In a general sense, if you zoom out and take a birds eye view, a lot of things can serve as meditation. For example, yoga is often considered moving meditation. Other activities like walking or spending time in nature have always been meditative. What about breathwork, and its differences from meditation? Let’s first look at what breathwork is. Simply put, breathwork is a new age term for various breathing exercises. These exercises are more commonly known as Pranayama in India, where a lot of its roots lay.
So in the big picture, breathwork is meditative – an active meditation. In traditional meditation, the focus is on clearing the mind. But unlike meditation which involves the absence of action, breathwork involves specific exercises – maybe syncing breath to counting, holding of breath, manipulation speed of breathing or something else.
Of course there are so many types of meditations out there and also a lot of breathwork styles and ways. People also often confuse Pranayama with Breathwork, and although the two both involve conscious breathing, the modern day connotations of the words have now changed it’s meanings. Pranayama is often used to describe short, breathing exercises that are used to focus the mind, energize the body, or relax the person – for “topical” results. Breathwork of course can help you achieve all of that, but can also be used as a tool for therapy. Because we navigate the world operating largely from our subconscious brain, breathwork can access those deep parts of our psyche that need healing. Without breathwork, those deep parts of our subconscious often remain hidden away and stay inaccessible.
5 Differences Between Meditation & Breathwork
What are the five major differences between breathwork & meditation? Let’s look at this a little more.
- Breathwork involves active breathing – For starters breathwork involves active breathing – not just the normal inhales and exhales that we do every minute of the day. The type of breathing can vary depending on style (Rebirthing, Holotropic or Wim Hof for example). With most styles of meditation, your breathing is natural, even though it may be the object of your focus.
- Meditation calms the mind – The goal of meditation can range from focus, relaxation, sleep or something in between. This is achieved by meditation through a passive calm manner which will leave people feeling refreshed afterwards. With breathwork, calmness is not always the way. In fact, sometimes breathwork can get intense. Depending on the style of breathwork & how it’s used, it can get heavy and make people agitated along with a range of other big emotions.
- Breathwork is bodywork – breathwork is a tool that’s incredible to help release from the body. Eastern wisdom as well as Western psychology both agree that all the experiences we go through live in our body long after the event ends. These experiences (or rather our emotional response to them) lives in our fascia tissue. Although advanced forms of meditation can also release from the body, breathwork is able to release every single time, even for beginners. It even releases the deepest oldest experiences we have no recollection of. Unlike breathwork, meditation first starts off as a mind’s game and it’s benefits trickle down towards the rest of the body.
- Meditation is mostly still. When we meditate, we either sit up straight or lay down. Moving isn’t encouraged as it may distract you. But with breathwork, movement is not uncommon. With so much energy moving around and preparing for release, movement is often necessary. People find that they often have to adjust their position due to feeling sensations that vary from light to intense, such as numbness, heaviness or tingling for example. When it all becomes too much, making adjustments can help offset the intensity.
- Breathwork can be intense. People often compare breathwork trips to taking mind altering substances. Yes, it can really feel like you’re spaced out and in an alternative state of mind; one that shows you experiences you’ve forgotten from the past, or sometimes see visions into the future. It can come with a lot of elation and positive emotion but can also be heavy as a result of old emotional baggage on it’s way out. Deep advanced meditation can also be intense, but it would require someone to have practiced for a while to get to that stage.
So if you’re a meditator or looking to try breathwork and was wondering about the differences, now is a good time to start. There’s been a lot of peer reviewed studies in the past years that go into detail about just how quickly breathwork can benefit the body. As a first timer, beginning with an online class that’s short is a good idea. It’s important to find a practitioner who’s certified, experienced and someone whom you feel safe with. The process can get intense, but it can also be easy and beautiful, depending on where you are that day and what needs healing the most. For more information on how you can begin to cultivate a breathwork practice, check out Breathwork Club, a flexible monthly wellness membership.