Breathwork is an umbrella term for various New Age practices in which the conscious control of breathing is meant to influence mental, emotional and physical state – sometimes to claimed therapeutic effect.
Available scientific evidence does not support claims for improving health; however, breathwork may help in relaxation and stress reduction.
Description and sub-types
Breathwork is a method of breath control that is meant to give rise to altered states of consciousness and to have an effect on physical and mental well-being. Derived from various spiritual and pre-scientific traditions from around the world, it was pioneered in the West by Wilhelm Reich.
There are several sub-types of breathwork:
- Integrative Breathwork is an experiential process that uses simple, deep breathing along with evocative music and focused bodywork to take participants into a non-ordinary state of consciousness. Jacquelyn Small developed this process in the early 1990s after her work with Stanislav Grof in the 1980s. Integrative Breathwork facilitators are trained at Eupsychia Institute in Austin, TX.
- Rebirthing-Breathwork – was devised by Leonard Orr in the 1970s. It is claimed to be capable of releasing suppressed traumatic childhood memories.
- Vivation – was created by Jim Leonard and Phil Lawton. It claims to improve wellbeing through the use of circular breathing.
- Holotropic Breathwork (a trademark) is a practice that uses breathing and other elements to putatively allow access to non-ordinary states of consciousness. It was developed by Stanislav Grof as a successor to his LSD-based psychedelic therapy, following the suppression of legal LSD use in the late 1960s. Following a 1993 report commissioned by the Scottish Charities Office, concerns about the risk that the hyperventilation technique could cause seizure or lead to psychosis in vulnerable people caused the Findhorn Foundation to suspend its breathwork programme.
- Other types – There are many other types of Breathwork which have emerged over the last few decades, including Integrative Breathwork, Transformational Breathwork, Shamanic Breathwork, Conscious Connected Breathing, Radiance Breathwork, Zen Yoga Breathwork and many others.
Older non-Western techniques such as Yoga, Pranayama, T'ai chi, and Qigong are also offered as systems where the breath is used to direct and enhance the body's energy and aid in the release old emotions. Similarly the many schools and teachers of mindfulness are also using breathing techniques that can date back to and beyond the time of the Buddha.
Breathwork has no verified beneficial effect on health, although there is some evidence it may help relaxation; some people, however, find its effects distressing.
- Pre- and perinatal psychology
- Psychedelic psychotherapy
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- Stephen Castro, Hypocrisy and Dissent within the Findhorn Foundation: Towards a Sociology of a New Age Community (New Media Books, 1996)