Breathwork Healing: How to Overcome Your Trauma, Addictions & More

Science
October 17, 2021
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It’s no secret breathwork is becoming more widely known and practiced, thanks to its long list of benefits to the brain, body, and more. Breathwork, or breathwork healing, is the simple yet effective practice of following breathing patterns. It addresses common physical and mental ailments like anxiety, insomnia, addiction, and more.

In this article, we’ll dive deeper into the following:

  • What is breathwork healing?
  • 5 ways breathwork healing can benefit you
  • 3 best healing breathwork techniques to try

Before we get into the different ways breathwork can benefit you, or the different techniques you can use to practice it, it’s important to first understand what breathwork actually is and why it’s so important.

What is breathwork healing?

Breathwork healing is the conscious use of breath that’s directed towards healing the body, mind, and more. Research has shown that, through the power of healing breathwork, practitioners have been able to heal things such as anxiety, trauma, and addiction. They have also been able to effectively manage ailments such as pain, stress, and insomnia. 

Breathwork promotes overall greater mental and physical wellness. And while the specific benefits gained are often linked to the practitioner’s unique needs, some of the most common ones include:

  • Effective stress management: Breathwork can help shift the body out of flight-or-fight mode.
  • Anxiety relief and reduction: Certain breathing techniques can instantly reduce feelings of panic and anxiousness.
  • Improvement of sleep: Breathwork promotes calm and relaxed states before bedtime.
  • Pain management: It can reduce inflammation and pain perception.
  • Promotion of overall health and wellbeing: Increases blood flow, assisting digestion, and promotes mental wellness

Breathwork’s efficacy in healing various health problems is being continuously researched, and has continued to show promising results for the brain and body. The mental relief that breathwork practitioners have achieved has made breathwork techniques the focus of many groundbreaking discussions on healing, particularly for trauma and anxiety.

5 ways breathwork healing can benefit you

There are countless ways breathwork supports the brain, body, and mind. In this section, we’ll be focusing on five specific ways breathwork can benefit you, using science-backed principles to explain how it treats problems such as trauma, anxiety, and more.


1. Breathwork is a powerful tool for healing trauma

A group of people hugging

To understand exactly how breathwork aids trauma work, it’s crucial to first recognize how trauma physically manifests in the body. Think about the involuntary ways your body responds to overwhelming distress, whether it be a physical threat (like surviving a natural disaster) or an emotional threat (like a horrible breakup). Your flight, fight, or freeze response kicks in without you having to do anything other than have the experience.  

In other words, your autonomic nervous system (ANS) activates. This is an evolutionary response designed to keep you safe. Primal instincts instantly kick in. Adrenaline rises. Your heart rate quickens. The stress hormone cortisol is released into your bloodstream. Think of it like an internal alarm system that’s going off inside your body. But when the danger passes (and remember your body is not able to differentiate between physical and emotional danger), your body might not be able to adjust this inner alarm system on its own. This can leave you still feeling tense and in distress. 

Talk therapy helps us consciously identify our traumas and process them logically. But what are we supposed to do with these lasting physiological symptoms that end up leaving more problems and issues in the body?

That’s where breathwork for healing trauma comes in. Breathwork helps release the pent-up tension stored within the tissues of the body, giving the body permission to recalibrate. In fact, studies have shown that breathwork healing as a treatment can reduce post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) symptoms, anxiety, and respiration rates.


2. You can heal anxiety through breathwork

A person walking along a concrete path

Healing breathwork has a direct impact on anxiety due to how closely breath and anxiety are related on both the mental and physical levels. For example, when a person feels anxious, their breathing patterns can change drastically and suddenly. When this happens, they experience shortness of breath, faster breathing patterns, or chest tightness. During breathlessness, a person with anxiety can experience hyperventilation and even feelings of suffocation. These physical symptoms are part of the fight-or-flight response within the ANS system. Unfortunately, these sensations cannot always be controlled by the mind or rational thoughts, even when there is no actual or logical danger. 

So what can we do to counter this? We can simply tell the body that we are safe through intentional body movement, meditation, and breath. Things like breathwork effectively communicate to the body in a way that the rational mind sometimes cannot. By consciously turning on the parasympathetic nervous system through breathwork healing, we can give calming signals to our body that we are safe. Then the mind can naturally follow. 

3. Overcome your addictions with the power of breathwork 

A man looking forward in a forest

Dopamine is often called the ”feel-good” or “pleasure” hormone, and for good reason. An important neurotransmitter that’s part of your brain’s reward system, it’s also responsible for feelings of motivation and satisfaction. When someone is addicted to something – like drugs, alcohol, or tobacco – the brain craves the reward associated with the consumption of that substance. Upon consuming it, dopamine floods the brain, creating short-lived sensations of joy. But by altering the brain’s biochemistry naturally, breathwork can help break addictions and even potentially prevent a relapse.  

How does this work exactly? During a healing breathwork session, the body is flooded with oxygen, effectively reducing CO2 levels and also altering PH levels. This leads to a natural feeling of euphoria, and is often why many practitioners report feeling a ‘natural high’ during and after participating in breathing exercises for healing.

