There’s a bit of a mystique around breathwork meditation that is not entirely necessary. The intention of this post is to share a bit of what you can expect during a breathwork session.
For folks who have practiced breathwork a few times, this might help create some context for your experience. For those who haven’t, it may answer some questions. Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Here we go. Breathwork works on four levels:
Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
Every time we do the practice, it’s working on these levels in different degrees.
Sometimes it works to physically retrain the breathing mechanism of our body. Or we may be overwhelmed by the physical sensations it provokes. Tingling, constriction, expansiveness, temperature changing. The experience may be all about the body.
Other times, emotions move powerfully. We scream, cry, laugh hysterically, shake in fear, smile with deep joy as long held emotions release from the body and express with each breath.
Still other times, our experience may be a ‘brain break’ as our over-taxed rational mind checks out and we enter a deep theta state, balanced between awareness and deep relaxation.
Finally, at the spiritual level we may experience a deep sense of connection with everything and everyone around us, a feeling of the universe moving through us and of being held or guided by timeless powers.
When I first began to practice breathwork, I saw these four levels as hierarchical. Almost like a pyramid with ‘Physical’ at the bottom and ‘Spiritual’ at the top. In this model, we don’t work on the spiritual level until we have worked through the other three:
Over the past few years, experience has lead to a shift in my understanding. It’s less a hierarchy and more of a wheel:
Each time we practice, these four areas get activated a bit differently. So even when our experience is, for example, predominantly physical, there is spiritual work happening that we may not be aware of on a conscious level. Because there are infinite variations and gradations, the practice feels different and new each time we dive in. If nothing else, it encourages us to keep a beginner’s mind!
Ultimately, the breathwork practice will never take you deeper that you’re ready to go and will never bring up anything that you’re not ready to process. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t challenging sometimes; it is. After several years of near-daily practice, there are days when I still find myself screaming or writhing around as long-held emotions work their way out. And there are days when I conk out and my ‘practice’ turns into an elevated nap. Neither is better or worse than the other; they just live in different quadrants of the wheel.