, reducing the level of thinking. But three times of breathing slowly, deeply, and consciously will increase clarity and the ability to focus on what is at hand.

Elevates Mood

In ancient India, teachers of Shamanistic and Pranayama were able to reach the altered states of consciousness by practicing breathwork. To notice and control breathing as well as to elevate mood throughout the day, breathe slowly, deeply, and consciously.

For Healthy Cells

Anyone who sees deeper breaths as a preventive measure is only but proving that Otto Warburg was worthy of the 1931 Nobel Prize in Medicine. His research made it clear that a highly oxygenated environment does not give room for cancer cells to thrive.

Improves the Skin

It’s only for the mind and inner being, the skin is not part of…what? Of course, these techniques offer a lot of goodies to a person’s skin. Breathing deeply, slowly, and consciously stimulates blood flow to the skin which results in a radiant and natural glow.

Promote Digestion

A relaxed body promotes body activities such as digestion and also helps the entire immune system.

Eliminates Oxidative Stress

If the body doesn’t have sufficient oxygen in the tissues, it might increase the risk of contracting diseases easily. To avoid this, use intended breathing to push the needed oxygen to the body tissues.

Reduce Cravings

Breathing deeply and consciously pushes out unnecessary substances causing harm to the body. Like taking a drink or snacks that contain a lot of sugar is totally out of order. So when the craving for such arises, take three deep, conscious breaths and remind yourself of the side effects. Won’t be easy, but you can.

Reduce Blood Pressure

Oxygenate the heart muscle and lower blood pressure by breathing slowly, deeply, and for long.

Nice and Sound Sleep

Lucid dreaming is for everyone. So take advantage of this by continuously practicing deep and conscious breathing. Doing this stimulates the pineal gland which has a connection with sleep patterns.

Yoga Breathwork (Pranayama)

Breathing is a daily routine that goes on and on, even if a living body is awake, exercising, or sleeping. So, to breath is to live. A Sanskrit word – Pranayama, in yoga, means breathing. The meaning of Prana is life force while the word Ayama means extending or stretching in English.

Joined together, they become one word – Pranayama – with its English meaning as the extension of breath or the control of life force. In a few words, the be-all and end-all of controlled breathing are to ease off body stress and increase both physical and mental health.


Breathwork is the used word for talking about any therapy that makes use of breathing exercises as a means of improving physical, mental, and spiritual health. Today, breathwork therapy is of many types with their different methods of healing through breathing.

Drawn from yoga and Tai Chi, breathwork is an Eastern practice that also incorporates the psychotherapy techniques of the West. Breathing exercise, talk therapy, music, art, and bodywork help to reach the state of self-awareness.

This therapy is safe for everyone, ranging from individuals, couples and even groups. But, can people learn breathwork on their own? Wouldn’t think so – as only a certified breathwork professional can facilitate such practices.