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How Is SOMA Breath Different To Other Breathwork Modalities? Part 2 Copy

Closely following holotropic breathwork, comes Rebirthing.

Rebirthing Breathwork

Rebirthing breathwork was created by Leonard Orr, also in the 1970s and it is remarkably similar to holotropic breathwork in it’s effects, methods, and results.

Orr believes that through this breathing technique you simulate the feeling of being born from the womb and taking your first breath. This is supposed to help you overcome the most traumatic experience of your life – birth itself (“Discovery of Rebirthing Breathwork”, n. d.).

Orr was a student of Haidakhan Babaji, a satguru (supreme teacher) described in the book “Autobiography of a Yogi” as immortable and able to give gifts to anyone who can call his name sincerely (Yogananda, 2006). Orr considered himself one of those people, and believed he was given the gift of Rebirthing Breathwork. He believed it would be possible to become immortal in our physical bodies by using rebirthing breathwork. When his teacher Babaji died in the 1980s, immortality came under question.

How Does Rebirthing Breathwork Work?

Rebirthing breathwork is practically the same process to holotropic breathwork without the dramatic music. The emphasis is on the relaxed exhale. As humans we tend to force the exhale or breathe out with tension, but rebirthing tells us that the exhale should be as relaxed as possible to help release stress and tension from the body.

Explanation Of Rebirthing Breathwork

Leonard Orr has not spoken much about how his techniques work, or whether any health or psychological issues can be caused by frequently repeating the process in the long-term.

Equally, there is very little scientific research available on rebirthing breathwork. There is some research to suggest the activation of the autonomic nervous system during rebirthing breathwork (de-Wita et al., 2018). There is also research based on personal accounts of participants’ experiences (Carr, 2014).

As the techniques are so similar to those of holotropic breathwork, most of the same science could theoretically be applied to rebirthing.

Rebirthing breathwork has had negative media coverage after the death of a young girl. The unfortunate death was not a result of rebirthing breathwork, but of corrupt practice and abuse (Josefson, 2001).

The Wim Hof Method

The Wim Hof Method has become incredibly popular in recent years. Wim Hof, AKA The Ice Man, created his breathwork methods after mastering Yoga and martial arts from a young age. His method was refined further as he cultivated his relationship with extremely cold conditions. Hof wanted to be able to stay longer in the freezing cold water as it had such a therapeutic effect on relieving his symptoms of depression.

The Wim Hof Method generates heat in the body and brings the mind to a place of stillness so that participants are able to control feelings of fear and stress that arise from being in such cold.

Hof has broken more than 20 World Records: several of them involving his ability to handle extreme weather conditions, proving scientifically that you can control your autonomic nervous system, by harnessing the power of breathwork and meditation (Kox et al., 2012).

What sets this method apart from Rebirthing and Holotropic Breathwork is that the Wim Hof Method is a daily practice, which takes 5-10 minutes to do.

How Does Wim Hof Method Breathwork Work?

The Wim Hof Method consists of 20-30 cycles of continuous connected breathing with no pauses between each inhale and exhale. Similarly to Holotropic and Rebirthing, the exhale should be very relaxed and participants should not exhale fully, but still leave some air in the lungs to breathe in more oxygen than you breathe out. Then, on the final exhale, participants empty their lungs completely and hold their breath for as long as possible.

Participants naturally feel an urge to breathe and when the breath can be held no longer, participants inhale fully and hold their breath again for up to 30 seconds, squeezing the forehead muscles. The entire process is repeated for 2-3 rounds.

An important thing that differentiates the Wim Hof Method breathwork from Rebirthing and Holotropic breathwork is the breath retention phase where you hold your breath out for as long as possible, then hold it in for up to 30 seconds.

Explanation Of The Wim Hof Method

What sets Wim Hof apart from both Leonard Orr and Dr Stan Grof is his enthusiasm for trying to scientifically show exactly what is happening to the mind and body during the breathwork, as well as to explain why people get the health benefits they receive from daily practice.

Hof and his team are transparent in their research, and a lot of it is freely available on The Wim Hof Method website (“The Science Behind The Wim Hof Method”, n. d.).

Wim Hof has been criticised for over-stating the benefits of his breathwork methods and exaggerating the effects. Furthermore, critics who have tried to disprove his method have actually ended up becoming advocates of his breathwork techniques (“Testing The Ice Man”, n. d.).

His method has come under fire following the deaths of two people who practised the method and then submerged themselves in water (Caiola, 2017). It is strongly advised by the Wim Hof Method to never practise in water, nor to practice extreme methods without correct supervision.

Pranayama

Breathwork is different from Pranayama.

