Styles of Breathwork

Since breathwork was first popularised in the West during 1970s, a many styles have evolved. Classification is challenging, but the most basic distinction to be noted is between 'regulating' and 'cathartic' techniques.

Regulating or breath-control techniques aim to directly teach better breathing, or to predictably bring about relaxation or another specific goal by different modulations of breath.

Cathartic, or release-oriented, breathwork uses patterns of breathing you would not expect to sustain during normal activity, most often 'connected' breathing without pauses, usually practised in a supervised session with specific preparations. The goal is to attain a breakthrough in feeling, perception or physiological state.

It is this latter, cathartic, type of breathwork that has drawn most attention, not least due to the experience of 'atered states of consciousness' that are often reported. Today's practitioners often combine different techniques, and breath control methods are now finding a very high level of interest in mental and physical performance coaching.

On this page we describe what have been the most prominent movements in what is now a rapidly diversifying landscape. The breathwork schools page complements this one by providing a listing of contemporary trainings, many of which offer blends or evolutions of the techniques listed below.

Holotropic Breathwork®

‘Holotropic means (‘holo’ = whole, ‘trepein’ = moving) moving towards wholeness.’

History and people

During the late 70’s, Stan and Christine Grof began to develop the science of Holotropic breathwork. 

What happens during a session?

It combines accelerated breathing with evocative music, within a special setting. It can involve long sessions of 3-4 hours.
 

Clients are encouraged to breathe rapidly and evenly to induce an altered state, observed by facilitators, who pay attention to avoiding hyperventilation. The breathing itself may continue for 2-3hrs, with different styles of music moving through percussive heart-orientated music and finally meditative.

Clients are encouraged to draw a mandala at the end of the session.

Where will I find it?

You can find books and information online. To attend a live session, you will need to research a centre or practitioner within your location. Official Holotropic breathwork sessions can only be lead by instructors that have completed 600 hrs of training with the Grof foundation.

More information

Psychiatrist and consciousness explorer Stanislav Grof was a pioneer in the golden age of psychedelic research for healing in the mid-20th century. Along with his wife, Grof managed to circumvent the ban on psychedelics in 1971 by developing a novel method to induce psychedelic-like states with this simple breathing technique.  Holotropic Breathwork was developed to be used in a group situation but can also be conducted on a one to one basis. 

Together the Grofs discovered a powerful approach to self-exploration and personal empowerment. The theoretical framework they created integrates insights from modern consciousness research, anthropology, various depth psychologies, transpersonal psychology, Eastern spiritual practices, and mystical traditions of the world.  http://www.holotropic.com/holotropic-breathwork/about-holotropic-breathwork/ 

Training: 

Grof Transpersonal Training is an international organisation, founded by Stanislav and Christina in 1989, and is the only program worldwide that certifies practitioners in Holotropic Breathwork®.

Rebirthing

Re-Birthing - also called - conscious breathing or intuitive Energy breathing.

History and people

In 1962 Leonard Orr discovered the method while taking long baths, in which he spontaneously connected his breath, which in turn he experienced great levels of relaxation and healing.

What happens during a session?

The focus is on relaxing and breathing. To breathe through any emotions, body sensations, memories. Sessions last from one hour onwards. While most sessions are done lying down on a surface, sessions can also be held in warm or cold water to evoke deeper memories.  The name ‘rebirthing’ arises from the fact that people will often experience during one or more sessions a memory of their birth, and re-experiencing particular feelings that became imprinted at that stage.

In general Rebirthing is perceived as a more gentle style, giving deep relaxation and expanded state of consciousness.

Where will I find it?

Worldwide. Online, in person, groups or 1.1’s.

 

More Information

The founder Leonard D. Orr developed and taught this method to be used in individual sessions with a trained Rebirthing Breathwork practitioner. https://www.rebirthingbreathwork.com/about

“Rebirthing Breathwork is merging the inhale with the exhale in a gentle relaxed rhythm in an intuitive way that floods the body with Divine Energy. The ability to breathe energy as well as air.