One study found holotropic breathwork in particular as an effective tool in treating alcoholism and drug addiction. Today, many treatment centers for addiction combine healing breathing meditation with other forms of treatment to support individuals in overcoming and recovering from addictions. 

4. Breathwork can help relieve pain  

A person standing in water

Breathwork can alleviate sensations of pain, even in chronic patients. Research at the Pain Rehabilitation Center has shown that just 10 minutes of diaphragmatic breathing 3 times a day, done consistently for at least 2 weeks, reduces pain and its associated symptoms. 

How does this work? Just like with trauma and anxiety, it all links back to the ANS system. People dealing with chronic pain often have overactive fight-or-flight systems that produce the stress chemicals adrenaline and cortisol. This heightens their sensitivity to pain.

But as we know, taking deep and conscious breaths helps reverse this state of fight-or-flight. On a physiological level, it releases endorphins in the body and reduces cortisol levels. This reduces sensitivity to pain, boosts pleasure, and encourages a general feeling of well being. That’s why healing breathwork is thought to decrease inflammation and pain

And while healing breathwork does not necessarily eliminate the pain altogether, it can alter your perception of pain. This can reduce pain scores and promote overall feelings of well-being. 

5. Breathwork can help you sleep better

A man lying on the floor next to a woman lying on the couch

Anxiety and sleeplessness are closely related, which is one reason why healing breathwork meditations and conscious exercises are hugely beneficial to their practitioners. Even the seemingly simplest of things, like how you breathe (i.e. breathing through your mouth rather than through your nose), can decrease oxygen levels in your blood. This can end up disrupting your sleep and cause long-term problems.

Breathing exercises for healing and sleep concentrate on promoting relaxation, emotional well-being, and overall better health. Contrary to healing breathwork techniques for addiction, which encourage oxygen and blood flow, Pranayama for sleep is slow and soothing. This invokes a sense of calm and relaxation.

3 best healing breathwork techniques to try

These 3 breathing exercises for healing will encourage different experiences and sensations. Try them out with a sense of curiosity, kindness, and gentle self-awareness for optimal results.

1. Somatic breathwork technique

A woman breathing while lying down

Somatic breathwork healing focuses on breathing in a way that honors the body as self-regulating and intelligent, transcending the cognitive mind. This form of breathwork generally encourages the increased flow of oxygen to your brain and body. It can be performed independently, in therapeutic settings, or with group facilitation. 

Somatic breathwork is perhaps one of the simplest breathing healing techniques, allowing connection to the body’s innate intelligence. One such breathwork exercise within this technique is connected breathing through the mouth

Here's how to do it:

  • To prepare for this exercise, lay down on the floor with one hand on your lower belly and the other hand on your chest.
  • Breathe in and out through your mouth, keeping a relaxed face and jaw, with your breath originating from the lower belly. 
  • Continue breathing this way for about 10 to 20 times, noticing any changes or strange sensations. 

2. Bhramari breathing technique

A woman sitting on a mat in a living room

This healing breathing meditation is also referred to as ‘humming bee breath’ because of the soft humming sound you make when you exhale. The sound of the humming is thought to drown out the mind’s relentless chattering, which is often associated with anxiety. In yoga classes, this pranic healing breathing exercise can be taught with slight hand variations.

The Bhramari meditation is especially good for anyone who’s experiencing bouts of anxiety, anger, or frustration and needs to quickly release and recenter.  

Here's how to do it:

  • To prepare for this exercise, sit comfortably on a floor or a chair with a straight back.
  • Close your eyes and maintain a relaxed face.
  • Take your thumbs and gently press the tragus (the cartilage on the side) of your ear to gently block the ear canal.
  • Inhale deeply and fully.
  • Exhale and simultaneously make a low or medium-pitch humming sound. Pay attention to the vibrations you exude.
  • Repeat for as many rounds as you’d like.

3. Equal breathing technique 

A woman and a man breathing while standing

Sama Vritti Pranayama, or equal breathing, is one of the most basic forms of breathwork and is used to reduce stress instantly. This type of breath meditation is used to lower stress levels and support better sleep. It’s especially helpful right before bedtime, as its purpose is to help you relax and ultimately fall asleep immediately afterwards. For best results, practice right after you’ve turned off any screens or other distractions.

Here's how to do it:

  • To prepare for this exercise, sit comfortably on a floor or chair with a straight back and your hands in your lap.
  • Close your eyes and relax your face.
  • Inhale through your nostril and count silently 1, 2, 3, 4…
  • Exhale through your nose and count silently 1,2,3,4…
  • Repeat for as long as you need.

Breathwork gives us the tools to access our body’s inner intelligence. This helps us deal with the stressors of everyday life, and even heal trauma. For more breathwork exercises for improving physical and mental health, check out our guide here. For specific breathwork techniques for stress relief, try out these 6 exercises.

If you’re ready to take the first steps into your healing journey, try the Othership app for free!