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 important changes to the rest of our body. These changes could include adjusting our blood chemistry, heart rate, stress levels, heating, HRV, thoughts, and even the entire autonomic nervous system response. It is one of the only tools we have to adjust these typically automatic processes.
The most common misconception about breathwork is that it is simply very relaxed breathing. Many people may think it is too simple for them. People may picture it as just a few deep breaths and relaxing, like at the beginning of yoga or a meditation.
While some types of breathwork can be relaxing or slow, often people may find a full session to be too intense, or at least much more powerful than they were expecting. It can be quite physically and mentally demanding, more like a marathon than a brief stroll. Like a marathon, significant mental and physical preparation may be required to successfully do a full breathwork session.
Using breathwork to control 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.
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. Some people who find it hard to concentrate in meditation or are easily distracted may enjoy breathwork a lot more. Opposite to most meditations, breathwork does not require you to be very still or even quiet. It also gives you something very clear to do and focus on.
Breathwork can allow you to release emotions, thoughts, stress, etc. through breath, sound, and moving the body. If 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.
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 or any activities, 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 for being ready for breathwork 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.
The Academy breaks down the journey into simpler steps — we suggest starting with setting your goals, fixing sleep and basic metabolic function, starting physical activity and meditation before continuing onwards to breathwork.
Setting an intention
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 entire process, before and after. Practicing breathwork in water is not recommended, due to the risk of drowning if you fall asleep. Doing it while driving a vehicle or any situation where it would be hazardous to fall asleep should be avoided.
The ideal setting is being relaxed and sitting or lying down somewhere comfortable. This could be a couch, yoga mat or even in your bed, where you can easily sleep afterwards or meditate without worrying about you body.
How to try it for yourself
The best way to know is to experience it for yourself. You can start with some of the shorter introductory sessions in the app, working your way up to longer ones. Eventually once you are feeling confident and want to practice more, you can even join the calendar for a guided group session with the community.
Open up the Gyroscope app and navigate to the Score tab. From there, you’ll see the meditation coach with a menu of guided meditations and breathwork.
What is a breathwork session like?
During breathwork, you will listen to the audio instructions and use that to breathe in and out. In the longer sessions, you may also hold your breath after a while to reset. Breathwork can range from a few breaths for a few minutes, to a full 40 minute session with breathing followed by meditation.
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 popular 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?
Full 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 Score tab under the Breathwork.
On YouTube and other platforms, you can also find simple guided breathwork in different styles. Wim Hof has a few popular ones, that combine breathing with cold showers.
There are many resources that can teach you more about breathwork. There is no substitute for experiencing it for yourself — you can get started from the Score tab in the app — but if you want to learn more about it before or after your session here are a few more resources to explore the science and read about other people’s journeys.
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