Daily hectic routines and ever-increasing responsibilities can make us lose touch with ourselves. With constant stress, we sometimes encounter many situations that make us anxious. And in that moment, we are often told to pause, slow down, and take a deep breath. After a few breaths, we are good to go. That’s the magic of breathing.
While it is often overlooked, breathing, especially somatic breathwork, can work wonders for us. You may be thinking, what is the difference between breathing and somatic breathing? Hold on, don’t jump to conclusions just yet.
Take a deep breath and hang on as we explain all about somatic breathwork below:
What is Somatic Breathwork?
Somatic breathwork is a holistic practice of using breath to connect body and mind. It is when we feel our breath entering and leaving our body. Somatic breathwork involves inhaling more oxygen and eliminating toxins via exhalation (15). It is about establishing a mind-body connection and feeling the breath’s impact on our overall mental and physical well-being.
Newborns tend to breathe fully inside out, but this habit changes over time. We don’t live the way we used to in the initial days of our lives. Somatic breathwork takes us back to our natural breathing pattern by raising awareness by consciously controlling our breath (11).
Even though we don’t pay much attention to breathing, it is directly related to our emotions. When we are stressed or anxious, our breath can become erratic, and when we are relaxed, it becomes calm. Also, when feeling nauseous, we are often told to take a few deep breaths to calm ourselves. This small act reveals the profound impact of breathing on our well-being.
The concept of conscious breathing is not new. It has been around for ages. The Chinese Tao holds significant importance towards breathing as it is believed your breath could kill or heal you. Similarly, the Hindus have considered it and spirit as one, and the Buddhists maintain that deep breathing can lead to longevity (6).
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How Do You Do Somatic Breathing?
Somatic breathing can calm us and establish a meaningful mind-body connection. The following are some of the somatic-based breathwork techniques:
The first somatic breathwork technique is to be aware and feel calm. You can perform this while sitting or lying in a quiet and comfortable place. Like meditation, you must breathe deeply and exhale as you feel the breath inside and leave your body.
Don’t force your breath. Just let it flow without disruptions or judgments.
To perform this exercise:
- Sit in a quiet corner and close your eyes. Breathe deeply and feel how your body moves with each breath.
- Observe how breath feels in your nose, chest, and lungs. Also, notice how it feels in your abdomen, hips, chest, and back. Pay full attention to the sensation of your breath.
- Notice how it feels in your body. You may notice that your mind begins to wander. When this happens, gently bring your attention back to your breath without judgment.
- Practice this for about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how comfortable it is for you.
- When you are ready to finish your practice, take a few deep breaths and slowly open your eyes. Observe how you feel without any judgment.
The Humming Breath is a method that uses both breath and vibration to relieve tension in the body and mind. Here’s how you can do it (1):
- Sit or stand comfortably with a straight spine.
- Inhale through your nose for at least five seconds.
- Close your mouth and hum as if saying “hmmm” until you run out of breath.
- Repeat this process five to seven times.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Technique
Diaphragmatic breathing is about breathing deeply and feeling your diaphragm move with your breath. To perform this technique:
- Find a comfortable and quiet corner to sit or lie down.
- Place one hand on your lower belly and one on your chest.
- As you breathe in through your nose, allow your belly to rise as you fill your lungs with air. The hand on your belly must rise, whereas the hand on your chest should remain still.
- Feel how your lower ribs contract and expand with your breath.
- Exhale slowly through the mouth or nose, allowing your belly to fall.
- Ideally, you should practice lengthened exhalation to feel your diaphragm moving.
Sound stimulation is about using your voice to alter your breath and make it somatic. While doing this exercise, you will feel your muscles engaging in your abdomen. This is due to your transverse abdominal muscle activating, which works actively during breathing. To perform this technique:
- Find a comfortable corner where you are alone.
- Sit or lie down. Make a SHH sound as if you are trying to quiet someone.
- As you make this sound, place your hands on different body parts, such as the chest and abdomen, and observe where you feel breath movement.
- Rest and notice if you feel a change in your breathing.
- Make a fast PSST sound while feeling your hands on different body areas, and notice what you think.
- Rest and notice if you feel a change in your breathing.
