What is the difference between meditation and breathwork

Breathwork is becoming more and more common, especially over the past 10 years. However it is one of the oldest healing modalities that has been around for centuries. One of the main questions asked when talking about breathwork is ‘what is the difference between meditation and breathwork?’

Meditation and breathwork have their similarities, however the process and end goal is usually very different. Meditation involves becoming aware of the mind, the body and the breath without doing anything to manipulate it. A purpose of meditation may be to come out of ‘fight or flight’ and into ‘rest, digest, restore’ in order to soften the mind.

Breathwork on the other hand involves actively modifying the breath to create a specific purpose. Examples of a purpose may be to release tension or limiting beliefs, gain clarity around a certain aspect of life, release past trauma or to have a feeling of complete rest. In the case of rebirthing breathwork, the breath is modified to conscious connected breathing through the nose (i.e. there is no pause at the top and bottom of the breath). Through this process we naturally bypass the frontal cortex (which governs our thinking and planning) and into our subconscious where our core beliefs, deeper memories and energetic imprints are held. During this time, the connection between the heart and the mind grows stronger, and brings forth releasing and healing around what is required at the time. 

So the main difference is that breathwork is an active version of meditating. Both are very useful modalities in treating stress and chronic conditions. 

Some benefits of breathwork include:

  • Improving R.E.M sleep
  • Reducing stress
  • Improving attention span and self awareness
  • A great tool for when it is difficult to stay focused in meditation. Breathwork is often less intimidating and overwhelming as it involves actively focusing on the breath
  • Beneficial for circulatory and respiratory system
  • Understand and heal emotional links to physical pain/symptoms in the body
  • Can aid in releasing past emotions or trauma held in the body creating dis-ease
  • Clarity in certain aspects of life 

A common concern people have when choosing whether to do breathwork is “But I’m so bad at meditating. I just can’t keep my mind quiet”. Breathwork isn’t like some forms of meditation as it is not about keeping your mind quiet. Our mind is a part of us and it would be unnatural to switch it off for an hour. Instead, what happens during breathwork is that the ‘chattering’ in our mind naturally reduces with the connected breathing, and the awareness of our body and our heart/intuition naturally rises. This is often why moments of clarity arise, where situations are seen for just ‘what they are’ rather than the stories and drama that the ego can sometimes enforce instead. 

The other question that is often asked is ‘what can happen during breathwork?’

A Rebirthing Breathwork session will run for approximately 2 hours. The first 30 minutes of the session is spent reflecting on any challenges that have surfaced recently. Often this allows for an intention for the breathwork to be set. For example “I wish to gain more clarity on my next step to take in life”

The breathwork itself will run for approximately an hour. It is often done lying on your back. It starts with a relaxation meditation, which will then follow into the breathwork practice of conscious connected breathing through the nose. All of this is guided by the practitioner and accompanied with sound healing and gentle massage. After about 5-20 minutes of breathing in this way, the brain-state starts to shift from the usual beta state and drops into states of alpha and theta where the subconscious can be accessed and deep healing becomes possible. 

Every breathwork session is different from one person to the next. And often for the same individual, there will never be one breathwork session experienced the same as the previous one. These are the possible things to expect during a breathwork session:

  • Sensations in the body such as tingling, vibration, surges of energy moving, heat, shivering
  • Body parts spontaneously and unconsciously moving, contracting, releasing, shaking or tremor
  • Coughing or excessive yawning
  • Strong emotions and emotional release such as crying or laughing
  • Feeling of oneness
  • Moments of clarity and wisdom
  • Self acceptance and self love
  • Connection with loved ones who have passed
  • Past life regression

How many sessions are usually required? 

This is dependent on the individual’s goal and is discussed in the initial consult. One-off sessions are available, however Rebirthing Breathwork is traditionally done as a pack of 10 sessions. This is because it generally takes this long to unlock the breathing mechanism (tension around the diaphragm). Additionally, the first session can sometimes be more about getting used to this breathing technique. As each session goes on, the breakthroughs/sensations that occur during breathwork are stronger. 

What do you mean by ‘unlocking the breathing mechanism’?

Great question! As a physiotherapist, I see a lot of people with tight necks, shoulders, and even ribs. This has a big impact on range of motion, which then further impacts movement, creating compensations and possibly pain. There are various reasons for this, one of them being the way we breathe. Some common unhelpful patterns of breathing are:

  • Reverse breathing: This is where people hold their stomachs in during the inhale, which hardens the abdominal muscles. This is often associated with anger.
  • Accessory breathing (ie upper chest breathing): Using muscles around the shoulders such as pects and upper traps. Or muscles in the neck such as sternocleidomastoid and scalene. Or muscles around the ribs such as intercostals. All of these muscles are called accessory breathing muscles which are designed to aid breathing on exertion such as running. For example, you might have noticed that if you’re out of breath after a run, you tend to lean forward and rest your hands on your knees. This is a behaviour done to aid your accessory breathing muscles to help breathing. It is normal to use accessory muscles on exertion, however despite it becoming more common, it is not ideal to use them in day to day life. This breathing pattern (without exertion) is associated with emotions of fear, panic or anxiety. 
  • Holding the breath: This is also often associated with fear, panic or anxiety

Our diaphragm sits like a parachute in our ribcage and is our most efficient breathing muscle. When we breathe in, our diaphragm moves down, when we breathe out, our diaphragm moves up. In fact, the style of breathwork that we do (rebirthing breathwork) is exactly what babies do naturally. It is really just returning to our natural way of breathing before anxiety and pressures impact breathing patterns in the body. 

Despite it being our natural way of breathing, it can take a few sessions for tension around the diaphragm to be released and this is why it is called the ‘unlocking of the diaphragm/breathing mechanism’. Clients often describe this feeling as ‘freeing’ and they are able to breathe more openly. This is why there is often an emotional release in breathwork. When there is trauma and emotions held in the body, the breath helps to release that. 

Just like any motor control and learning pattern, the brain and body remembers this way of breathing, and it is more likely to breathe this way throughout the day. When the breathing pattern is more rhythmical throughout the day, tolerance to stress increases, there is more awareness of emotions, and the immune system skyrockets due to being out of a chronic stress state. 

I’m not sure if it is for me?

We are happy to talk to you about it!