We’ve been breathing since the day we were born. Why the heck would we need more practice at it? But the ancient technique of breathwork is having a moment—celebs like Gisele Bündchen and Christy Turlington swear by it, and it has some serious mood-enhancing and body-boosting benefits. Here’s what you need to know before you try it.
Wait, what exactly is breathwork? Practitioner Debbie Attias from New York's Maha Rose Center for Healing is breaking it down for us. She describes it as “an active meditation where we alter the breath to reach deeper states of consciousness and awareness.” Ooh, so New Agey. Breathwork can take many forms, but the basic principle is to use breath awareness and exercises to boost your physical, mental and spiritual health.
Why the sudden interest? The celebrity attention (hey Gisele) definitely doesn’t hurt. But our hunch is it’s because we’re all super stressed right now. New York City breathwork teacher Erin Telford agrees. “People are seeking inner peace,” she says. “And breathwork is one way to do that that's efficient and effective.”
So how do you do it? You can practice breathwork in a group, one-on-one with a practitioner or at home by yourself. Sessions often last for hours and usually involve lying down on a yoga mat and breathing in a highly controlled (and not always comfortable) fashion. Experiences vary, but many people say it can get pretty intense—think visions, life-changing revelations and outpourings of emotion. Telford was working as an acupuncturist and Reiki master for years before she tried it and says that it was one of the most powerful healing experiences of her life. “It gave me an outlet for all of the repressed anger, resentment, grief and sadness that was in my body.”
Whoa, sounds cathartic. Any other health benefits? One group of Danish researchers found that breathwork noticeably improved the mood of participants, while a study published in the Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy suggested that it might be helpful in treating anxiety and depression. And according to expert Dan Brulé (who counts Navy SEALS, Olympians and Tony Robbins as clients), mastering your breath might give you a leg-up in your career. “Sometimes all it takes is a slight tweak of the breath to open up all kinds of new levels of abilities, skills and possibilities,” he says.
Sign me up. Where can I try it? Check with your local meditation or yoga center for group sessions, or do an online search to find a private practitioner. Looking for a quick fix? Get a taste for breathwork with this simple three-minute anti-stress exercise. Aaaand breathe.