Breathwork Explained – How does it work? And what are the Benefits?

Buteyko Breathing - Destination Deluxe
Photo: Courtesy of Buteyko Clinic
How breathwork can boost your immunity, improve your sports performance, and help you to release emotional blockages

Breathing is an intrinsic physiological characteristic we all possess and require for human function; it is essentially vital to life. But what if we were able to manipulate and maximize it to use it to our advantage?

Not only is it used nowadays in holistic practices helping to connect, relax and restore the conscious and subconscious mind and body, but it is also used to improve and optimize physical health, sports and fitness endurance and performance, manage pain. Most impressively it is said to alleviate and prevent diseases and influence immunity.

Breathwork is not a new technique, in fact, “breathwork has been used by shamans for 100,000 years and has deep roots in the science of wisdom traditions dating back 4,000 years, which is why it is still the foundation of many powerful practices like meditation, yoga, qigong and more,” says Danielle Satya Parla from Space to Breathe.

More recently, breathwork has become the focus of scientific research and studies, proving to uncover the many benefits it can have on our health that were once unknown. Many breathing methods are similar and have been further developed out of existing systems. We shed some light on various breathwork techniques revolutionizing wellbeing and empowering people to take their health into their own hands.



Danielle Satya Parla, from Space to Breathe, has not only devoted 25 years to breath practices through her training of yoga and yogic pranayama but now focuses on a new form of conscious and therapeutic breathwork called Transformational Breath®.

She explains, “Transformational Breath® was developed by Dr. Judith Kravitz more than 35 years ago. Expanding upon Dr. Leonard Orr’s Rebirthing Breathwork, she developed conscious breathing techniques that incorporate breath analysis, body mapping, sound, and movement, to name a few. Working on the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual levels, Transformational Breath® is a highly efficient and effective technique to release tension and outdated narratives, integrate traumas and hurts, and open to our deepest joy.”

Parla considers our breath to be our superpower; she claims it offers healing and growth, personal awakening, and transformation on all levels of being: body, mind, and spirit. As a psychologist, “I hold the deepest respect for the intelligence of the breath to meet us where we are at and transform our suffering effectively, rapidly, and gently.” 

Parla has many clients with chronic health challenges like heart issues, cancer, asthma, depression that have seen incredible shifts and even recovery through breathwork. 

When we ask Parla for some tips for breathwork beginners, she says her most valuable advice is to engage the diaphragm, our primary breathing muscle, just breathing consciously into the belly is fantastic for activating the parasympathetic nervous system and promoting our rest, digestion, and restorative and repair responses. Most people are doing it incorrectly, this is where Transformational Breath® comes in.  

Try it out for yourself: Inhale for a count of 4 and slow the exhale down for a longer count of 6, 7, or 8 (don’t strive or strain). The key is consistency. Train yourself to use it every day, and you will reap long-standing benefits in even greater ways.


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Breathing Techniques - Destination Deluxe
Photo: Courtesy of Nine Koepfer


Rebirthing Breathwork also called “Intuitive Energy Breathing” or “Conscious Energy Breathing” was founded by Dr. Leonard Orr and is a self-healing technique. The idea is that disease cannot live in the same space as relaxation, which our breath unequivocally provides. The method focuses on the nervous and circulatory systems by breathing in “divine energy” and air to nourish and balance the mind and body.

According to Dr. Leonard Orr, “Rebirthing is also used as a tool to heal eight biggies of human trauma such as birth trauma, the parental disapproval syndrome, specific negatives, the unconscious death urge, karma from past lives, the religion trauma, school trauma, and senility.”

According to his technique and through conscious breathing, by learning how the mind works, we are much more able to process our feelings enabling us to possess the ability to relax out of intense emotions and even physical pain.


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Holotropic Breathing - Destination Deluxe


Holotropic Breathwork®, founded by Stanislav Grof and Christina Grof, is a new form of self-exploration and psychotherapy. Similar to Rebirthing when it comes to the actual breathing, but different in that its emphasis is on self-healing and the guidance that comes from within. The method comes from consciousness research, anthropology, Eastern spiritual practices, and different psychologies. This more holistic form of breathing relies on the motivation for personal empowerment guided by the desire for transformation and wholeness.

How does it work? The technique combines accelerated breathing with music combined in a contrived setting. The breath and the music are used to influence consciousness, thus bringing forth natural inner healing of the psyche. This process is uniquely made for each individual as their intelligence is driving the practice.


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Iceman Wim Hof - Destination Deluxe
Photo: Courtesy of Innerfire BV


The Wim Hof Method consists of three pillars, cold therapy, breathing, and commitment, i.e., patience and dedication. The method has a strong scientific background and research behind it while boasting a long list of positive benefits as well. Hof’s practice claims to aid in and improve immunity, mental health, psychological wellbeing, sports performance and training, stress management, energy levels, sleep quality, recovery from exercise, mental clarity and concentration, symptoms of depression, and inflammation amongst many. It is also said to relieve health issues and symptoms from diseases such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, MS, Lyme disease, asthma, COPD, migraines, and other autoimmune disorders as well. 

