How Is SOMA Breath Different To Other Breathwork Modalities? Part 1 Copy

Breathwork Magic?

In 1969, Swami Rama baffled scientists by stopping his heart from pumping blood for 17 seconds. He even managed to raise the temperature of one side of his hand up by 10 degrees, and the other side down by 10 degrees using willpower alone (Luce & Peper, 1971). This proved for the first time, under controlled conditions, that we can consciously influence our autonomic nervous system.

However, while these impressive displays appear to be magic, that should not distract you from what is really possible. What Swami Rama was showing us is that by mastering Yoga and Pranayama, we can actually reclaim control over our physiology and psychology. We can become liberated, and not only live longer more healthy lives in good health, but also create a closer connection to the divine.

Today, Wim Hof AKA “The Ice Man” is well known for doing sports in extreme weather conditions. He has run marathons in temperatures of roughly -20°C in the arctic circle and also in temperatures of up to 40°C in the Namib Desert. Once, he stayed submerged in ice for almost 2 hours, and his core body temperature stayed the same. He has been quoted as saying that he controls his body temperature, hormone regulation, and nervous systems with his breath and his mind alone. And, he has proven skeptics wrong by successfully training other people to be able to do the same.

How is SOMA breath different to other breathwork modalities?

A lot of people ask the difference between SOMA Breath and other breathwork techniques. Let’s answer that by briefly discussing three popular breathwork modalities, followed by Pranayama, and then finally we will discuss how exactly SOMA Breath fits into the equation.

Holotropic Breathwork

This popular breathwork practice was founded by Dr Stanislav Grof and his wife in the 1970s. Dr Grof is a psychotherapist and the inventor of transpersonal therapy. He was one of the first people to use LSD as a psychotherapeutic tool. Holotropic breathwork is an “experiential method of self-exploration and psychotherapy” (Grof & Grof, 2010, p. 1).

How Does Holotropic Breathwork Work?

Holotropic breathwork is usually done in groups, using pair work where each person takes turns being the breather or the sitter. The process is guided by trained supervisors.

You breathe in with a powerful inhale through your nose, and then totally relax to release your exhale from your mouth without any force at all. There are no pauses or stops in the breathing – it’s a continuous cycle.

Holotropic breathwork incorporates a very dramatic music soundtrack that changes in mood quite frequently. This results in a very cathartic and sometimes psychedelic process where the participant may have dream-like visions, cry or laugh hysterically, experience tetany (severe muscle cramps), and have huge emotional release. There is also an element of bodywork involved, which Grof incorporates to help people release trapped energy and emotions in the body.

At the end of the session, participants are asked to draw or paint a mandala to visually represent any thoughts or ideas that came out of the experience.

Explanation Of Holotropic Breathwork

A possible explanation for the experiences participants report in holotropic breathwork is that it simulates a type of near-death experience, or out of body experience. This acts as a powerful trauma release. However some participants may leave the experience feeling more traumatised than before they did it. In various reports from Dr Grof’s own sessions, participants report sights of a white light at the end of the tunnel, or even communication with dead relatives. Grof reassures us that these experiences are harmless in the long term (Grof, 2015).

These effects may be down to a condition called respiratory alkalosis, which occurs due to hyper-oxygenation of the bloodstream as a result of exhaling too much carbon dioxide. Respiratory alkalosis is covered in detail later on.

It may also be that holotropic breathwork produces a stress response in the body which stimulates the reptilian and limbic parts of the brain. These areas deal with survival instincts and emotions.

If this part of the brain believes you are dying, it may reprogram the deeply hardwired instincts and imprints based around fear and survival, making you braver and more resilient. A similar “re-imprinting” effect is gained when you do something totally shocking and over-stimulating to the brain, such as jumping out of a plane at 30,000ft.

There has been plenty of research on the effects of holotropic breathwork over the years. Including using holotropic breathwork as an addition to psychotherapy (Rhinewine & Williams, 2007), effectiveness in helping recovery from addiction (Metcalf, 1995), and as a tool for personal and spiritual development (Cervelli, 2009).