52 Weeks of Self Care and Healing
Note: This is a series where I cover 52 healing practices to increase mental hygiene. They are not intended to replace necessary mental health or medical services. I am not paid to do this but it should be noted that these articles are my opinion and not medical advice. Please discuss with your healthcare professionals to determine what practices are right for your needs.
What is Breathwork?
There are a lot of breathing techniques out there, but this isn’t just meditation focused on the breath (as I initially thought it was) but a specific two part breath that involves an open mouth inhale into the belly, then the chest, before an open mouth exhale. Practitioners claim it moves stagnant energy through the body and helps clear emotional blockages. Studies do show that changing patterns of breathing can restore stress response systems in the body according to The Healing Power of Breath by Richard Brown and Patricia Gerbarg. I will say, this is one of those practices that you hear described one way, but the experience of it is completely different.
My Experience of Breathwork
The reason I am starting this series with Breathwork is because of my own experience with the practice. I attended the class somewhat on accident. I thought it was a meditation class focused on the breath. I though perhaps I would learn different breathing techniques, but I did not have any clue what the class would actually end up being like. I sat down, and the teacher stated that we would be doing a powerful technique that may result in hand cramping and emotional outbursts like crying. Um..what?! I thought I was coming here to relax. I thought about leaving but I was already there, and my curiosity was peaked. I was sure I would not be crying in front of perfect strangers. Cut to me crying. And my hands did cramp like lobster claws as they described. Thankfully I had been warned, so these did not scare me. But what also happened is I felt SO GOOD. Like I had released ten years of emotional baggage. As a therapist, I know the power of talking through your problems and gaining new insight, but often the stored emotions don’t get released just through talking. This led me to incorporate more of a mind-body connection into my work as a therapist and I use breathwork on days where I just feel overwhelmed or fatigued and it really helps.
Know your limits – I have a lot of experience with therapy and coping skills. Breathwork tends to bring forward pent-up emotions, so know that you have a place to process what comes up in the class.
It’s a physical class – The breath, the tensing muscles, laying on your back; this is a more physical class than your typical meditation class. Know you body and what it can handle at the moment.
Choose group or 1:1 – Many meditation studios offer these classes which can be great because the energy of the room is very helpful. However, if it feels overwhelming to do this practice with others, you can find a practitioner to work with you one on one. Look up local meditation studios for classes and likely their teachers with offer individual sessions as well.