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Short description: Term used in alternative medicine for various breathing practices
A breathwork exercise

Breathwork is a term for various breathing practices in which the conscious control of breathing is said to influence a person's mental, emotional, or physical state, with a therapeutic effect.[1]

Background and rationale

Breathwork is the use of breathing techniques in order to achieve altered states of consciousness and to have a variety of effects on physical and mental well-being.[1] Breathwork has been seen as derived from multiple spiritual and pre-scientific traditions from around the world.[1] According to Jack Raso, breathwork is described by proponents as a multiform "healing modality" characterized by stylized breathing. Its purported design is to effect physical, emotional, and spiritual change. Such a process can allegedly "dissolve limiting programs" that are "stored" in the mind and body, and increases one's ability to handle more "energy".[2] Breathwork practitioners believe that an individual's particular pattern of passive breathing can lead to insights about their unconscious mind.[1]


During a breathwork session, individuals will typically lie down and be instructed to breathe using particular methods, depending on the sub-type of breathwork.[3] Most breathwork sessions last around an hour.[3] Alternatively breathwork is advocated to be done by individuals alone, for shorter periods.[4]


A process described as releasing suppressed traumatic childhood memories, especially those related to one's own birth.[5] Orr proposed that correct breathing can cure disease and relieve pain.[6] Orr devised rebirthing therapy in the 1970s after he supposedly re-lived his own birth while in the bath.[5] He claimed that breathing techniques could be used to purge traumatic childhood memories that had been repressed.[5][7] There is no evidence that individuals can remember their births.[8] Memories of one's birth that appear to resurface during a rebirthing-breathwork practice are believed to be the result of false memories.[9] Rebirthing-breathwork is one of the practices critiqued by anti-cult experts Margaret Singer and Janja Lalich in the book Crazy Therapies: What Are They? Do They Work?.[6] Singer and Lalich write that proponents of such "bizarre" practices are proud of their non-scientific approach, and that this finds favor with an irrational clientele.[6] In 2006, a panel that consisted of over one hundred experts participated in a survey of psychological treatments; they considered rebirthing therapy to be discredited.[10]
A practice that claims to improve wellbeing through the use of circular breathing.[11][12]
Holotropic Breathwork
A practice that uses rapid breathing and other elements such as music to put individuals in altered states of consciousness. It was developed by Stanislav Grof as a successor to his LSD-based psychedelic therapy, following the suppression of legal LSD use in the late 1960s.[13] Side effects of the hyperventilation aspect of holotropic breathwork can include cramping in the hands and around the mouth.[1] As the expressed goal of holotropic breathwork is to attain an altered state, it should not be attempted alone.[1] Following a 1993 report commissioned by the Scottish Charities Office, concerns about the risk that the hyperventilation technique could cause seizure or lead to psychosis in vulnerable people caused the Findhorn Foundation to suspend its breathwork programme.[14]
There are many other types of Breathwork which have emerged over the last few decades, including Integrative Breathwork, Transformational Breathwork, Shamanic Breathwork, Conscious Connected Breathing, Radiance Breathwork, Zen Yoga Breathwork.


In addition to a practitioner, breathwork sessions will often have "sitters" present. Sitters are individuals who provide emotional or physical support to those practicing breathwork.[1]

Side effects

Some common side effects include "sleepiness; tingling in the hands, feet, or face; and a sense of altered consciousness that can be distressing to some."[3] Breathwork is generally considered safe if done with a skilled practitioner, but there are contraindications such as cardiovascular disease, glaucoma, high blood pressure, mental illness, severe asthma, or seizure disorders, among others.[1][3]


Limited research data

A 2018 review found that research to date had been limited, and that studies showed "limited evidence of a relationship between physiological parameters and psychological/behavioral outcomes in healthy subjects undergoing slow breathing techniques."[15] A 2023 review said that results showed that breathwork may be effective for improving stress and mental health, but urged caution until more research has been done.[16]