No one really knows the true origins of Pranayama but it is at least 5,000 years old – perhaps even more than 10,000 years old depending on which historian you choose to listen to! However, the Yoga Sutras, from which Pranayama is based today, was first systemised and recorded by Patanjali around 200-300 BC.

In Sanskrit, Prana means energy and Yama means control, or restraint. Pranayama is a series of breathwork techniques, each with a different therapeutic purpose that is said to work through the control of energy in the body. Through Pranayama we learn how to become aware of this pranic energy and how to manipulate it in a way that is beneficial for cleansing and balancing the mind, body, and spirit.

There are many different types of Pranayama exercises, but the SOMA Therapeutic Breath techniques focus on 7 Pranayama exercises that have the most practical benefits for everyday life as well as evidence-based research to support them.

  1. OMKAR
    Chanting and extending the exhale with AUM mantra. For relaxation and cooling the body, preparing for Yoga asanas, and a useful exercise to help you get into flow state.
  2. ANULOM VILOM/NADI SHODHANA
    Alternate nostril breathing. To activate the whole brain, for relaxation, and preparing for Yoga asanas.
  3. BHASTRIKA
    Bellow breathing. For energising the body and mind, cleansing the body, oxygenating the brain, and balancing the Ayurvedic Doshas (particularly Kapha).
  4. KAPALBHATI
    Rapid forced exhales while pulling in the abdomen. For getting rid of stale stomach gases, clearing the sinuses, increasing energy levels.
  5. KUMBHAKA
    Breath retention either on inhale (puraka/antar) or on exhale (rechaka/bahir). Promotes healing, deep meditation, builds CO₂ tolerance (when held on exhale).
  6. UJJAYI
    Constricting the throat to slow down and control airflow in and out of the lungs. For relaxing, relieving headaches, clearing sinuses, and cleansing the body of built up toxins.
  7. KAKI MUDRA
    Drinking air. For cleansing the bowels and promoting the growth of good bacteria, also reduces hunger pangs during a fast.

Nisshesha Rechaka Kumbhaka (nish-esh-ah – resh-ah-ka – kom-bah-kah) is an ancient Pranayamic technique. In Sanskrit, Kumbhaka means breath retention. Nisshesha Rechaka Kumbhaka means holding your breath (on the exhale) beyond the comfort zone. This is like the technique employed in the Wim Hof method, and it features in SOMA Breath techniques as well.

Explanation Of Pranayama

Pranayama techniques control air flow in and out of the body. Omkar, Anulom Vilom/Nadi Shodhana, Ujjayi, and Kumbhaka all create a slower rate of air flow, meaning CO₂ levels rise and O₂ levels drop. In the case of Kumbhaka, there is no air flow at all, resulting in a dramatic increase in CO₂ and decrease in O₂. Bhastrika and Kapalbhati are more energising, and create the opposite effects with a major increase in O₂ and decrease in CO₂.

The Pranayama techniques with the most significant health benefits and proven scientific research to back them up are Omkar, Anulom Vilom/Nadi Shodhana, and Kumbhaka. For example, there is research on the effects of Omkar on psychological, cardiovascular health, and also melatonin production (Harinath et al., 2004). Nadi Shodhana has been linked to pulmonary and cardiovascular health and to higher brain functions (Kinabalu, 2005) and shows positive results after 6 weeks of practice (Singh et al., 2011). Kumbhaka has a wealth of research behind it, including the effects of Kumbhaka on bronchial asthma (Murthy et al., 1984), improving sport performance (Hakked et al., 2017), sleep apnea (Chandra & Sharma, 2017), and more.

Bhastrika and Kumbhaka are used in the Wim Hof Method, which has a lot of research to evidence the health claims and benefits, as mentioned earlier.

Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide

The very fact they are focused on lowering O₂ levels and rising CO₂ levels contradicts most of our modern ideas about the role and importance of oxygen to our health and wellbeing. This component of breathing and breathwork can come as a surprise to us. Our modern “common sense” understanding is that oxygen is good and CO₂ is bad. Ancient knowledge tells is that isn’t the case… at all. CO₂ seems to be central in unlocking our human potential.

How did we come to believe the opposite? Well, when we’re feeling stressed it feels good to sigh, doesn’t it? A deep breath helps us to relax. We also know that oxygen is essential to human life (so is CO₂, by the way). And let’s face it, holding your breath is not a comfortable experience. It sends your survival mechanisms into overdrive after just a few seconds.

If carbon dioxide is so good for us, then we should increase the CO₂ level in our bodies right now. Sounds simple enough, right? But it’s not that easy. 

Why do we struggle to get our CO₂ levels high enough to experience all of these benefits? Have we devolved somehow? Are we less resilient than our ancient ancestors?