Mindful Breathing Therapy, also sometimes referred to as ‘Integrative Breathwork’, is an experiential, mindfulness-based, body-oriented approach at the leading edge of modern psychotherapy. It is classed as a mind-body, complementary health practice, and is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to cognitive and behavioural approaches in the treatment of e.g. anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorders.
Conscious connected breathing
In Mindful Breathing Therapy the therapist guides the client through the practice of ‘conscious connected breathing’ – the practice that is referred to as ‘breathwork’ – a breathing pattern that is comparable to normal, healthy breathing yet different than the breathing that happens automatically in a normal state of rest. The main difference is that in breathwork the in-breath is more active, and deeper, filling the whole lungs. There is also an emphasis on not leaving any pause between the in-breath and the following out-breath, nor between an out-breath and the next in-breath.
The out-breath of ‘conscious connected breathing’ is simply a letting-go of the air that fills the lungs, and of all muscle tensions involved in the in-breath. It is inactive, as a natural out-breath ought to be, but not always is. And this in itself is an important practice component of Mindful Breathing Therapy; to simply let go and relax, regardless of what thoughts or emotions present themselves.
Disturbances of natural breathing
When people are in a state of distress, e.g. from a trauma happening to the body or from an emotional-psychological experience, their breathing is affected and natural breathing becomes disturbed. If the distress is not resolved, a chronic disturbance of natural breathing may result – whether the person is aware of it or not – as a way of “keeping the problem under control.”
While practising breathwork the client may come into contact with such unresolved distress experiences, in the form of tensions, pains, or “energy releases” (vibrations, tinglings etc.) in the body, or in the form of emotional-psychological experiences such as sadness, frustration, restlessness, fear and similar. As these phenomena take place, and the breathwork continues, the breathing disturbances can be resolved, and the original distressing events become integrated into the general flow of consciousness.
Mindfulness in breathwork
The mindfulness component of Mindful Breathing Therapy is very important, in that the client practises focusing awareness on the various sensations and experiences that develop in the body as a result of the breathwork. The client is encouraged to maintain an accepting attitude to all experiences that occur, including those of an emotional nature, while still avoiding getting caught up in any interpretations or cognitions around these experiences.
Over the last few decades an overwhelming pool of research results have shown mindfulness practices to be very effective tools in the treatment of stress, anxiety, depression and many other personal problems and issues. While mindfulness practices typically do not involve any particular, prescribed breathing patterns, it is considered that all the benefits from general mindfulness practices will still be present in the practice of Mindful Breathing Therapy. The added benefit, however, in Mindful Breathing Therapy is that it has the capacity to more effectively bring to the surface buried events of a distressing nature, and then reintegrate those, as described above.
You can read more about mindfulness and its applications in counselling, psychotherapy and life coaching on this page: Mindfulness.
You may also want to read some of the other articles about mindfulness.
If you are interested in exploring the benefits that Mindful Breathing Therapy may have on your own life experience, you can read more about that on the Mindful Breathing Therapy page.
And if you are interested in reading a cutting edge academic paper, written by the leading researcher on this subject, you can download it here: Breathwork: An Additional Treatment Option for Depression and Anxiety?