We breathe all day and night, pretty much continuously for our entire life. You may think that makes you an expert, but there is still a lot to learn and improve. How many of those breaths have you controlled and done proactively? In breathwork, we take conscious control over our breath to make changes to the rest of our body.
The autonomic system controls a majority of our body’s systems — heart rate, circulation, digestion, stress response, breathing, and much more. It is split between the sympathetic and parasympathetic sides, but their activation is not generally under your control. If someone asked you to reduce your stress levels by 20%, what would you do? Even though it is a part of your body and you are responsible for the results, it is not under your conscious control. However, if someone told you to hold your breath for 10 seconds, you would be able to do that. It is under your conscious control. Therefore, it is the lever we must use to control the rest.
Your breath is powerful because it can influence the rest of your systems that are typically on autopilot. Your breathing, and associated metrics like O2 and CO2 saturation, can be modified during breathwork. This then influences other advanced metrics like your heart rate, HRV, and even thoughts, which you may not be able to control directly but may need to change.
High stress, overbreathing, mouth breathing, and other bad habits can dramatically reduce your CO2 levels and make it harder to transport oxygen efficiently. Practicing breathwork helps to counteract those issues, reset your CO2 tolerance and improve your blood oxygen saturation. During the breath holds, additional red blood cells can also be released to improve your oxygen carrying capacity. In addition to the physical adaptations and training your respiratory system, there can be significant mental and emotional improvements to your entire nervous system.
Like exercise, breathwork covers a wide umbrella of ideas and practices. In exercise, there are many different options: walking, running, lifting weights. It can be done by yourself or in a group class. The intensity can vary too, walking down the street is very different than running a marathon. Breathwork has a similar set of options and ranges of intensity, from a simple deep breath (the equivalent of just walking) to an hourlong session with a community (perhaps a physical and mental equivalent of running a race).
There are many different flavors and styles, like the Wim Hof method, holotropic breathwork, and hundreds of others with slight variations. Athletes may practice breathwork for better physical performance and training to perform at lower oxygen. Others may use breathwork for managing stress or strong emotions. Similar to exercise, most benefits will come from continued practice and exposure.
Similar to physical exercise, there are also some risks. You should review the waiver and consult with your doctor to get their signoff before continuing on any new exercise or breathing program, and especially the Gyroscope breathwork which can be very physically and mentally demanding.
A good benchmark is having a Health Score above 75, the physical fitness to run at least 1-2 miles uninterrupted, and mental fitness to meditate for at least 10-20 minutes without stopping. If you may be pregnant, the breath holds should not be done and skipping all breathwork and doing only meditation is recommended.
Finally, as with all experiences in this category, the mindset & setting is an important part of the journey. Try to set an intention and be mindful about the process before and after. Practicing in water is not recommended due to the risk of drowning if you fall asleep. The ideal setting is lying down somewhere comfortable (like a couch, yoga mat or even in bed) where you can easily sleep afterwards or meditate without worrying about you body.
What is breathwork?
Breathwork is a practice in which we use conscious control of the breath to influence a person's mental, emotional or physical state — often with a significant therapeutic effect.
Is it the same as meditation?
It could be considered a subset of meditation, but it is generally very different. In fact, some people who haven’t quite found their “groove” with meditation tend to enjoy breathwork a lot more. Opposite to most meditations, breathwork does not require you to be very still or even quiet.
Breathwork can allow you to release emotions, thoughts, stress, etc. through breath, sound, and moving the body. EIf you do have an existing meditation practice, this is a great complement to it that can allow your meditations afterwards to be much deeper and more effective.
What is a breathwork session like?
The best way to know is to experience it for yourself. You can start with some of the shorter introductory sessions in the app, and then join the calendar for the group sessions (included in the Gyroscope Coach membership).
Your first full session is best conducted in a group setting through Gyroscope.
If it’s confirmed that breathwork is safe for you (meaning you have no underlying, conflicting health conditions, and you’ve successfully completed some of the shorter sessions in the app), your session will begin with a brief meditation. You’ll then spend 25-30 minutes in the 3-part breathwork pattern.
This will all be conducted on Zoom with the guidance of your practitioner, so your camera should be turned ON to ensure your safety — especially if you are new.
