You are breathing all the time, although most of the time you are not aware of it because it happens automatically. Meanwhile, controlling this process is a great tool with which you can improve your health, mind, emotions, and spirit.
In this article you will learn:
- What conscious breathing is and what it consists of (awareness, relaxation, breathing).
- The health and safety rules of conscious breathing.
- What the goals of conscious breathing are.
- The most important breathwork techniques.
We call the method of working with the breath conscious breathing.
It is about being aware of your breathing and breathing consciously in order to achieve a goal, e.g. heal your body or transform your mind and spirit. It is a tool for personal development and a method of alternative medicine.
The first principle of conscious breathing is to observe your breathing and then actively participate in the breathing process. Controlling, direct, and regular breathing in some certain way. Giving a specific pattern and quality to your breath, as well as giving conscious intention or being creative.
The most important part of learning to breathe is learning to move from active to passive breathing. From breathing to being and breathing the breath and letting the breath breathe you.
Working with the breath consists of 3 most important elements:
- Consciousness – Wake Up!
- Relaxation – Let go!
- Breathing – Take control!
If you want to learn to control your body, emotions, behavior, first you must learn to control your breathing.
Being aware of your breathing means paying attention, observing how you naturally let the air enter and exit your lungs. This is the passive aspect of the breathing process. No thinking, judging, analyzing, or comparing. Just meditatively watching the breath. The next step is to combine your awareness with complete relaxation. Relaxing the body, getting rid of tension and unnecessary muscle work. The last step, the highest art where all the magic happens, is to creatively combine conscious breathing with total relaxation.
Since breathing affects the functioning of your entire body, all systems, and every organ, every physiological, psychological, and emotional state has a specific breathing pattern. So when you change the way you breathe, you affect everything else.
However, it is important to remember that working with the breath is only effective if it becomes your daily practice, not an occasional exercise.
The most important goals for conscious breathing:
- Change the state of your mind. By controlling the rate of breathing, you can change your state of mind through the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. You can influence the information that reaches your brain by using conscious breathing. In this way, you can influence your emotions, perceptions, judgments, thoughts, and behavior. Especially for a sense of trust, love, communication, a sense of security, closeness, and empathy. Working with the breath helps you find subconscious thought patterns, mainly negative beliefs, on which you base most of your attitudes and behaviors. Thoughts don’t change until we change them. Nobody can make you think about something you don’t want to think about, so you either choose consciously what you want to think or run pre-programmed patterns. Mainly fear-based thought loops reinforced by the culture you live in. The breath helps to take the energy of your thoughts and spread it throughout your body (literally creating a new posture). Full and free-breathing is the result of clear and creative thinking.
- Strengthening bonds with other people. By collaborating with other people on your breath and synchronizing your breaths together, you can align your thinking, energy, and mind with others. Thanks to this, the level of intimacy and sense of connection between you will increase. If you want to get things done the way you want with another person, all you have to do is try to synchronize your breathing with the other person’s. For this reason, we usually feel good after praying, meditating, or singing together with other people.
- Reduction of chronic stress, depression, neurosis, and trauma (PTSD).
- Improve your life expectancy. By working with your breath, you can change your heart rate, which is your ability to adapt to changes. The heart rate affects the heart’s coherence, internal balance, and centering.
- Strengthening the immune system, improving blood circulation, and increasing vital energy.
- Spiritual cleansing by transforming deeply ingrained fears and emotions through hyperventilation. Shallow breathing is often the result of suppressing your feelings. From childhood, they teach you that some emotions are desirable or even rewarded, and some are not. Meanwhile, all emotions serve you in some way.
- Improving sleep, concentration, and relaxation.
- Fight against insomnia.
- Stimulating psychic abilities, empathy, intuition, and feeling the energy of other people. Opening the chakras.
- Practicing self-love.
