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Trauma is a human experience - at some point everyone experiences it. One study shows that about 70% of people worldwide have experienced at least one type of traumatic event in their lifetime. Often categorized as either a “Big T” trauma like sexual abuse, natural disaster, and war or a “Little T” trauma like a breakup, prolonged stress, or financial trouble — all traumas have an impact on our bodies and subconscious minds. Over time, these impacts can compound and become further internalized, manifesting as physical or emotional symptoms.
Conscious breathing and breathwork can help process and release the experiences of trauma. Just as breathwork has many positive effects on alleviating anxiety and managing stress, trauma for breathwork can help heal, release, and restore aspects of ourselves that are impacted by traumatic events. This article will explore exactly how breathwork for trauma release can help you by explaining the following:
Before exploring specific breathwork techniques to help you process your own trauma, let’s first look at exactly what trauma breathwork is.
Trauma breathwork is conscious and intentional breathing that releases trauma stored in the body. Intentional trauma breathwork helps with trauma processing and healing by bypassing the conscious mind, deactivating the sympathetic nervous system, and having a restorative effect on its practitioners.
Breathwork for trauma is a therapeutic technique that brings practitioners into non-ordinary states of consciousness. It works by creating a safe space for deep relaxation, where one can feel uninhibited and free to express any emotions or physical movements that come up during a session. Ultimately, breathing techniques for trauma are designed to facilitate self-healing through connection to breath — permitting whatever comes up to be expressed, processed, and released.
Breathwork and trauma release are deeply connected. By creating a space for expression and processing, trauma for breathwork invokes a deep relaxation and a trance-like state, allowing for suppressed thoughts and stored emotions from trauma to more easily move towards the surface and be released.
Trauma breathwork promotes emotional catharsis and integration, processing stored memories within the subconscious. Breathwork for trauma also counters the physical effects of trauma, deactivating the flight-or-fight response which is switched on when undergoing a traumatic event. Evidence is not anecdotal either, as studies on U.S. military veterans have shown that breathing based meditation helps decrease the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”).
Many people have discovered the incredible healing powers that breathwork to release trauma can have on past traumas and overall emotional health. Here are 3 popular and powerful breathwork for trauma techniques that can help you today.
Biodynamic breathwork takes a 6-element approach for trauma release, combining breath, movement, sound, touch, emotions and meditation. This breathwork to heal trauma technique concentrates on empowering your body, releasing tension, and restructuring inner systems on a cellular level.
Trauma induces fight or flight responses. These responses are then stored within the muscles and nervous system. To help cope and process, biodynamic breathwork offers a trauma release system, which focuses on clearing these blockages. Biodynamic breathwork and trauma release combines breathing and movement in downwards and upwards motion in your spine, in an intuitive fashion.
Part 1: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and gently bend your knees
Part 2: Sit down on a mat or comfortable floor with your legs crossed and spine erect
Part 3: When you're ready, lay down on your side with knees bent and your hand under your head
To practice this breathwork technique, watch this biodynamic breathwork home practice video.
Holotropic breathwork means ‘moving toward wholeness’ coming from the Greek words holos, which means ‘whole’ and trepein, which means ‘moving towards’. This breathwork technique pairs quickened breathing with evocative music, all while laying down. Holotropic breathing guides the practitioner into a non-ordinary state of consciousness which is said to begin a natural healing process, connecting you with your inner intelligence.
Developed by psychiatrist, theoretician, and pioneer in psychedelic medicine and consciousness research, Dr. Stanislav Grof and his partner, Christina Grof, developed holotropic breathwork in the 1970’s. Holotropic breathwork has a similar effect on its practitioners to that when induced by psychedelics. It has also long peaked interest for treating PTSD and other mental conditions.
To learn more about holotropic breathwork watch this video.
When coping with trauma, we are often pushed outside of our window of tolerance. The window of tolerance is a concept coined by Dr. Dan Siegel, who describes it as a zone where a person can function effectively. Flashbacks to traumatic events can push us outside of our window of tolerance, creating a hyper or hypo-arousal state.
The Wim Hof Method focuses on controlling the autonomic nervous system to prevent us from being pushed outside of our window of tolerance. It works by taking deep oxygen-rich breaths that change our heart rate variability. This breathing technique can also include intentional exposure to cold which halts our sympathetic system from activating and increases our ability to tolerate stress. The Wim Hof Method breathing technique allows us to accept the moment as it is and promotes feelings of safety and calm.
To practice the Wim Hof Method breathing technique, watch this guided meditation video.
Trauma breathwork can often be an intense and deep process both emotionally and physically. Because of its powerful effect and vigorous nature, practicing these breathing for trauma exercises is not for everyone. Here are 5 contraindications to consider before practicing breathwork techniques for trauma.
This list is not exhaustive and it is recommended that you research or consult a physician before practicing any breathwork for trauma release technique.
Breathing to release trauma holds enormous potential for both the mind and physical body. To read more about how breathwork can improve your wellbeing, check out this article on 15 scientifically backed breathwork benefits.
Want to enhance your emotional wellbeing with breathwork? Try our free 3-day breathwork mini-series.