Breathwork is an umbrella term for a whole range of conscious breathing practices that use intentional control of the breath to achieve either physical or psychological benefits. By controlling the depth and speed of breathing, we can access different aspects of ourselves and tap into levels of consciousness that often remain dormant.
The origins of modern breathwork practice in the West may be traced back to Pranayama, which is an ancient yogic tradition involving the voluntary control of the breath in a formal sequence. Through this practice, practitioners learn to bring harmony between their body and physiological processes by working on mindfulness and awareness through their breathing patterns.
Breathwork — A Psychedelic Overlap?
Breathwork, which involves rapid breathing combined with visualization and music to induce a meditative state, has become an increasingly popular practice. The overlapping effects between breathwork and psychedelic therapy first became apparent to Stanislav Grof, a pioneering LSD practitioner.
Grof was struck by the fact that after leading thousands of people through LSD-induced psychological journeys, a single holotropic breathwork session could be just as revelatory for his patients.
In 2014, a study compared the subjective effects of 134 participants who underwent holotropic breathwork sessions to other traditional forms of meditation practices. Interestingly, around 10% of participants in this study met the criteria for a “complete” mystical experience – characterized by feelings of profound peace, transcending time and space, and communion with the universe.
This effect is quite similar to those often experienced during psychedelic-assisted therapies. With further research into the overlaps between psychedelics and breathwork being conducted all the time, we might soon better understand why significant therapeutic breakthroughs can occur when using these complementary practices.
The Autoimmune Effects of Breathwork
Breathwork has long been praised for its many beneficial effects on the body and mind, but perhaps one of the most remarkable studies into this training program was conducted on Wim Hof himself. Hof claimed that through his breathing method, it was possible to inhibit the autoimmune response by consciously controlling the autonomic nervous system – a feat that modern science believed to be beyond human capabilities.
To test this theory, scientists from Radboud University in the Netherlands injected Hof with an endotoxin – a chemical component found in bacteria that triggers an uncontrollable immune response in healthy participants resulting in nausea and severe headache.
However, using his breathwork exercise, Hof managed to suppress this immune reaction entirely – a great step forward in understanding what can be achieved through breathwork.
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Types Of Psychedelic Breathing
There exist two primary forms of psychedelic breathing practices: holotropic breathwork and shamanic breathwork. While they share similarities, it is important to understand their distinct characteristics.
Let us examine both of these psychedelic breathwork techniques.
Holotropic Breathwork is an innovative approach to emotional healing and personal development, first developed by the Grof Foundation in the 1970s. This type of breathwork helps individuals explore their inner selves, often including past life experiences and unresolved traumas.
Holotropic breathwork is regarded as the forerunner of psychedelic breathing, as it has been found to invoke profound changes in mood and temperament, as well as increased levels of self-awareness.
The main focus of holotropic breathing sessions is to reach powerful shifts in emotion and consciousness that are associated with genuine spiritual enlightenment. Holotropic breathwork relies on deep, full breaths which will expand the lungs slowly with a long inhale and a slow exhale done over several minutes.
How Is It Done?
Holotropic breathwork is a powerful way of achieving an altered state of consciousness and re-awakening the body mind-spirit connection. It involves deep breathing steadily and rapidly for several minutes to several hours, with the assistance of a guide or practitioner. Groups are usually set up in a circle with two people paired together, allowing participants to support one another through their journey.
The session usually begins with drumming and gentle music, creating an atmosphere that encourages relaxation and openness to the breathing process. As the session progresses, participants use their own internal resources to reach deeper levels of mental and emotional awareness and can access memories, symbols, or images from unconscious realms.
Toward the end of the session, meditative music may be used to help participants come back from their heightened states as they engage in reflection activities such as drawing mandalas or discussing what they experienced. Holotropic breathing is known for its healing properties and is often said to uncover stuck emotions stored deep within oneself, bringing about lasting transformation.
