"This breathwork has done for me what decades of other things couldn’t. It’s given me peace, clarity & purpose."
Sometimes we need a nudge, and sometimes the nudge we need is actually more of a shove.
It was on a recent search for this latter type of nudge, that saw me lying on a mattress, in the attic of a stranger’s house, pouring out my heart to someone I’d met less than an hour before.
Such is the power (and beauty) of breathwork.
The breathing technique I was practicing is called Conscious Connected Breathing, a powerful technique, frequently paired with psychotherapy, as a way for a person to access blocked experiences and emotions or gain profound, lasting insights into their lives.
Conscious Connected Breathing encompasses several different schools including Holotropic Breathwork, Rebirthing, Integrative Breathwork and Shamanic Breathwork, among others. Some place a strong emphasis on music, others on spirituality, while others, like the session I had, take a more pared back approach, letting the breath be the guide.
The basic technique involves a circular pattern of breathing, that is, as soon as you reach the top of the inhale, you exhale. Then, before finishing the exhalation, you inhale again, connecting one breath to the other. This is done lying down, in a comfortable position, with the jaw relaxed and mouth wide open. The idea is to inhale fully, breathing from the belly up into the chest, and then passively let the exhale go, with no pause between breaths.
Benefits of Conscious Connected Breathing
Breathing like this, a form of controlled over-breathing^, where we take in more air than we metabolically need, removes too much carbon dioxide from the body, placing us into a state of temporary respiratory alkalosis (an increase in blood pH). This causes our blood vessels to narrow, temporarily decreasing blood circulation, including in the brain (a process also known as transient hypofrontality). However, the fascinating thing is over-breathing doesn’t just reduce total cerebral blood flow, it also changes the distribution of blood flow within the brain, with the hippocampus and the frontal, occipital, and parieto-occipital cortices all receiving reduced blood flow within seconds to minutes (Naganawa 2002, Posse 1997).
These are the areas of the brain responsible for cognitive functions such as memory, experience of time, directed attention, reflective consciousness, and the idea of self (Dietrich 2003), as well as visual processing and the integration of body sensory information (Blanke 2005, Maravita 2003). Reduced function in these areas of the brain can elicit strong hallucinations, out-of-body experiences or simply a deep sense of relaxation and release (in my case).
It’s these experiences that give rise to the “high” feeling some people get when they practice this type of breathwork. #gettinghighonyourownsupply ;-)
These powerful non-ordinary states of consciousness allow access to subconscious and conscious thought, enabling the recall and release of stored or suppressed memories and emotions and rewire mental patterns, in a faster way than by "talk therapy" alone.
That’s exactly why I picked Conscious Connected Breathing. While I understand it's not for everyone, from past experience I knew it was the positive but strong nudge (ok, shove) that I was looking for.
Like nothing else before
Before I came across the Wim Hof Method, which shares certain similarities to Conscious Connected Breathing (but has the important distinction of including breath holds to rebalance our blood gases), I’d tried all kinds of things to “fix” myself; counsellors, psychologists, cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness, holistic treatments, medication and self-medication. However, nothing came close to the deep, long-lasting change that this style of breathwork has provided.
While counselling and psychology sessions gave me some intellectual understanding, the insights never truly felt like they were my own. However, the breakthroughs and insights I’ve had from breathwork felt like they came from deep within (which I believe they did), making them more authentic, meaningful and powerful to my life.
This breathwork has done for me what decades of other things couldn’t. It’s given me peace, clarity & purpose.
For a beautiful explanation of the process and how it can be used to heal trauma etc., check out this podcast with Simon Hall & 'The Breath Guy' Richie Bostock or explore the work of Giten Tonkov's Biodynamic Breathwork.
^ I use the term ‘controlled over-breathing’ because during this practice we are in control of the breath, as opposed to 'hyperventilation' where our breathing rate is out of our conscious control. Conscious practice is an important distinction when it comes to breathwork.
Interested to learn more about the breath or want to learn how to go deeper? Join me at one of my upcoming workshops
Like me to teach at your gym, studio, workplace or backyard? Contact me
Breathing techniques can be quite powerful and certain techniques like controlled over-breathing and breath holds may not be suitable for those with serious medical conditions including cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure or during pregnancy/breastfeeding. It is also not recommended for people who experience severe psychiatric symptoms or seizures. It’s important to gradually build up the intensity and duration of any techniques you do. Always practice without force and listen to your body carefully. Those with specific health concerns or any serious medical issues should consult a healthcare professional before starting.