Possible areas of efficacy

Breathwork may be helpful for relaxation and stress in a similar way to meditation.[3][17] Anxiety may be helped by breathwork.[18] Although there are claims that breathwork may provide various health benefits, no other health benefits have been proven.[3]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 "Breathwork as a therapeutic modality: an overview for counselors". Counseling and Values 55 (1): 113. 2010. doi:10.1002/j.2161-007X.2010.tb00025.x. 
  2. Jack Raso M.S., R.D.: Quackwatch March 25, 2007
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Ades TB, ed (2009). "Breathwork". American Cancer Society Complete Guide to Complementary and Alternative Cancer Therapies (2nd ed.). American Cancer Society. pp. 72–74. ISBN 9780944235713. https://archive.org/details/americancancerso0000unse/page/72. 
  4. "Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response". January 26, 2015. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Radford B (2000). "New Age 'Rebirthing' Treatment Kills Girl". Skeptical Inquirer 24 (5): 6. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Carroll, RT (2011). Psychotherapies, New Age. John Wiley & Sons. p. 317. ISBN 978-1-118-04563-3. https://books.google.com/books?id=6FPqDFx40vYC&pg=PA317. 
  7. Turner, S (30 May 1988). "Echoes of the age of Aquarius; Festival of Mind-Body-Spirit". The Times. 
  8. "Can a Person Remember Being Born?" (in en). 2008-05-06. https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/remember-birth.htm. 
  9. Gardner, Martin (May–June 2001). "Primal Scream: A Persistent New Age Therapy". Skeptical Inquirer: pp. 17–19. https://cdn.centerforinquiry.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/29/2001/05/22164829/p17.pdf. 
  10. Norcross, John C.; Koocher, Gerald P.; Garofalo, Ariele (2006). Discredited Psychological Treatments and Tests Delphi Poll. doi:10.1037/t24920-000. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/t24920-000. Retrieved 2021-12-24. 
  11. Crimi, Jon Paul (2023). "What Is Circular Breathing Technique?". https://breathewithjp.com/what-is-breathwork/?utm_source=wiki&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=citation. 
  12. "Breathe Easy Holistic program airs out stress-filled habitat". Denver Post: p. G-01. 7 February 1996. 
  13. Cortright, Brant (1997). Psychotherapy and Spirit: Theory and Practice in Transpersonal Psychotherapy. SUNY Press. p. 100. ISBN 978-0791434666. https://books.google.com/books?id=7XrDvWKyFAUC&q=Stanislav+Grof&pg=PA97. 
  14. Stephen J., Castro (1996). Hypocrisy and dissent within the findhorn foundation : towards a sociology of a New Age community. New Media Books. ISBN 0-9526881-0-7. OCLC 1203447030. http://worldcat.org/oclc/1203447030. 
  15. Zaccaro, Andrea; Piarulli, Andrea; Laurino, Marco; Garbella, Erika; Menicucci, Danilo; Neri, Bruno; Gemignani, Angelo (September 7, 2018). "How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing". Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 12: 353. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00353. PMID 30245619. 
  16. Fincham, Guy William; Strauss, Clara; Montero-Marin, Jesus; Cavanagh, Kate (January 9, 2023). "Effect of breathwork on stress and mental health: A meta-analysis of randomised-controlled trials". Scientific Reports 13 (1): 432. doi:10.1038/s41598-022-27247-y. PMID 36624160. 
  17. Dolan, Eric W. (2023-02-06). "Breathwork shows promise in reducing stress, anxiety and depression, according to a new meta-analysis" (in en-US). https://www.psypost.org/2023/02/breathwork-shows-promise-in-reducing-stress-anxiety-and-depression-according-to-new-meta-analysis-67636. 
  18. Leyro, Teresa M.; Versella, Mark V.; Yang, Min-Jeong; Brinkman, Hannah R.; Hoyt, Danielle L.; Lehrer, Paul (March 1, 2021). "Respiratory therapy for the treatment of anxiety: Meta-analytic review and regression". Clinical Psychology Review 84: 101980. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2021.101980. PMID 33540222. 
  19. "How to take the perfect breath: why learning to breathe properly could change your life" (in en). 2020-08-26. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/aug/26/how-to-take-the-perfect-breath-why-learning-to-breathe-properly-could-change-your-life. 
  20. Hart, William (1987). The art of living : Vipassana meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka (1st ed.). San Francisco: Harper & Row. ISBN 978-1-928706-73-1. OCLC 778448192. https://www.worldcat.org/oclc/778448192.