After breathing, you’ll be guided with meditation. At the end, you have the opportunity to share your experience and receive clarity on anything in your experience. Most people feel really zen, clear-headed, and peaceful afterward. You’re definitely encouraged to give yourself a few moments to adjust afterwards. Your first session should take about 40 minutes to an hour.
The breathing pattern that we use is called the Three-Part Breathing Pattern, otherwise known as the “The Triad Breathing Method.” This is one of the most common breathing techniques under the umbrella of “breathwork.” It involves one breath in the belly, another in through your chest, and a final exhale out the mouth. Many others exist as well, including the Wim Hof method.
Some of the physical effects...
- Alkalizes your blood Ph
- Improved blood oxygen
- Improved circulation
- Elevates your mood
- Improved muscle tone
- Reduced cortisol levels
- Reduced inflammation
This can can help with...
- Managing stress
- mproving mental health
- Feeling more centered
- Reducing anger or anxiety
- Reducing addictions
- Dealing with grief or loss
- Migraines or physical pain
Who is it recommended for?
Anyone who wants more clarity, peace, focus, reduction in stress, anxiety or other mood enhancing benefits. If you do not have any of the health conditions that interfere with your safety during this practice, then breathwork is recommended for you.
If you do have any underlying conditions, you may still practice breathwork, but gentler styles are recommend (compared to the 3-part breath) and without the breath holds.
What can I expect to happen during a session?
Every time can be different, but there are a variety of physical and mental sensations you may experience...
• Tingling or tightness, otherwise known as “Tetany” in the hands/feet/mouth
Commonly known as “Lobster Claw” (A clenching of the fingers) this is a perfectly normal and common reaction caused by changes in blood chemistry. It is nothing to be worried about (and can often be a good sign since it means you are practicing breathwork intensely enough to change your blood chemistry) though it can be surprising when experienced for the first time
• Emotional release like crying, frustration, anger, screaming
• Changes in body temperature (hot or cold)
• Connection to a deeper state of being/mind
• Increase or decrease in energy
Is it safe for me?
Individuals who have a history of cardiovascular problems, breathing problems like asthma, high/abnormal blood pressure, aneurysms, epilepsy or history of seizures, bipolar depression, a recent surgery, recent trauma, or on heavy medications, or is pregnant should not participate in the breathwork.
If you have a specific condition not listed, please contact your doctor.
Why do people get tetany?
Tetany, otherwise known as “lobster claws” can happen during breathwork. In short, your hands feel like they are stuck in a “lobster claw” shape. Not to worry as they are not permanently stuck this way. There are several reasons why this might occur.
The most common reason is from forcing the exhale and breathing too fast.
Our CO2 levels in our bodies decrease rapidly and thus, our body cannot replace it fast enough. Basically this happens because of overstimulated neuromuscular activity.
It can also occur if you have low calcium, magnesium, or potassium levels or too much acid. It’s not unsafe, and is a fairly common side effect. Your practitioner will do their best in closely monitoring your breathing and bodily reactions to prevent this from occurring.
How often should I do breathwork?
You can do it as often as you’d like. The more frequently you do it, the more transformation you invite in your life. Most of our Gyroscope Coach members attend a live session once a week, though you can also practice breathwork on your own during your daily meditations.
The shorter on-demand versions are also accessible for quick meditations during the day or doing it on your own schedule. Just like exercise, some people may prefer to do solo short sessions on their own, while others may prefer the extra accountability & support from a group session with a community. We suggest you try both! Just like exercise or any new hobby, the best way to find what works best for you is to try all the options.
How long should I do it?
Typical sessions last about 45 minutes to an hour, with about 30 minutes of actual breathing time followed by a meditation and visualization period. Doing this full session is ideal for getting the full experience and the most benefits.
However, shorter sessions are also very effective and can also be added to your routine. You can find sessions of increasing length starting from just 5-10 minutes in your Coach tab under the Breathwork section!
There are many resources that can teach you more about breathwork. There is no substitute for experiencing it for yourself, but if you want to learn more about it before or after your session here are a few things to explore:
Science of Breathing by Jessica Levine
How one hour of slow breathing changed my life by James Nestor
Breathwork Science website
Oxygen Advantage by Patrick McKeown
The Wim Hof Method by Wim Hof
Breath by James Nestor
The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo
Just Breathe by Dane Brule
Becoming Supernatural by Dr. Joe Dispenza
How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan