Is Breathwork Safe? What Happens During a Breathwork Session

The Benefits of Breathwork

Breathwork is an incredibly powerful practice that involves consciously controlling your breath to experience relaxation, release emotional blockages, and enhance overall well-being. Many people have powerful breakthroughs after participating in their very first session.

People around the world have been practicing conscious breathing for thousands of years — a true testament to its safety and effectiveness! — but those new to the practice usually have questions around what to expect during a session, and what potential side effects they may experience. 

Is Breathwork Dangerous?

Take a deep breath, because the answer is no!

Breathwork is safe for most people when practiced correctly and under the guidance of a trained facilitator or coach.

The following disclaimer is taken from our most intense breathwork courses. We personally feel these are the extreme potential outcomes, however we want everyone to be aware of them and if you have any concerns or questions to speak with a health care practitioner or doctor.

In over 5 years of training and facilitating The Elemental Rhythm Experience, we have never seen or heard of anyone getting injured or having a serious contraindication using breathwork.

The literature also strongly supports this.

A report from 2013 documented the results of 11,000 people over 12 years who participated in a certain type of intense breathwork session called holotropic breathwork and experienced no negative effects. In addition to the many benefits that were observed, no adverse reactions were reported. This makes breathwork a low-risk modality.

In fact, there have been NO reported cases in the research or literature of any reported incidents of things like strokes, heart attacks, etc. happening from breathwork.

Advanced Breathwork has the potential to bring about intense feelings. Because of the strong physical and emotional releases that may arise, it’s not recommended for some people. Please talk to your doctor before practicing any type of breathing.

Also it is important to never practice breathwork in water as there is always a chance of lightheadedness or passing out. This can be detrimental to your safety or those around you depending on what you are doing (driving a car, operating machinery, in a pool of water etc.)

So, before starting any practice, it’s important to understand the potential side effects to ensure that you’ll have a safe and positive experience.

Breathwork Side Effects

During a breathwork session, you might experience sensations and side effects that are very normal — and very temporary! — that are all part of the breathwork experience. At first the sensations might feel a little strange, but your breathwork facilitator will guide you through your experiences and help you know when to keep going, and if and when you should stop.

Most facilitators will allow for time at the end of the session to discuss what you felt and experienced to help you process your journey. Journaling or discussing your experiences with your facilitator, fellow participants or a trusted friend can aid in making sense of your session.

Here are some side effects you might experience during breathwork:

Physical Discomfort: Sensations such as tingling or lightheadedness are common. These feelings are usually temporary and subside once the session ends. It’s important to listen to your body and adjust your breathing pattern if you feel uncomfortable.

Tetany: It doesn’t happen to everyone, but it’s important to be aware of this side effect that is caused by rapid, deep breathing. Symptoms of tetany may include muscle cramps or spasms, tingling or numbness in the hands and feet, muscle stiffness, and even muscle twitching. Tetany symptoms can range from mild to more severe depending on the individual. If your tetany becomes very uncomfortable, slow down your breathing or take a break. It can also be helpful to gently stretch and relax the affected muscles.

Hyperventilation: Certain breathwork techniques involve rapid and deep breathing, which can lead to hyperventilation if not done correctly. Hyperventilation can cause dizziness, shortness of breath, and a tingling sensation in the extremities. To avoid this, it’s crucial to follow proper techniques and receive guidance from an experienced breathwork facilitator or coach.

Visualizations or Hallucinations: Breathwork techniques can induce altered states of consciousness, heightened sensory perception and increased sensitivity, which may lead to visualizations or hallucinations. These can range from vivid imagery to more profound hallucinations. By approaching visualizations and hallucinations with curiosity, respect, and by having the proper support of a facilitator, individuals can navigate these experiences safely and potentially gain valuable insights and experience personal growth.

Emotional and Energetic Release: This one is huge! Breathwork can facilitate the release of stored emotions and memories, which may lead to intense emotional experiences. While this emotional release can be therapeutic, it’s important to ensure you are in a safe environment and have support from a trained facilitator who can guide you through any challenging emotions that may arise. People often experience a profound emotional breakthrough after their very first session.

