A Beginner’s Guide to Breath Work
5 min read
by Iona Holloway | August 26, 2021
You only have to scroll for a second on social media to find a good-looking human in a matching athleisure set sitting on a cushion, sometimes in a forest, purring about the virtues of meditation.
Close your eyes (but not your third one!) Connect with your highest self! Feel the pulse of the universe within you!
But when you’re getting pinged with 37 Slack notifications for a project you’re not even on, your mind is running on energy that doesn’t feel like your own, you just realised you forgot a poop bag and your dog is giving you the eye, and you’re pretty sure you just started your period while wearing your favourite underwear — well-intended peace offerings delivered from a world disconnected from your reality can feel a little tone deaf.
If you’ve found yourself hitting a brick wall with meditation, feel gaslighted by the popular-but-impossible 2-hour morning ritual trend but really do want to connect with yourself, breath work might be the tool you’re looking for!
what is breath work?
Contrary to popular belief, breath work is not the same as meditation. Breath work is an active and powerful practice where you intentionally use a variety of different breathing patterns, holds, and durations to quiet the mind and drop into your body.
what are the benefits of breath work?
So many! When my clients are stuck in thought, seem jumpy or numbed out, or are ready to go dig for gold in their subconscious, breath work is always the tool I’m reaching for.
Breath work can recalibrate your nervous system, spark creativity, give you access to memories, offer visions and deep insights, heal trauma, clear anxious, sad, or sticky energy, and even take you on a psychedelic ride.
In short, breath work is a state-changer; it can leave you feeling different in 5 minutes flat.
you’re kidding, right?
Actually, no! Conscious breathing sounds simple, but don’t get it twisted thinking simple isn’t powerful. In a culture set to the rhythm of urgency, the vast majority of folks are walking around like a head on a stick, taking very fast and shallow chest breaths. We’ve never needed to breathe deeply, and with intention, more.
Also, your body holds the energy of memories: both recent and ancient. It is a scrapbook of moments: mundane, beautiful, and difficult ones. Breath work is a tool you can use to climb into the body to start grounding, shifting, clearing, and healing from the inside out.
Many of my clients have started sleeping better, felt more lucid, light, loveable, and connected with their world, and generally more “here” since they made breath work part of their daily lives.
Ready to give it a try?
never really present? try the Resonance pattern.
Slow breathing is healthy breathing; it’s also prayer-like. Research done on ancient religious texts and meditative chants from African, Hawaiian, Native American, Buddhist, Taoist, and Christian traditions share a fascinating similarity — they all lead the person doing the chanting/praying/reading to settle into an almost identical rhythm of breathing: 6 rounds of breath per minute.
Breathing this slowly increases blood flow to the brain, and systems within the body (heart, nervous system, and circulation) sync into coordination, increasing the openness of the body and mind. Resonance breath work can also send you back to sleep if you wake up during the night.
Trust me, you don’t need to be religious to benefit from Resonance breathing.
Inhale for 5 seconds, then exhale for 5 seconds. This rhythm will slow you breathing down to 6 rounds of breath per minute.
Repeat for 5-10 minutes.
want to slow the world down a little? try the Grounded pattern.
This is my all-time favorite pattern for creating a protective bubble around the body.
Inhale and exhale through the nose 5 times (breathe into the belly as deeply as possible).
One top hold (inhale and hold your breath for as long as possible).
Repeat for 5-20 minutes.
With the right music, this practice can be a tear-jerker!
A quick note
The best thing about the Resonance and Grounded patterns? They’re invisible. Frustrated in the car? Partner or friend being weird? On a dreadful work call? Pick your tool!
No one will notice you’re doing breath work, so there’s no need to feel self-conscious. That’s what I call healing in the moment!
need a system reset? try the Energy pattern.
If you're feeling heavy, stuck, or slow, the Energy pattern can offer a quick state change. Don’t be surprised if you encounter some resistance when you start this pattern. The mind is trying to keep you safe. Resistance will pass as your body settles into rhythm. You can always slow down if needed.
30 forced exhales through the mouth (Don’t worry about the inhale. Think blowing out candles.)
One bottom hold — on the 30th repetition, exhale and hold your breath for as long as possible. Ride the chaos as long as you can.
One top hold (inhale and hold your breath for 15 seconds).
Repeat for 3-5 rounds.
By the third or fourth round you may notice your ability to hold your breath has increased dramatically. Can you get a minute? Maybe 2!?
ready to go deep?
If you're looking to dive into the depths of your subconsciousness or do some deep inner healing, I recommend attending a breath work class or booking a one-on-one session with a breath work teacher (like me!). You'll be guided through an extended period of deep and intentional breathing with music to help support your journey. Breath work sounds simple, and it is. I’ll tell you a secret: the best tools are. Whether you're looking for transformation or you just want to feel a little more human, breath work is for you.
If you are a little skeptical of anything ~woo~, come from an athletic background, are very logical, or self-identify as a strong-but-struggling person, breath work is a really good bridge into inner work.
And if you’ve had some luck with meditation but want to go deeper, try any of the patterns for 5 minutes to prime yourself.
Remember, no time spent in the body is ever wasted. Breathe deep. You deserve to feel good.
Can you choose two songs and give yourself the next 7 minutes to practice Resonance breathing?
Iona is a coach, speaker, and the #1 Best-selling author of Ghost - Why Perfect Women Shrink. Iona helps strong women find their blindspots so they can burn brighter and braver in their life, work, and relationships. You can get a free week of coaching and Find Your Future Self or read the first chapter of Ghost free on Iona’s website. You can also follow Iona on Instagram for her blunt, kind, and often lighthearted take on doing “the work.”
by Iona Holloway