Relaxation is the ultimate healer. Every breath induces relaxation.” ~Leonard D. Orr

Sondra Ray was introduced to rebirthing in 1974 and is referred to as the ‘Mother of Rebirthing’ because of her extensive training of Rebirths and her in-depth knowledge of how birth trauma affects our lives.

There are several schools worldwide offering training in the Rebirthing technique, or that use it as part of their repertoire.

As Rebirthing evolved, group breathwork became a feature of rebirthing practice.

Transformational Breath®

History and people

Dr Judith Kravitz developed the Transformational Breath Foundation in 1994.

What is it like?

Transformational breath uses a breath that has no pauses, breathing low into the belly.

You can sit somewhere comfortable, hand on belly, focus on the inhale, through the mouth, letting the breath fall out on the exhale, then straight in, then falling out again. A faster pace than you would normally breathe. Adjusting as you go, increasing pace and deeper should you feel that is what you would like to do. Tailored to each session on the day.

This is a highly efficient and effective technique that has been used for over 35 years.

Where will I find it?

Workshops are held worldwide, and the options are there for 1.1 sessions with a facilitator. These last between 90 -120 minutes.

What happens during a session?

Transformational breath encourages a full diaphragmatic breath, this breath is observed and facilitators adjust the position of the body, really using the body to breathe, in through the mouth – benefiting the whole body. One benefit is the breath detoxifies the body, the lungs are responsible for releasing 70% of our toxins.

On a mental and emotional level, we control our breath, and hold it. This contracts our body and therefore stops/holds our emotional energy. This energy gets stuck, limiting our life views. As we breath in and out in a connective way, we increase our frequency, any lower energies increase into a higher energy, thus releasing the stuck energies. Encouraging sound or toning supports stuck energies to be released and this can clear negativity, bring peace and happiness.

More information

 

Dr. Judith Kravitz first experienced conscious breathwork in the mid-seventies through Rebirthing. In 1994, she founded the Transformational Breath Foundation and its training programs. It includes various principles from metaphysics, Kundalini Yoga, breath analysis, sound healing, bodymapping plus other healing and spiritual principles.

Training can be done online or in person in the UK : https://www.transformationalbreath.co.uk/

Clarity Breathwork

History and people

Ashanna Solaris and Dana Dharma have been sharing healing since 1999.

What happens during a session?

A session of Clarity breathwork is usually in a group setting and involves conscious connected breathing concurrently  with dance and accompanying music.

Clients are led through a path of releasing blocks, so they can open fully to their potential in life. using music and dance. Clarity breathwork involves deep intuitive counselling, somatic experiencing and one hour of connected breathing practice.

Its is a gentle and nurturing form of breath. You can use this breath by yourself, or with a facilitator to go on a deeper level of connection and release. There is a combination of conscious connected breathing alongside somatic releasing to allow a combination of support and consciousness.

 

Where will I find it?

Ashanna and Dana both currently live in California, and they lead retreats in Bali, Hawaii and India to name a few. There are many practitioners around the world.

 

More information

The name ‘Clarity’ breathwork was decided as a step onwards from rebirthing – rather than focusing on birth trauma – the idea is to move forwards and encompass/address wider life issues. It was felt that the name ‘Clarity’ suggested a great aliveness and presence.

Ashanna Solaris & Dana Dharma Devi have been sharing healing for over 30 years and have pioneered their own process called Clarity Breathwork. They combine their many years of experience and gifts together such as Dana’s sacred music and kirtan and Ashanna’s love of dance & movement.  They describe Clarity breathwork as a process of healing and transformation – clearing away old energies, negative thoughts, and opening doors for life and greater consciousness. Many of the basic approaches that they employ evolved out of Rebirthing.

This training is based in the USA.

https://claritybreathwork.com/ 

Shamanic Breathwork

Journey beyond the limits of the self.

History and people

Linda – Star Wolf, 1990’s

What happens in a session?

The session is seen as a sacred process – it begins with a ceremony, a ritual, then a deeply connected, cyclical breathing technique, then participants are given the opportunity to take part in some form of art. All the while chakra based music – often live music, is played during the whole session.

Where will I find it? 

There are many practitioners within the UK, please remember to feel who is the right facilitator for you to work with.

