Risks and Rewards of Breathwork

As a well seasoned meditation and breathwork facilitator with a background in neuroscience, I’ve encountered my fair share of sceptics. And you know what? I get it. The world of wellness can sometimes feel like a mystical realm filled with chanting, incense, and promises of enlightenment.

But as someone who has approached these practices with a healthy dose of scepticism myself, I’m here to shed some light on the potential pitfalls of one particular technique: breathwork.

Before we dive in, let me clarify something. I’m not here to bash breathwork or invalidate its benefits. In fact, when done properly and under the guidance of a trained instructor, breathwork can be a powerful tool for managing stress, improving mental clarity, and enhancing overall well-being. However, like any practice, it’s not without its risks and limitations. So, without further ado, here are my top five reasons why you might want to think twice before jumping on the breathwork bandwagon:

  1. Hype Over Substance: In today’s wellness culture, it’s easy to get swept up in the latest trends and fads. Breathwork has been touted as a panacea for everything from anxiety to insomnia to low energy levels. While there is some truth to these claims, the reality is that breathwork is not a one-size-fits-all solution. What works wonders for one person may do nothing for another, and there’s a lot of contraindications and variability in how individuals respond to different breathing techniques. So, before you commit to a breathwork practice, it’s important to manage your expectations and recognize that it might not be the magical cure-all you’ve been led to believe.
  2. Potential for Hyperventilation: One of the primary goals of breathwork is to manipulate the breath in order to induce a state of relaxation or heightened awareness. However, if done improperly, certain breathing techniques can actually lead to hyperventilation, a condition characterised by rapid breathing that disrupts the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body. This can result in symptoms such as dizziness, light-headedness, tingling sensations, and even fainting. While hyperventilation is usually temporary and harmless, it can be alarming for those who experience it, and in rare cases, it can lead to more serious complications. That’s why it’s crucial to practice breathwork under the guidance of a qualified instructor who can provide proper instruction, support, and after care if needed.
  3. Emotional Intensity: Breathwork has the potential to unearth deep-seated emotions and memories that may have been buried beneath the surface. This can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, confronting and processing these emotions can be incredibly healing and transformative. On the other hand, it can also be overwhelming and destabilizing, especially for those who are unprepared, unaware, or lacking in proper support. I’ve seen firsthand how breathwork can open the floodgates of emotion, leaving participants feeling raw and vulnerable. That’s why it’s important to approach breathwork with caution, especially if you have a history of trauma or mental health issues. It’s not a substitute for therapy, and it’s important to have a support system in place to help you navigate any intense emotions that may arise.
  4. Physical Discomfort: Some breathwork techniques involve prolonged periods of deep breathing or breath retention, which can be physically demanding and uncomfortable for some individuals. For example, holding the breath for extended periods of time can lead to feelings of suffocation or panic, especially for those with respiratory issues or anxiety disorders. Similarly, rapid breathing techniques can cause tension in the muscles of the chest and abdomen, leading to soreness or discomfort. While these sensations are usually temporary and harmless, they can detract from the overall experience of breathwork and may deter some people from continuing with the practice.
  5. Misuse of Power: Finally, it’s important to acknowledge that not all breathwork instructors are created equal. Unfortunately, the wellness industry is not immune to opportunists who may exploit their position of authority for personal gain. This could involve anything from making unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of breathwork to pressuring participants into costly workshops or retreats. As with any wellness practice, it’s important to do your due diligence and research the credentials and reputation of any instructor before committing to their program. Look for someone who is transparent, ethical, and genuinely committed to your well-being.

      Now, before you swear off breathwork altogether, let me be clear: I’m not saying that it’s inherently bad or dangerous. In fact, when approached with caution and practiced mindfully, breathwork can be a valuable tool for self-discovery and personal growth. However, like any tool, it’s important to use it responsibly and with awareness of its limitations.

      So, if you’re considering incorporating breathwork into your wellness routine, I encourage you to do so with an open mind and a healthy dose of realism. And if you’re still unsure, feel free to reach out to a qualified instructor who can provide guidance and support along the way.

      In conclusion, breathwork is not a magic potion, and it’s certainly not for everyone. But for those who are willing to approach it with curiosity and discernment, it has the potential to unlock profound insights and facilitate deep healing. Just remember to listen to your body, trust your instincts, and above all, breathe easy.

      Love Laura x