- Now, try growling while keeping it deep and low. Feel your hands on different body areas and notice what you feel.
This exercise can allow your brain to absorb new information. Over time, this can help to create supportive habits and improve your breathing.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
We breathe through our nostrils, but sometimes, we cannot breathe properly. This issue can be rectified through the nostril opening technique. Also, when we are stressed, we tend to hold our breath. Performing a nostril opening technique can help in such scenarios. To perform this technique:
- Sit or lie down in a quiet corner. Breathe and exhale fully. Hold your nose and start drawing circles with your nose so your head gently moves following your nose.
- After a while, exhale and breathe normally. Do you feel it is easier to breathe through your nose or not?
The 4-7-8 Breath Technique
Lastly, the 4-7-8 breath technique can also calm the body and help you to fall asleep fast (10). Here is how you can perform this technique:
- Find a quiet corner and sit down or lie down.
- Place one hand on the stomach and the other on the chest, feeling how your body moves as you inhale and exhale.
- Take a few breaths in and out till you find yourself breathing in rhythm. On the exhale, completely breathe through the mouth, making a “whoosh” sound.
- Then, take a deep inhale through your nose with your mouth closed till the count of four, feeling your stomach rise as you breathe in, and hold your breath for the count of seven. Then, exhale for a count of eight, allowing your stomach to drop. Repeat this a few times until you feel a wave of relaxation.
- Try doing this before bed for a peaceful sleep.
Regular practice of these somatic breathing exercises can improve our breathing and make us feel connected with ourselves. The best part about somatic breathwork techniques is that less is more. These involve less effort and less strain around your breathing. The outcomes could be remarkable when practiced consistently and properly.
Is Breathwork Somatic Healing?
Somatic breathwork is immensely healing. In some cases, childhood traumas and emotional scars can leave a strong impact on our bodies. This may affect a person’s mental and physical well-being. Relieving these emotional scars can eventually lead you to a happier life, free of all those things that keep you anxious.
Also, feelings like grief and sorrow can emotionally drain us and affect our mental and physical health. They may lead to serious health risks if we don’t treat them. Somatic breathing exercises can be considered a tool to manage these overwhelming feelings (8).
Somatic breathwork brings awareness to areas where emotional, unprocessed pain is stored. When we perform somatic breathing, our fight-or-flight response shuts down, and signals are sent to the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body down (9). This makes us feel relaxed, ultimately relieving anxiety. As a result, all our tensions and stress melt away.
What to Expect After Somatic Breathwork?
Knowing what happens after the session is important once you have learned about guided somatic breathwork techniques. You may experience tiredness, depending on the intensity of the session. This is normal, as humans experience fatigue after a normal detox session.
On the contrary, you may feel calm with your bad energy leaving the body. As your tensions leave your body, you will likely feel light and like a huge burden has been lifted off your chest (14).
It would be best to remember that you may feel sensitive or emotional after the session, as it may have released unresolved emotions. It is best to speak with a trained professional if these feelings persist. . You must care for yourself and look after your needs during this time. A little kindness to yourself is pivotal in healing your body and soul.
You may also feel new emotions and experiences you’ve never had, making the space for more unique experiences and energies. Embrace them and relish in the clarity they bring. Here are a few additional pointers to remember:
- Drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
- Be gentle with yourself. Practice self-love.
- Journal your thoughts and document your journey.
- Reach out to your immediate friends and family. Gain their support.
- Sleep adequately and take lots of rest.
- Eat wholesome food and avoid alcohol.
- Go for a walk, jog, run, or swim. Work out and feel connected with your body.
- Take a warm bath and relax.
- Watch a comedy or humorous show to feel light.
- Reach out to a trained mental health professional for support if you ever feel overwhelmed by these feelings.
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Can You Do Somatic Breathwork by Yourself?
A positive aspect of somatic breathwork is that you can do it anytime, anywhere, whenever you feel like it. It doesn’t require visiting clinics; you can do it at home. All you need is some practice, and you are all set. Look up somatic breathwork for beginners if you are new to this practice.
During these exercises, try to observe any thoughts that arise in your mind without any judgment. Explore different breathing patterns to figure out what works in your favor. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to somatic breathwork.