Who Shouldn’t Do Breathwork?

While breathwork is generally safe for most people, there are certain conditions in which caution or avoidance of breathwork is recommended. If you’re worried about starting a breathwork practice, particularly if you have any of the conditions below, consult with your healthcare provider for advice. 

Cardiovascular Conditions: Individuals with certain cardiovascular conditions, such as recent heart surgery, heart disease, high blood pressure, or a history of stroke, should consult with their healthcare provider before engaging in breathwork. Certain breathwork techniques, particularly those involving rapid or forceful breathing, can temporarily increase heart rate and blood pressure.

Respiratory Conditions: People with respiratory conditions such as severe asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or other chronic lung disorders should exercise caution with breathwork. Certain breathing patterns involved in breathwork may put additional strain on the respiratory system.

Pregnancy: Although deep breathing and relaxation techniques can be beneficial during pregnancy, breathwork practices that involve intense breathing or breath retention may not be recommended. It’s advisable to consult with a healthcare provider or seek guidance from a prenatal yoga instructor or specialized breathwork practitioner who can provide suitable modifications and ensure the safety of both the individual and the unborn baby.

Recent Surgeries: Individuals who have recently undergone surgery (especially abdominal or chest surgeries), should avoid breathwork until they have fully healed and received clearance from their doctor. Breathwork practices that involve vigorous or forceful breathing can put stress on surgical incisions or impact the healing process.

Psychological Conditions: Those with certain psychological conditions, such as severe anxiety disorders, panic disorders, or schizophrenia, should approach breathwork with caution. Breathwork can be an intense and potentially emotionally charged practice, and it may not be suitable for everyone. Individuals with psychological conditions should consult with their mental healthcare provider to determine if breathwork is appropriate for them or if modifications are recommended.

It’s important to note that this list is not exhaustive, and individual circumstances may vary. If you have any underlying health conditions, consult with your healthcare professional before trying breathwork.

How to Prepare for a Breathwork Session

While breathwork is a personal practice, we advise that you learn the right breathwork techniques from a facilitator or coach. Once you’ve found a breathwork facilitator to work with (in person or online), here are a few guidelines that can help you prepare:

  • Choose a calm, quiet space where you can focus on your breathwork practice without distractions. Avoid practicing breathwork in extreme temperatures or environments where it may be unsafe.
  • Before starting your breathwork session, take a moment to set an intention for your practice. This can be a specific goal or focus, such as relaxation, emotional release, or self-exploration. Setting an intention can help guide your experience and create a sense of purpose. Your facilitator will prompt you to set an intention as well.
  • If practicing at home, let everyone know that you’ll be engaged in a breathwork session and ask for privacy. Silence your phone to minimize interruptions and dim your lights. If you have an eye mask, use it to help block out light and distractions. Creating a peaceful and uninterrupted space allows you to fully immerse yourself in the practice.
  • Drink water to ensure proper hydration, as breathwork can be an energizing practice. Avoid eating heavy meals right before a session, as this can cause discomfort during the breathing exercises.
  • Dress in loose, comfortable clothing that allows for unrestricted movement and deep breathing.
  • Lie on a comfortable yoga mat and pillow, and have a blanket nearby to help with changes in body temperature.
  • Finally, approach your breathwork session with an open and curious mindset. Let go of any expectations and allow yourself to fully experience whatever arises during the practice. Remember to trust in the process!

Ultimately, the guidance of a qualified breathwork facilitator is essential to ensure a safe and beneficial practice. They can provide appropriate modifications, support, and guidance tailored to your individual needs and circumstances.

Breathwork can be a transformative and healing practice when approached with awareness and caution. By understanding the potential side effects, respecting your body’s limitations, and seeking appropriate guidance, you can create a safe and beneficial breathwork experience, and start your healing journey.

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