Breathwork, or the practice of breath regulation, has been around for thousands of years in various cultures and traditions across the world. Breathwork is a general term that describes using breathing exercises to improve mental, physical, and spiritual health.
Breathing techniques have been used as a tool for healing, meditation, and spiritual practices, and they draw from Eastern practices like yoga and Tai Chi while incorporating Western techniques.
Pranayama is a term coined to describe regulating one’s breath, and it was first developed as part of the ancient India practice of yoga. Pranayama dates back as much as 5,000 years and was primarily used for spiritual awakening and meditative relaxation.
The word “pranayama” comes from two Sanskrit words: “prana” and “ayama” meaning life force and to extend or regulate respectively. Practicing pranayama daily was widely encouraged in order to help control the flow of prana in the body, thereby promoting overall health and wellbeing.
Breathwork techniques can also be traced back to ancient China origins. Many of you have heard of Tai Chi, an ancient Chinese martial arts practice, but may not know that it incorporates various breathwork exercises to enhance the practice.
Fostering mind-body connection is important in any martial arts, so it isn’t surprising that breathwork is at the core of these exercises. Tai Chi emphasizes deep, diaphragmatic breathing to increase oxygen intake and calm the mind. Tai Chi forms also consist of synchronizing one’s breath with coordinated movements to increase efficiency and fluidity of movement.
Taoist traditions believed that proper breathing could help balance the body’s energy and improve mental clarity, so they developed a system of breathing exercises called “qigong” which are still practiced today.
Hippocrates, often referred to as the father of medicine, taught that breath was important in maintaining good health and treating specific ailments. He believed that breath was a vital sign alongside pulse and temperature, so monitoring breath became core in his teachings.
Modern Western History
The Western world didn’t see breathwork being used widely for therapeutic purposes until around the 1960s and 1970s. The human potential movement focused on personal growth and self-improvement, and breathing techniques were seen as a means of raising your consciousness.
Since then, the field of breathwork therapy has become even more popular and grown into multiple schools of thought. Holotropic breathwork, rebirthing breathwork, and integrative breathwork are just a few of the schools that have come up in the last few decades.
Breathwork is now commonly taught as a tool for physical and mental health conditions, and meditation and yoga are more prominent than ever. Breathing techniques have gained mainstream recognition in reducing stress and anxiety, and this has paved the way for mobile apps and breathwork tools to guide you through how to practice them correctly. Training, research, and expansion of breathwork continues, but it all has similar foundations from ancient teachings.