- Raising your level of awareness. Improving communication between mind, body, consciousness, and subconsciousness. In some ancient practices, the diaphragm was even called a spiritual muscle. While working with the breath, you can enter theta brainwave state.
- Cure asthma, allergies, high blood pressure, heart problems, and cancer.
- Detoxification of the body.
- Releasing energy blocks from the body.
- Improve creativity.
- Improving the body’s efficiency.
- Fight against jet lag and problems with altitude change.
- Increasing pleasure and sensuality.
- Fighting fatigue and pain.
- Warming up or cooling down the body.
- Losing weight.
- Fighting addictions.
- Letting go of control and limiting thoughts.
- Achieving altered states of consciousness.
- Spiritual awakening, awakening the dimension of love.
There are many ways to work with the breath. Each of them focuses on a different aspect of the breathing process and has a different purpose.
Before each method of working with the breath, you can create your own conscious intention or affirmation, eg “Every conscious breath makes me healthier.”
Each method of working with the breath requires specific health and safety at work, especially when you are just starting your adventure with this tool.
So, remember not to train near water, under the influence of alcohol, while driving, while walking, or in any conditions where you can hurt yourself. It’s good if there is someone close to you, at least at first. Consult your doctor if you are pregnant or have heart problems or other chronic medical conditions.
The best choice, especially at the beginning, is to attend a professional course of conscious breathing and practice under the supervision of an experienced trainer.
The most famous breathwork techniques are:
Coherent Breathing Method – introducing the state of heart coherence
- Sit upright, relax your shoulders and exhale stomach.
- Take a gentle breath for 5.5 seconds, expanding your abdomen so that air fills the lower part of your lungs.
- Immediately, without pause, exhale gently for another 5.5 seconds, emptying your lungs and abdomen.
- Do it smoothly and repeat at least 10 times or more if possible.
- Concentrate on your heart during this practice.
More information about this method can be found in David O’Hare’s book “Heart coherence 365: A guide to long-lasting heart”
This is the method of the Russian doctor Konstantin Buteyko. Its main assumption is to reduce the tidal volume, most often by extending the time between inhaling and exhaling or by holding the breath. It consists of several steps:
- Controlled pause diagnosis.
- Learning to unclog your nose with breath-holding practice.
- Changes in the way you breathe to breathing with your nose instead of your mouth.
- The science of loosening the diaphragm and creating a slight need for air.
- Measure tidal volume and follow the progress of a Controlled Pause.
Detailed information on this method of breathing can be found in the book by Patrick McKeown, “Oxygen Advantage – Breathing in Sports”.
This method is derived from the Inner Fire Yoga, derived from Tibetan Buddhism. It is a type of meditation that creates a great deal of heat in the practitioner’s body, allowing them to live in extremely hostile conditions of cold.
There are two methods of Tummo breathing. One of them stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, while the other method stimulates the parasympathetic system.
The first of these methods was popularized thanks to Iceman – Wim Hof, a Dutchman known e.g. from climbing Mount Everest wearing only underwear and 20 Guinness World Records, as well as a love of the extreme cold. It is thanks to him that you constantly watch photos of your sea friends on Facebook.
Would you like to try this method?
- Lying flat on your back with a pillow under your head, relax your body and then take a few long, slow, deep, and gentle breaths.
- Then take 30 very deep and very rapid breaths and exhale effortlessly. It’s best to breathe through your nose.
- At the end of your 30th breath, take one more deep breath in and out and hold your breath (don’t inhale the air). When you feel a strong urge to breathe or your diaphragm starts vibrating, take a full breath and hold it for 10-15 seconds, then let it out and relax.
- Repeat the entire procedure at least 3 times.
Stig Severinsen’s Breath Retention Method
The method of Stig Severinsen (“The Super Human”), a Danish freediver, extreme athlete, and doctor of biology and medicine, the protagonist of the film “Stig Severinseen – The Men Who Doesn’t Breath“. Especially effective in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Holding your breath for a long time allows you to face strong emotions and impulses: fear, anxiety, doubts, and limiting thoughts. When you voluntarily relax with these emotions, you begin to understand that you can also deal with them in your daily life.
