Breathwork is a general term used to describe any type of therapy that utilizes breathing exercises to improve mental, physical, and spiritual health. Many forms of breathwork therapy exist today. Each has its own unique methods of using breath for healing purposes. It draws from Eastern practices like yoga and Tai Chi while incorporating Western psychotherapy techniques. To bring about self-awareness, breathwork can include elements of talk therapy, breathing exercises, art, music, and bodywork. This therapy can be used with individuals, couples, and groups. It should be facilitated by a certified professional.

What Conditions Does Breathwork Treat?

In general, the goal of any breathwork therapy is to support people in achieving a greater sense of self-awareness and capacity for self-healing. It also helps people work toward overall improvement in mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. Breathwork therapists, or Breathworkers as they are sometimes called, guide participants through various therapeutic breathing techniques.

Breathwork therapy is thought to benefit people experiencing issues such as:

Types of Breathwork Approaches in Therapy

There are several kinds of breathwork therapy available today. Many of these have similar foundations. Some well-known types of breathwork include:

Other types of breathwork therapy include:

Examples of Breathwork Exercises

All forms of breathwork therapy are centered on the act of breathing in and out. But each model incorporates its own breathwork exercises. Overall, breathwork exercises involve deep, focused breathing that lasts for an extended period of time. Some examples include:

Criticisms and Limitations of Breathwork

Over the past few decades, controversy has surrounded the practice of certain kinds of breathwork. However, supporters argue that breathwork can be extremely effective in the treatment of several physical and mental health issues. The Stanislav and Christina Grof Foundation cites the following research in support of the benefits of Holotropic Breathwork:

Despite this research and support, breathwork therapy is not without limitations, contraindications, and criticisms. One major concern is that breathwork has been known to induce hyperventilation. Hyperventilation may lead to physical issues including dizziness, tingling of extremities, heart palpitations, or muscle spasms. Prolonged hyperventilation can lead to decreased blood flow to the brain, clouded vision, ringing in the ears, and possible cognitive changes.

It is not clear whether these effects cause long-term damage. But people interested in breathwork should be aware of any potential risks. Breathwork is not recommended for people with a history of aneurisms, 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. Potential participants may want to consult with their primary care physician and seek a certified professional before engaging in breathwork therapy.

History of Breathwork

For centuries, people have sought spiritual awakening, self-healing, and meditative relaxation through breathing techniques. Breathwork has roots in Eastern practices like yoga, Tai Chi, and Buddhism. However, most of the breathwork therapy used today got its start during the consciousness-raising era of the 1960s and 1970s.

Several types of breathwork were formed during this era. These included Holotropic Breathwork and Rebirthing Breathwork. Some models emphasized self-awareness and inner peace. Others dealt with altered states of consciousness and psychedelic effects. Rebirthing Breathwork, for example, was developed by Leonard Orr. It focused on the traumatic experience of birth. Holotropic Breathwork, established by Dr. Stan Grof and his wife, Christina Grof, grew out of their research on consciousness and the effects of psychedelic drugs like LSD.

Since the 1970s, the field of breathwork therapy has grown further. In 1991, Jacquelyn Small founded Integrative Breathwork. This approach is based on her work in Holotropic Breathwork alongside Dr. Grof. In addition, Clarity Breathwork, which evolved from Rebirthing Breathwork, was established in 1999. Clarity Breathwork expanded upon the principles of Rebirthing to include a more generalized approach to trauma and therapy.

Today, the field of breathwork continues to evolve. Dozens of models and certification programs are available to interested participants and practitioners alike. Many organizations contribute to the training, research, and expansion efforts of Breathwork therapists around the world. These include:


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