More Information

Shamanic Breathwork was developed primarily by visionary teacher and shaman Linda – Star Wolf in the 1990s. Following on from so many years of working with people and seeing their needs…

Linda is keen to to share that your breath is already right beneath your nose all we have to do is connect with it. This technique is accessible, to all. We all have the ability to heal and grow.

It is a process Linda developed this style having followed all the other breathwork styles, she created her own style to meet all of the techniques she believes create a generous healing space.

This style of breathwork opens the inner Shaman within, that knows how to breathe, you don’t need anything else – just be you!

When we feel the time has come to begin looking for an answer within, using the breath, we are able to work with all aspects of life. During breathwork sessions any range of visions, creativity, intuition, may be revealed. Linda believes and trusts that – the breath being the biggest transformer and healer in our lives.

This training is based in the USA and not offered online.

https://www.shamanicbreathwork.org/shamanic-breathwork 

Vivation

Takes its name from the Latin ‘vive’ ( to fully embrace life) and ‘tion’. The process to fully embrace life.

History and people

Created in the 1970’s by Jim Leonard..

What happens during a session?

Discovery of the breath during the five different ‘Elements of Vivation’. 
 

1. Breathe – There are three parts to the breath A. Using circular breathing – inhale and exhale always connected – no matter on speed, fast or slow. They do not need to be the same length in and out.  B. The exhale is always relaxed. C. Either breathing in and out through the nose or in and out through the mouth. 

2. Relaxation. Allowing full relaxation and integration.

3. Feeling – explore the changes that are happening in the body at any point.

4. Integration/Enjoyment – be open and receptive.

5. Willingness. Be open to exploration and discovery.

The focus is to Inhale through any feelings, being open to receiving any wisdom and inhaling into strong feelings so as to release them on the out-breath.

In this practice, all is welcome. The mind chatter, the physical feelings, the emphasis being on feelings. 

Where will I find it?

Online, in person, groups, workshops. This one of the less common breath styles – but training and practitioenrs are still available.

More information

Jim came to the conclusion that our emotions are made of life force energy. In Vivation breathwork we can receive the life force energy within us. Using this life force we can resolve the negative emotions permanently. Vivation is a skill of ‘Happiness’ that we can all learn to use, by discovering we all have some joy within our lives, we can use the positive sensation and the present moment to feel the feeling and the associated emotion at that present moment. Once located within the moment, positive energy is offered to the emotion and (very simply) a resolve occurs

Pranayama

Pranayama, the fourth stage of Patanjali’s Eightfold Path of Yoga, is derived from the Sanskrit terms: prana, meaning ‘life force energy’ and yama meaning ‘control’. Pranayama does not refer directly to breath, but breathing exercises are the primary learning aid in developing this control. Yogic breathing techniques have therefore come to be known as pranayamas, and many of these are reflected, sometimes with modifications, in the modern schools and styles of breathwork. It is fair to say that the connection is more evident in the regulatory forms of breathwork, rather than the cathartic, release-oriented styles.


Buteyko Breathing

A breath correction method developed in Russia, focusing on reducing 'overbreathing'.

History and people

Dr Konstantin Buteyko,  a Russian doctor, in 1950’s who was studying dying patients – he noticed how their breathe changed to increase the closer they came to death. He then noticed that those people who had diseases also had increased breathing (over a 50 year period of study!), he discovered that those people with respiratory conditions breathed roughly 3x more than a healthy person. He theorised that over-breathing causes many health conditions. This is where the Buteyko method was born.

It was discovered that asthma is the result of over-reathing, and that stress, laughter, exercise all trigger asthma – by causing over-breathing within the system, finally building to an asthmatic attack.

What happens during a session?

Buteyko breathing involves consciously reducing the inhaled volume of air and overcoming the discomfort this can promote by continued practice.  It is a very gentle method that teaches a new breathing habit.

During an initial assessment factors such as sleep, diet, fitness, levels of stress, snoring and the way ‘we’ breathe are taken in to account and observe if these factors increase breathing levels.

It is well documented that we over breathe…mostly through our mouths. The effects of over breathing can affect any system within the body. Practical examples are observed to understand why each exercise will make a difference to their health.