The Stig recommends a breathing method where the exhalation should be twice as long as the inhalation.
So if you breathe in the air for 2 seconds, you must breathe out for 4 seconds. Holding your breath should continue until your diaphragm starts twitching. Take a normal breath and exhale as normal, then hold your breath. Use your watch to measure the time by noting:
- the time when you feel your first subtle need to breathe will be your comfort pause.
- a time when you feel a strong need to breathe, but which you can still deal with, will be your controlled pause,
- and the time when you can’t go without breathing anymore and are no longer able to control it. This will be your maximum pause.
After this exercise, resume normal breathing. When you need to take an extra breath, or a deep breath to catch your breath, you have exceeded your comfort break. Be aware and tune in to your feelings. After each breath-hold session, take a moment to breathe normally. Practice 10-20 minutes, 2-3 times a day.
Extend your comfort break by 2-3 seconds every second or third day. The point is that you gradually teach your body to tolerate higher levels of carbon dioxide. Fighting to hold your breath will not bring you any long-term results.
After training in this way for a while, re-measure your Comfort Break, Control Break, and Maximum Break, and you will see that these times have increased compared to your first results.
More information about this method can be found in the book: Stig Severinsen “The Art of Conscious Breathing”
Yawning as a method of conscious breathing.
Yawning is also a natural method of working with your breath. All mammals, birds, and reptiles yawn, not just humans. Yawning helps to keep the nervous system in balance and to release toxins from the body. It is a natural way to connect energy, body, and feelings. When you yawn, you remove and release the blocks in your subtle energy. Yawning also allows you to touch your spirit and open yourself to the flow of universal life energy. Yawning is related to the work of the same parts of the brain as those responsible for empathy, connection, play, and creativity. Unfortunately, from an early age, we are taught that yawning is rude and reprimanded every time we do so. It is also considered to be disrespectful and bored.
Still, it is our most natural stress reliever and emotional release. So release this little girl within you from time to time and yawn widely. Don’t cover your mouth, look up and let the jaw drop. Stretch your body while yawning. Yawn until your eyes water. This is a very important part of full natural yawning.
It is a method of breathing derived from Chinese medicine. It consists of holding your breath, drawing your perineum up, and drawing your stomach in after exhaling fully. Begin by taking a deep breath and use it to extend your chest. Then squeeze out all your breath and hold it.
And then act as if you are inhaling. Widen your chest, but don’t inhale. Instead, draw your navel to your spine and pull up your perineum. You will feel your chest enlarge and your abdominal organs get pulled into the cavity of your chest. Hold this pressure for 10 seconds, then relax and breathe. Repeat for about 20 minutes.
It is a breathing method developed by the Czech psychologist Stanislaw Grof and his wife Christina Grof. This method was developed on the basis of transpersonal psychology as a result of research on altered states of consciousness and experiments with LSD. It consists of deep and violent inhalation and exhalation of large amounts of air.
While breathing, you lie down with your eyes closed or blindfolded while listening to loud music for entering a trance. The session most often takes place in groups of many people and each participant has a person who watches over them. This session usually lasts about 3 hours. Usually, the practitioner experiences convulsions, hallucinations, and hysteria, so this type of practice should be followed by an instructor. There is also a risk of hyperventilation during this session, which can lead to apnea and cerebral ischemia. After the session, a mandala is usually drawn to support the effects of this technique.
During the session, the practitioner enters into altered states of consciousness similar to those after taking psychedelic substances. Thanks to which they establishes closer contact with their subconscious. It helps in a deeper understanding of emotional and psychosomatic problems and brings better therapeutic results. It allows you to discover negative programs from all 4 levels of beliefs.