In shamanic breathwork, a practitioner is taken on a journey of altered realms and states of consciousness guided by a shaman. A shaman is described as a healer who can move between different realms and physical worlds, creating an unfolding breathwork experience for their patients to help them explore parts of themselves that otherwise would remain hidden during full consciousness.
During this session, the patient is taken on a spiritual voyage starting from the core of their spirit, to dissolve any past traumas or suppressed energies they may have been holding onto. By awakening one’s inner power and positivity through this method it has been known to lead to better self-awareness and healing as if connecting back to our psychic landscape on a much deeper level than simply relaxation alone.
How Is It Done?
Shamanic breathwork is a powerful spiritual practice that helps to bring clarity and connection with one’s inner spirit. It can be done individually or in a group setting, often accompanied by chakra-attuned music to help induce altered states of consciousness.
Shaman Rudá Iandé explains the power of this form of spiritual breathing as “not only for purifying and empowering our energy but also for channeling it”.
The shaman will direct people through this journey by directing their breathing at different stages of the session and helping them move around energy within their body. This type of practice helps people become more aware of the energy circulating within them so they can learn how to use it to transform and heal themselves in meaningful ways.
When done correctly, breathwork facilitates deep insight, intuition, purification, and heightened awareness. It provides an opportunity to let go of all that no longer serves us to create space for something new and better.
How Do You Practice Psychedelic Breathing?
The practice of psychedelic breathing is an ancient form of meditation used to reach a higher state of consciousness. It involves the use of rhythmic breathing, typically guided by a teacher, to push out more carbon dioxide from the body and thereby raise the blood’s pH level.
As you enter into this new state, you may feel dizzy and tingling sensations throughout your body. Your guide might also provide chanting, drumming, or other incantations which will help to focus and direct your mind during the psychedelic trip.
People who have experienced this method of hyperventilation for up to three hours report visual distortions when their eyes are closed as well as intense feelings coming from within. By continuing along this path you’ll be able to access a different reality altogether – one that has been known as the psychedelic experience.
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What Are The Benefits Of Psychedelic Breathing?
Psychedelic breathing is an alternative form of meditation that combines mindful breathwork with psychoactive substances. It’s often used as a tool to help people become more in tune with themselves and their environment.
Since the use of psychedelics can increase the effects of certain breathing exercises, psychedelic breathing can offer a more powerful experience with breathwork than what could be accomplished through traditional methods alone.
Research suggests that psychedelic breathing has many potential benefits, including reducing stress, heightening personal growth, and reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression. There is also evidence that it can increase feelings of compassion, connection to others, and overall life satisfaction.
It may also help users to confront old habits or belief systems they don’t want to carry anymore while creating new ways of being connected with the world.
Simply put, psychedelic breathing offers profound opportunities for healing and transformation of mental states by delving deep into aspects of consciousness generally unavailable during normal waking life.
What Are The Risks?
It is important to note that breathwork can be a powerful experience and must not be taken lightly. Those engaging in this practice should have the guidance of experienced professionals to ensure they understand proper breathing techniques and are doing it safely.
It is also important to be aware of some medical conditions that may affect your ability to properly engage with breathwork. People with osteoporosis, breathing issues, high blood pressure, or who have had an aneurysm should avoid engaging in any type of effective breathwork.
Can Breathwork Produce a Psychedelic Experience?
Breathwork can produce a psychedelic experience and some practitioners of breathwork consider their practice to be a type of psychedelic experience. When engaging in psychedelic breathing, the user will experience altered states of consciousness that can include visions and hallucinations which often resemble those encountered when under the influence of psychedelic drugs.
However, it is important to note that the intensity and duration of these experiences are usually far shorter than with psychedelic drugs. For example, while a single dose of LSD might last up to 15 hours depending on the quantity taken, psychedelic breathwork usually only lasts for a few hours.
But as one continues to practice this form of meditation and puts time into self-growth, one can extend the length and intensity of their own unique psychedelic experience.
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