If it is observed that people can be heard breathing, breathe into their upper chest, sigh a lot or have a fast breathing pattern, these are all signs of over breathing – causing stress on our vascular system.

During a session, a detailed assessment ‘a measurement appraisal – the control pause’ of the above factors are taken. Simple exercises to clear the nose, observe how the client breathes and then a variety of seven different breathing exercise are taught to the client – with as much ease as possible – to ensure they feel motivated to continue to use the set exercises.

The objective being to bring breathing levels down to normal physiological levels. To reduce diseases, respiratory conditions and maintain normal healthy breathing.

 

Where will I find it?

Worldwide, any where, in clinics, private practices – groups, individually. 

 


Coherent Breath

A breathing technique based on learning to regulate the breath at 5 breaths per minute.

History and people

Dr Stephen Elliott in the USA. Dr Elliot believes that breathing coherently for 20mins will convince you either way how supportive the coherent breath is within your body, your system, your consciousness and more. He has demonstrated that breathing deeply and with rhythm allows blood to flow with ease all the way around the body, thus not relying upon gravity alone. Just the movement alone of blood reaching all the parts it may not reach if we were to shallow breathe.

What happens during a session?

It is described that ‘Coherent Breathing’ – is the foundation for living consciously. The Coherent breath is a regulating form of breathing that has been shown to optimise heart-rate variability and promote relaxation. Through much research all the biological evidence confirms that coherent breathing is the way to induce balance within our Autonomic nervous system. 

We begin by pacing the breath, breathing in and out for a count of four seconds breath in and then four second breath out.

Then..

Increasing the pace, a very simple breath – through the nose is used. A continuous breath, in and out, no pauses, at a rate of 5.5 inhale and the 5.5 exhale. Effortlessly and continuously. Relaxing the breath. A gong sound is often used to time the breath in and out, so there is no need to think about the time.

Breathing like this for an extended period of time, 20 mins or so, allows the rhythms within the body begin to synchronise, where all the systems begin to work together – thus creating a more efficient ‘bodily’ system.

Where will I find it?

Worldwide. Online or in person, in groups or 1.1, with a qualified facilitator.

 

 

Wim Hof

Wim Hof is a prolific contemporary explorer, athlete and cold-endurance record-holder. The breathing techniques taking his name are designed to enhance performance and immunity.

History and people

Wim Hof developed his breathing method during his time as an extreme athlete, where he earned Guinness World records for his ability to withstand extreme cold, for long periods of time- using mind mastery. This mind mastery includes a combination of breathing exercise, cold therapy, relaxation techniques and yoga.

What happens during a session?

The Wim Hof method involves three pillars:

1. Breathing- by heightening oxygen levels this reveals a treasure trove of benefits – more energy, less stress, increased immune response to deal with unwanted pathogens.   
2. Cold therapy – reducing inflammation, balancing hormone levels, improved sleep quality, fat loss, releasing endorphins.
3. Meditation / Commitment.
 
Sessions involving ice-baths or other cold-endurance are preceded by learning and practicing the breathing techniques.
 

The standard breathing technique involves a continuous pace of connected breathing into the belly and chest:  35 deep, continuous, breaths, followed by 30 second or more breath hold, followed by a recovery breath in, held for 15 seconds.

Further rounds extend the breath hold time.

Then depending upon the session – a visit to an ice bath, or cold water session, followed by some yoga and or meditation. Depending upon the facilitator.

  

Where will I find it?

Becoming worldwide, many practitioners and group experiences, Wim Hof You tube and social media channels.

More information

Recently popularised by a TV series, the method is becoming almost universally familiar.

Cold exposure requirea patience and commitment but studies are showing it provides significant benefits.

Breathwork Styles and Therapeutic Approaches

Above are listed perhaps the most important formative movements in breathwork, and they have spawned a wide variety of inspiring combinations and adaptations from different practitioners, some of which have become movements in their own right, or schools with hundreds or thousands of graduates. In many cases breathwork has been combined with methods and insights from psychotherapy to build very effective personal development programmes. Articles in About Breathwork and the links section offer some pointers for further enquiry.