More information about this method can be found in the book by: Stanislav Grof and Christina Grof “Holotropic Breathwork”.
Rebirthing is a method discovered by Leonard Orr that allows you to increase your awareness of yourself and establish a deep connection with your own spirituality. It consists of an active, intentional inhalation and passive, spontaneous exhalation of air. The entire breathing process should be gentle, fluid, connected, and unforced. Combine the inhalation and exhalation so that they form a continuous circle, one breath. Do not pause between inhalation and breath, and do not hold your breath. Breathe in a smooth and steady rhythm. As natural as it was when you were a child.
This method allows you to get rid of the first traumas related to the fetal period and the time of birth on Earth.
It leads to the realization of the fears and blockages that arose in early childhood and during difficult life experiences and freeing oneself from them. The rebirthing experience is remembering and re-experiencing your birth. The physical and mental experience of being born into the world and getting rid of the trauma associated with it. The trace of this painful trauma remains in your psyche and often prevents you from leading a fully realized life. Using the full potential of your mind and spirit. Rebirthing Breathing Sessions will help you shed that burden that you are unconsciously carrying within you and open yourself to the full possibilities available to you. They transform the unconscious pain and fear of the birth experience into a feeling of pleasure and security.
For more information on this method, see Leonard Orr’s book “Conscious Breath”.
The oldest breathwork technique comes from India, the so-called yogic breath. It means the control of life energy, that is, it’s capture, gathering, and conscious control. In this method, breathing is divided into 3 phases: inhale, exhale, and hold it after inhaling or exhaling. The breathing should be synchronized with the movement, it should actually initiate movement in the asana practice. It is an essential part of Hata yoga practice. Airflow is controlled either by constricting the glottis in the larynx or by plugging and unclogging the nostrils. There are many techniques of pranayama, eg Ujjayi, Kapalabhati, Bhastrika, Bharmari, as well as degrees of eg Adhama, Madhyama, Uttama. They differ in the length of inhalations and exhalations performed.
Rama Dass Method – Connecting Thoughts and Intentions
The Rama Dass method of an American spiritual teacher, which involves combining your thoughts and intentions with the practice of conscious breathing.
Focus on what is important to you. Then try to put it into a word, phrase, or sentence and breathe it into every cell of your body. Use an affirmation, declaration, wish, or prayer. Use your words to formulate them, just remember to be supportive, make the affirmation positive, personal, present, and practical. That it motivates and inspires you, brings you peace and beautiful feelings. Practice for at least 5 minutes. Be careful what you think while breathing because each breath gives life energy to what you hold in your awareness. Breathe new thoughts into life. This will help you move out of static thought patterns that are reinforced by fear.
It is a method of meditation that relies on mindfulness and focus on natural breathing. On feelings and sensations while the air goes in and out. This is usually accompanied by mental repeating the words “rising” when you inhale and “falling” when you exhale. Don’t do anything else, just watch your breathing consciously. This practice usually takes several hours. It is part of the Vipassana Buddhist meditation technique.
It is a method of exercising with limited breathing to reduce the amount of air entering your lungs. Its purpose is to decrease the oxygen concentration and increase the carbon dioxide concentration in the lungs, blood, and muscles. It consists of holding a short breath most often while performing various physical exercises: running, swimming, cycling. It is performed in two ways with large and small lung volumes. With a large volume of lungs, you hold your breath with the lungs full of air (inhale and then hold your breath). During low lung volume, breath-holding is performed with the lung half full of air. This technique is also called the breath-holding technique. This method is physically very demanding and intended for athletes who do not have respiratory or cardiovascular problems and can cause headaches.
A method developed by Carl Stough, an American choral conductor. It is a way to develop and balance the various muscles involved in breathing simultaneously. The purpose of this method is to strengthen and harmonize the movement of the diaphragm in order to restore full respiratory function. According to Carl, healthy breathing begins with the extension of the spine, so that the medial tendon of the diaphragm is actually pulled up when inhaled and pushed out by the action of the abdominal muscles pressing the internal organs inwards and upwards towards the diaphragm.
