A few years ago, a global star leading a breathwork exercise on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury would have come like a bolt out of the blue. However, with more and more of us turning to alternative wellness practices to help cope with rising stresses in our lives, Billie Eilish leading a packed field of fans in a stress-relieving breathing exercise almost doesn’t come as a surprise at all. And in fact, the Bad Guy singer has been repeating the wellness practice on stage throughout her tour, such is her belief in its power.
Breathing isn’t something we’ve ever been taught how to do. Yet, it’s a pretty powerful tool. Breathing keeps us alive and, unlike walking, it comes intuitively with our first gasp outside the womb. But that’s not to say that we’re always doing it properly or that we can’t use our breaths for more holistic purposes to help harness and calm our charged nervous systems.
Clearly, given recent world events and feelings running high since Roe v Wade was overturned, Billie Eilish felt it necessary to tap into this stress-melting practice. But what is breathwork exactly, and why are people – including Karlie Kloss and Oprah – so obsessed? We spoke to a top expert in the
What is breathwork?
Breathwork isn’t exactly new. It has roots in Eastern practices such as meditation in Buddhism, and yoga, where breathing while striking different poses is key. But it was during Covid lockdowns, when breath became a sacred commodity, that breathwork really went mainstream.
Put simply, breathwork is a stress-relieving practice that involves deep, intentional breathing. While shallow breathing sends a message to the brain that your are under threat and releases the stress-hormone cortisol, allowing the lungs to expand relaxes the body and calms the mind. As Sophie Belle, breathworker and founder of the Mind You Club online studio, puts it, “breathwork is a type of somatic healing where we use the incredible power of our own breath to facilitate the release of stress, trauma and past experiences in order to heal mentally and physically. It activates our vagus nerve – the nerve that goes from our brain to all our vital organs – to signal that we are safe to relax, making breathwork the perfect antidote to our busy day-to-day lives.”
Sophie has seen demand boom over the past 24 months. “33% of Brits have reported increased stress, anxiety and sadness since the outbreak of Covid 19,” she says. “Breathwork helps you access your parasympathetic nervous system, which is essentially your body’s state of rest and repair, so it’s easy to see why it has been the number-one wellness trend for several years now.”
What is holotropic breathwork?
Holotropic breathwork is a more intense and energetic form of breathwork. “Most breathwork techniques activate the parasympathetic nervous system whereas holotropic breathwork consciously stimulates the sympathetic system in a safe, controlled environment,” Sophie explains.