Breathwork is a powerful tool for releasing anxiety and connecting us back to our essential selves. It’s no surprise to me that breathwork has gotten super buzzy since 2020, considering that A. anxiety and depression have been at an all time high since 2020, and B. the last couple of years have prompted many to step onto a more soul-guided path in their lives and work. Breathwork offers potent support on both fronts.
However, like any modality, the potential for true healing and soul clarity with breathwork comes down to the quality of, what they call in the therapy world, ‘set and setting’. What this means is that for a truly effective breathwork session you need to feel prepared for what’s coming, safe in your environment, and have a solid sense of trust with the facilitator. While I’ve experienced some of my most profound shifts in a breathwork session, I’ve also been in sessions where I just wanted to get the hell outta there.
The purpose of this article is to help you safely start a breathwork practice of your own, and to know the key considerations involved in doing so. If you’ve been following my work, you already know how much my own life has been completely transformed through my regular breathwork practice – I’ve shared about this alot! For those who are new around here, breathwork has helped me to shift into a completely different way of being and showing up in the world and to step onto a deeply aligned, soul-led path. Though my life didn’t change overnight, I did receive some incredibly deep and powerful insights in my very first breathwork session. After that, I booked several 1:1 sessions, tried a few group sessions and virtual sessions, and eventually began practicing on my own at home. I hope this article supports you in developing your own breathwork practice, and receiving the many benefits of doing so! I’d also like to invite you to explore how it feels to do a month of guided breathwork journeys, with some of my fav facilitators, inside The Collective Shift.
How to start a breathwork practice
Chose a trusted breathwork practitioner
When you’re starting a breathwork practice, the most important step is to choose a trusted, recommended practitioner. You can do this by asking around to others you know who’ve benefited from breathwork, and getting a couple of options before you book a session. Similar to choosing a therapist, if you don’t feel a sense of trust or chemistry with your facilitator, you may not be able to relax enough to receive the full benefits of this modality. If you don’t know anyone who’s done breathwork, I’ve put together this list of practitioners I’ve personally booked sessions with, and do recommend. Here are my recommended breathwork facilitators.
Do your first session LIVE
If at all possible, do your first breathwork session live and in person with a recommended facilitator. If you’re tempted to book an online session, let me emphasize that a live facilitated breathwork session is worth leaving your house for, and it will bring you a richer, more beneficial experience. There are two key reasons for this.
The first is that your breathwork practitioner will be able to see and support your unique breath pattern. As we drop into an active breathwork session we each breathe in unique ways, which breathwork facilitators refer to a ‘breath pattern’. Some of us breathe more into the belly or pelvic floor, others breathe more into our hearts. Some of us breathe shallow, deep, quickly, or slowly. For some of us, the breath catches a bit before we inhale, or before we exhale. The role of a facilitator is to witness your breath pattern, celebrate where you are exactly as you are, and offer subtle adjustments to support a more easeful flow of breath through your system, with the understanding that the way you breathe in a session, reflects the flow of your life force energy as a whole in life. A live facilitated session supports us to learn to breathe more easefully and fluidly, which by extension supports greater flow and ease in our day-to-day life.
Second, receiving hands-on facilitation supports a breather in finding greater safety in the body, and dropping more deeply into the consciousness of the meditation. In the breathwork training that I did with Carmen Ganne hands-on facilitation was the focus, and now as a facilitator, I bring bodywork into every session. This is more like acupressure than massage, offering firm pressure, touch, or adjustment of the body to help the breather go relax, release and go deeper.
It’s important to know this: A lot can arise in a session- emotionally, and energetically. A facilitator’s role is to support the breather in releasing what the system is ready to release. For those new to breathwork, it’s possible to stir up deep patterns of emotion, trauma, or energy in the body, which actually has the potential to get further stuck in the system, without the proper facilitation.
While I truly believe that we are all responsible for our own healing, and we can learn to hold ourselves through anything, it’s also important to take the time to receive all of the benefits that active breathwork can bring to your life, including being facilitated and learning to facilitate yourself before diving in.
Explore the considerations
Here are some of the key considerations to be aware of before trying active breathwork. If you have a heart condition, a respiratory condition, or a history of fainting, this practice may not be the best fit for you. Here’s what I’ve learned about the following. Sending out a big thanks to Carmen Ganne for her endless breathwork mentorship. Most of the information below comes directly from what I’ve learned from Carmen through the incredible breathwork training she offers.