When practicing this method, you should lie on your back with a pillow under your knees and under your head, because in this position the force of gravity does not act on the diaphragm. Then focus on not engaging any muscle in breathing. Try to lengthen your breathing to its natural end. Relax your jaw and open your mouth as you inhale, which doesn’t mean you have to breathe it.
Take a gentle breath through your nose and at the top of this breath, start counting aloud from 1 to 10. As you reach the natural end of the exhalation, keep counting, but whisper it, letting your voice come out softly. Take another big, soft breath and repeat. Repeat 10 to 30 such cycles. This method is very effective in treating asthma.
Embryonic breathing (Tai Hsi)
Also called primary or umbilical respiration. It is a method used in Taoism that reactivates the electromagnetic circuits associated with the fetal’s original breath in the womb. When this happens, the physical process of breathing becomes so subtle that it may stop altogether for a while. In a similar way, the fetus breathes through the umbilical cord.
The practitioner whose body remembers the breathing of the embryo is thus able to draw the vital energy directly from the universal matrix, directly through acupuncture points and medians. Thus, it begins to replace breathing with the lungs. In Chinese medicine, the diaphragm is considered a barrier between the upper and lower body because this is how far oxygen can enter the body through external breathing and without the help of the bloodstream. This method is based on reverse abdominal breathing. While breathing in, tighten the muscles of the diaphragm, abdomen, loins, and perineum, between the reproductive organs and the anus, and relax them when exhaling.
Sudarshan Kriya Yoga
A very good method in the treatment of depression and anxiety. It is rhythmic breathing at a varying pace that helps with meditation. It consists of 4 phases:
- Conscious breathing that touches the throat. A slow, relaxed way to breathe, maintaining an equal duration of inhalation and exhalation. This technique requires approximately 2-4 breaths per minute.
- The next phase is to quickly and forcefully inhale and exhale the air around 30 breaths per minute. The duration of exhalations should be 2 times longer than inhalations. This causes the body’s stimulation effect followed by a calming effect.
- Sing the sound of Om 3 times.
- The last phase of Kriya is breathing in slow, medium, and fast cycles. The breaths should be cyclical and rhythmic. In this phase, your inhalations are twice as long as your exhalation.
Biodynamic Breath and Trauma Release (BBTR)
This is a method developed by Gitan Tonkov. It consists of breathing with a combined breath, stimulating the sympathetic nervous system which allows you to enter the Theta state of consciousness. This breath has no pauses between inhaling and exhaling. This unlocks repressed emotions and body memory on an emotional and physical level. It consists of 4 steps:
- Deep breathing
- Work with the body – movement
- Touch self-touch
- Sound of our own voice
- Emotional expression – trauma relief exercise
It helps to release from the body previously blocked emotions, chronic tension, and trauma.
Felt sense is the language of the body, physical expression of yourself. Allow the expression of the tension that is locked in the body to realize.
Neurodynamic breath (NDB)
NDB was created by Michael Stone on the basis of holotropic breathing. It involves entering a state of controlled hyperventilation, which weakens the functioning of the basal arousal network (DMN) in the brain. This network is active when the brain is not focused on a specific action and your thoughts go their own way. By weakening the DMN, ego work, internal criticism, fear, and anxiety disappear and you connect directly to the source. Breathing is accompanied by specially selected music.
This method has many different contraindications and cannot be used by everyone.
Dan Brule „Just Breathe. Mastering Breathwork for Success in Life, Love, Business and Beyond”, 2017, Atri/Enliven Books.
ames Nestor „Breath. The New Science of a Lost Art”, Penguin Random House UK, 2020
11 – 15 January 2021 Breathwork Summit: Re-Ground, Return to Joy, and Rejuvenate Your Body With Essential Breathing Practices