The initial days of somatic breathwork may be challenging, but don’t give up too easily. Instead, look for a certified trainer or professional help online. You can learn the techniques and practice them on your own later.
What are the Benefits of Somatic Breathwork?
Somatic breathwork can be your savior when dealing with chronic stress. Here are a few somatic breathwork benefits:
Improves attention and cognitive function
Many research studies in health psychology and medical treatment have shown that breathing deeply using your diaphragm can be a helpful way to relax. This technique is commonly used in complementary and alternative medicine and positively affects your physical and mental well-being (12).
Can Help Relieve Stress and Anxiety
When you are anxious, your fight or flight response kicks in and makes your breathing erratic (5). Deep breathing toggles it off and brings a wave of relaxation.
Makes You Aware of Your Body
It raises awareness of breath and supports resetting our nervous system, thereby improving the connection between body and mind (7).
Is Somatic Breathwork Dangerous?
Somatic breathwork doesn’t pose any danger when practiced under the guidance of a trained practitioner. They can provide instructions and help ensure the techniques are performed safely.
When doing somatic breathwork, it’s important to pay attention to how your body feels, not go too far, and not force yourself too much. After a session, you might feel different emotionally or mentally.
Talking to a therapist or counselor about what you’ve learned during the session is a good idea to ensure these changes are helpful and long-lasting.
Which Health Issues Does Somatic Breathwork Work Best for?
Somatic breathwork can benefit in multiple ways. It can help you to overcome health issues such as (3):
- Digestive problems
- Chronic Fatigue
- Panic attacks
How do you release trauma with breathwork?
Somatic breathwork can help to release stored unresolved emotions linked to experiencing a traumatic event. Holotropic breathwork, therapeutic breathwork, is known to reduce symptoms in victims of trauma (16).
How do you feel after somatic breathing exercise?
You feel utterly relaxed and calm after somatic breathwork as all your emotions of anger, grief, loss, and sadness melt away. Somatic breathwork can be quite cathartic.
What breathwork calms the nervous system?
Somatic breathwork can calm the parasympathetic nervous system or the body’s fight or flight response by bringing a sense of calm. As the reaction toggles off, you may feel peace, and your body lets go of the tightness and frustration.
Is breathwork just hyperventilation?
Somatic breathwork is not similar to hyperventilation, although they both involve the respiratory system. In Somatic breathwork, controlled and mindful breathing promotes relaxation, self-awareness, and overall well-being, and you feel a sense of calm and relaxation, as opposed to hyperventilation, fast and shallow breathing, which often occurs when you feel uneasy and anxious.
The Bottom Line
Somatic breathwork is a conscious controlled breathing technique that helps to improve your body and mind connection. Practicing somatic breathing regularly helps to regulate emotions and r and makes us feel happy and healthy.
It is important to perform these techniques gently and not push too hard. If you ever feel uneasy or like it’s too much, return to your regular breathing. Having a trained expert guide you when you’re just starting is a good idea.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 4 Expert-Backed Breathing Exercises For Anxiety (2023, www.forbes.com)
- 8 Somatic Breathing Exercises to do today. (n.d., originalbodywisdom.com)
- 10 AMAZING benefits of SOMATIC breathwork (2023, tellmethegoodnews.com)
- Breathing in Clinical Somatics exercises (2019, somaticmovementcenter.com)
- Breathwork Interventions for Adults with Clinically Diagnosed Anxiety Disorders: A Scoping Review (2023, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Eastern Approaches to Organizational Well-Being: Ontological Levels of Leadership in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism (2018, link.springer.com)
- From fight or flight to rest and digest: How to reset your nervous system with breath (2018, cbc.ca)
- How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS) (2022, my.clevelandclinic.org)
- Self-Regulation of Breathing as an Adjunctive Treatment of Insomnia (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Somatic Breathwork: The Healing Power of an Ancient Practice (n.d., .ryandelaney.co)
- The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- HOW THE LUNGS WORK (n.d., nhlbi.nih.gov)
- What Happens After a Breathwork Session (n.d., rhythmofbreath.com.au)
- What Is Breathwork? (2023, webmd.com)
- What Is Holotropic Breathwork and How Is It Used? (2018, healthline.com)