History of Trauma
Breathwork can be incredibly activating which means it can unleash stuck and stored emotions, including Trauma that’s been stored in the system. While many have credited breathwork as a huge support in healing their past traumas, if you’re starting out with a breathwork practice and you do have a history of Trauma – whether that’s abuse, loss, or violence- choose a practitioner that’s Trauma-informed, and can support your system in moving through whatever arises. This means helping you to meet the physical and emotional sensations of Trauma that have the potential to become activated in a session. A trauma-informed facilitator will help you safely process these, somatically.
When we have anxiety, or are prone to anxious patterns, there’s a tendency towards a hyper vigilant system. The complimentary support to this, is deep grounding. So, this can mean postures that help us feel rooted and grounded, slow and steady. For example: Bending the knees, and planting the feet on the floor. As we breathe, focusing on finding a balance between inhale and exhale. As Carmen explains: “If someone tends towards anxiety, there’s a deep desire in the system to complete old cycles of anxiety and panic, so it’s extra important to feel a sense of safety in the session, to have a long rest period after the active breathwork, and to emerge from the session grounded.”
Asthma puts a lot of stress on the respiratory system, so in a breathwork session, a slow progression may be required to build up to the active pattern, specifically around the inhale. It’s recommended to have an inhaler nearby in case it’s needed to help settle the system. If someone with asthma engages too quickly or deeply in the active breathwork pattern, it can spark a gasping reflex, so it’s important to lead into the pattern with ease, and take it extra slow. As Carmen explains, “The energetic roots of asthma are fear of abandonment, and a fear of receiving.” So, for some people to be able to receive a deeper breath, taking smaller sips of air, or a three-part (shorter) breath can be helpful as the breather builds into a deeper inhale.
Posturally, for some with asthma, it can feel good to begin seated, or propped up, if that feels easier to receive the inhale.
While breathwork has been proven to regulate heart rate and blood pressure, anyone with severe heart issues – including cardiac arrhythmia, slow heart rate, high blood pressure, a recent heart attack, heart disease, or any other heart condition – should check with their doctor to ensure their heart is strong enough to begin an active breathwork practice. Slow, deep diaphramatic breathing has been shown to improve heart health, and to stimulate the vagus nerve, which is linked to reducing feelings of anxiety, so while it’s important to be cautious, it’s equally important to receive the benefits of a practice like breathwork.
The heavier energy of depression tends to be more connected with the lower energy centres, so this can be balanced by bringing in more life force, which could mean starting the practice with a bit of movement and flow. This is a great spinal warm up to do before breathwork. With breathwork, we are being invited to feel more, and for those who aren’t used to this, or tend to avoid feeling deeply, the invitation is to really tune in and take the breathwork practice at a pace you can manage.
There are a lot of different perspectives on whether breathwork is safe during pregnancy. The general view is that if you’ve already been doing it before getting pregnant, it’s generally safe to continue.
Posturally, depending on the stage of your pregnancy, you will likely want to avoid laying on your back while breathing. As you progress into your second and third trimesters, practicing breathwork while laying on your left side or propped up against a couch or bed can feel more supportive for your body. The following video provides a great explainer on what to consider when doing breathwork while pregnant.
The Benefits of Breathwork
The benefits of breathwork are huge. As a form of meditation, breathwork helps us to connect us with our Truth, release the grip of the mind and Ego, and drop us into our heart, which is our portal into new ways of knowing and being. Considering that the heart is 100x more powerful than the brain, and that we actually receive more information from our heart than from our brains, to the rest of our body, breathwork is an incredible way to open our capacity to expand, via living a heart-led life.
Summary: How to Start a Breathwork Practice
- Do your first couple of sessions live with a skilled facilitator you trust. Get a recommendation. Here are recommended breathwork facilitators.
- When you’re ready to explore breathwork without a facilitator present, book a virtual session with a skilled facilitator you trust. Here are some recommended online group breathwork sessions. You can also explore how it shifts your life to do a month of guided breathwork journeys, with top my facilitators, inside The Collective Shift.
- As you develop a practice at home, you can either breathe to a breathwork playlist, or follow along with a guided breathwork meditation. Start your practice with a short session of 20 minutes. Here’s a guided session with Bree Melanson, another with Ariana Fotinakis and a third with Shanilla Sattar.
- As you become more comfortable with breathwork, you could explore doing a longer session at home. I like to do one longer session (60 minutes plus) each week. Here are playlists I’ve created. This one and this one are my favs.
- And finally, become a breathwork facilitator! JK. But if you do, here are my recommended breathwork facilitator training programs.