One of the essential techniques to the Wim Hof Method is breathwork. He accredits its ability to connect the mind and body, claiming it essentially helps us embrace pain, fear, and the cold. So how exactly does it work? Let’s get into the science.

The breathing techniques consist of deep rhythmic inhalations and exhalations, which Hof calls ‘controlled hyperventilation or power breathing.’ After a series of power breaths, you hold your breath for a certain amount of time. Hof claims that you increase your energy and influence the nervous system while being able to manipulate physiological activities this way. 

Not only that, Hof says hyperventilation creates a rise in blood alkalinity, which helps us train our cells to optimize their functions. By controlling our breath, we can manipulate our natural cell processes, thus enhancing the way our bodies perform. These theories are of the many reasons why Hof seems to have superhuman abilities and accomplished incredible physical feats. 

Brian Lai, founder of Primal Breathwork and breathing teacher at Fivelements Habitat in Hong Kong, brings the Wim Hof Method to his students, teaching people to upgrade their automatic systems into a tool to shift the state of mind, bring balance back into their lives, enhance performance, and the ability to heal themselves.  

“Breathwork is one of the simplest and most powerful tools we have to accessing our state,” Lai says. “In fact we are the only mammals on this earth that can switch between conscious and automatic breathing patterns. This unique ability allows us to upshift and downshift our body’s systems to better optimise human performance. The WHM is one of the most powerful and groundbreaking forms of breathwork, a hybrid of ancestral techniques updated for today’s world and supported by the latest scientific research.” 


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Buteyko Breathing - Destination Deluxe
Photo: Courtesy of Buteyko Clinic


The Buteyko Method is focused on improving and providing relief from physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms caused by the effects of dysfunctional breathing. The method stems from principles encapsulating the physiology, biochemistry, and physics of breath. Some of the health conditions caused by dysfunctional breathing include asthma, anxiety, and sleep apnea. The Buteyko Method is said to not only relieve these symptoms but also to prevent them. 

How does it work? The breathing techniques of this method are to promote ‘correct’ breathing by normalizing breathing patterns during normal daily function, for example. Other benefits include improvement and an increase in immunity, stamina, energy, sports performance, ability to cope with stress, quality of sleep including a reduction in snoring, reduced nasal congestion, reduced asthma symptoms, and allergic reactions, reduction in anxiety or panic attacks, and fewer headaches to name a few.


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Breathwork for Sports Performance - Destination Deluxe


It is also well known and increasingly becoming more and more popular to introduce breathwork as a technique to improve and optimize sports performance and fitness, thus you will find that breathwork being practiced by some of the most elite athletes around the globe.

The Oxygen Advantage® by Patrick McKeown is a great example of how breathwork improves sports performance through specially designed breathing exercises. Buteyko-inspired, his breath-holding following exhalation techniques are designed to “lower blood oxygen saturation to achieve severe hypoxemia lowering the risk of injury, among other benefits. At the same time, a hypercapnic response is generated to further increase hydrogen ions”.

What does this mean? “Both effects greatly disturb blood acid-base balance causing the body to make adaptations to delay the onset of fatigue. Furthermore, applying these breathing exercises enhance the lactate concentration in the muscles to help maintain a glycolytic state.” 

The Oxygen Advantage® training encapsulates simple, functional breathing for sports performance or high altitude training intended to push your limits.

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Breath Control Brain Brian Mackenzie - Destination Deluxe
Photo: Courtesy of VSRao

We also discussed breathwork with Brian Mackenzie from Power Speed Endurance. Brian does not teach techniques or methods explicitly but rather the principles behind breath control and breathwork. “Breath control works because it controls all energy in the human biological system. We are unique in that we can use our “thinking” brain (cortex) to override the autonomic response of breath, which allows us to optimize our energy.”

Similar to a combination of Wim Hof Method and Oxygen Advantage, at Power Speed Endurance, Mackenzie provides people an understanding of how to use any number of techniques and ideas around breathwork that allow them to navigate their own space. “We respond differently to things. Meaning emotions and thinking to play a part in how breath control changes things. The benefits are almost infinite. From autonomic regulation, autoimmune responses, stress management, asthma, obesity, cardiac problems, emotional control, behavioral changes, these can all be positively impacted through breathwork, and we’ve seen a response to these things.”

Inside his work, at San Quentin prison, Mackenzie shares he has seen the health of a lot of the men he works with change. Most importantly, their mental health. He’s also seen and been told of blood panels improving, immune system changes, asthma being suppressed, and overall health improvements, along with performance changes in elite athletes and operators. 

Check out Mackenzie’s simple ways in which to incorporate breathwork into your daily life.

  1. For the next four weeks, 2-4 times per week, go for a walk, run, or ride and keep your mouth closed. Breathe through your nose only, in and out. Make a note of your current health (anything and everything you can think of). In 4 weeks, make a note of the same health parameters. 
  2. Take 3-5 min every time you wake up, get stressed out, and before you go to sleep to use some slow controlled breathing through your nose only, in and out. Take a mental note before you start and after. How do you feel? 
  3. Take it one step further with this experiment.
Buteyko Breathing Power Speed Endurance - Destination Deluxe
Photo: Courtesy of Etty Fidele

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