What is breathwork?

Breathwork can apply to many different techniques and exercises, but defined broadly, it is the use of the breath to improve mental, physical, and spiritual health.

Breathwork sessions are not necessarily facilitated by a mental health professional, and can last anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours.

Breathwork is often used in conjunction with body-based practices, such as yoga, Tai Chi, and Qigong.


Structure of breathwork sessions

Breathwork sessions typically start with a short conversation and intention setting before getting into the breathing. Depending on the breathing style of the client, the facilitator may begin with a lesson on breathing using the diaphragm and abdominal muscles. The breathwork facilitator then guides the client through a session that lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. Breathwork can include the use of oils, incense, and music. At the end, it is typical to close with short conversation and reflection.

Breathwork includes a diverse set of techniques, each centered on inhaling and exhaling, generally deep, focused, and for an extended period. Some examples:

  • Continuous circular breathing: Using full deep breaths, participants breathe in and out continuously, without holding their breath. This continuous in and out creates a circle of breath.
  • Immersion in water: While partially or fully immersed in water, the client breathes deeply, either above the surface or with the aid of a snorkel.
  • 20 connected breaths: The client inhales and exhales through the nose 20 times, then takes four sets of four short breaths and one deep breath.

Some types of breathwork incorporate an exploration of suppressed memories, music or sound therapy, vocalization, whole-body shaking, and dance therapy. Some breathwork is done one-on-one, while others are done in groups or dyads.

In each exercise, when done over a long period of time, clients may experience unusual states of consciousness. Some have reported breakthroughs or increased emotional understanding as a result of breathwork.

Depending on the techniques used, breathwork can be very physically intense and it is recommended that before trying breathwork, clients consult their physician.

What can breathwork help with?

Breathwork has been used for the treatment of anxiety, repressed trauma, chronic pain, anger issues, depression, trauma and post-traumatic stress, grief and loss, and emotional effects of physical illness. Some use breathwork in efforts to enhance creativity and sharpen their focus.

New to therapy? Learn about how to find a therapist here.