A Beginner’s Guide to Breathwork

From Holotropic Breathwork to the Wim Hof Method, discover the intriguing and powerful effects of the breath.

Evan Lewis-Healey

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Photo by Spencer Selover from Pexels

“I had to somatically experience breathwork to believe it. And so it was that an introverted English woman lay on the floor with a bunch of strangers and sobbed. I was more grounded and more free in that moment than I have ever been.”
- Vanessa Potter, Finding My Right Mind

What is Breathwork?

Breathwork is an umbrella term for a huge range of practices. Broadly, it’s defined as intentionally controlling the depth or speed of breathing for physical or psychological purposes. However, there are many forms and traditions that breathwork encompasses.

The origins of modern breathwork practised in the West may be traced back to Pranayama. Prana, meaning ‘life source’, and yama meaning ‘control’ or ‘restraint’. These practices involve the voluntary control of the breath, in a formal sequence, and are common within different yogic traditions. While Pranayama has a long and complex history, there are several contemporary traditions of breathwork that may have stemmed from these practices.

Wim Hof Method
Known colloquially as ‘The Iceman’, Wim Hof is a Dutch extreme athlete who holds 21 world records, including one for running a half marathon above the Arctic circle, with no shirt or shoes on. Hof doesn’t claim to be a freak of nature -he has pioneered a method that can ostensibly allow anyone to achieve such feats.

The Wim Hof method includes three elements: cold exposure, concentration meditation, and breathing exercises. The breathing exercises involve very deep inhalations and exhalations, followed by periods of breath retention. The purpose of this method firmly falls under the physical category -Hof claims that his method can help treat a range of inflammatory illnesses.

Holotropic Breathwork
Stanislav Grof, psychiatrist and pioneer of the psychedelic revolution of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, developed an alternative healing modality with his wife, Christina. This method, dubbed Holotropic Breathwork, was created as a reaction to the blanket ban on psychedelic substances in 1971. Grof and his wife found that…

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Evan Lewis-Healey

PhD candidate at Cambridge University. Studying the cognitive neuroscience of altered states of consciousness.