A lot of people ask the difference between SOMA Breath and other breathwork techniques. I will answer this question for you in this article. I will briefly discuss three popular breathwork modalities, followed by Pranayama, and then finally we will discuss how exactly SOMA Breath fits into the equation.
This popular breathwork practice was founded by Dr Stanislav Grof and his wife in the 1970s. Dr Grof is a psychotherapist and the inventor of transpersonal therapy. He was one of the first people to use LSD as a psychotherapeutic tool. Holotropic breathwork is an “experiential method of self-exploration and psychotherapy” (Grof & Grof, 2010, p. 1).
How Does Holotropic Breathwork Work?
Holotropic breathwork is usually done in groups, using pair work. Each person takes turns being the breather or the sitter. The process is guided by trained supervisors.
You make a powerful inhale through your nose, and then totally relax to release your exhale from your mouth without any force at all. There are no pauses or stops in the breathing – it’s a continuous cycle.
Holotropic breathwork uses a very dramatic music soundtrack that changes in mood quite frequently. This results in a very cathartic and sometimes psychedelic process where the participant may have dream-like visions, cry or laugh hysterically, experience muscle cramps, and have huge emotional release. There is also an element of bodywork involved, which Grof incorporates to help people release trapped energy and emotions in the body.
At the end of the session, participants are asked to draw or paint a mandala to visually represent any thoughts or ideas that came out of the experience.
Explanation Of Holotropic Breathwork
A possible explanation for the experiences participants report in holotropic breathwork is that it simulates a type of near-death experience, or out of body experience. It is a powerful trauma release. However, some participants may leave the experience feeling more traumatised than before they did it. In various reports from Dr. Grof’s own sessions, participants report sights of a white light at the end of the tunnel, or even communication with dead relatives. Grof reassures us that these experiences are harmless in the long term (Grof, 2015).
These effects may be down to a condition called respiratory alkalosis.
It may also be that holotropic breathwork produces a stress response in the body which stimulates the reptilian and limbic parts of the brain. These areas deal with survival instincts and emotions. If this part of the brain believes you are dying, it may reprogram the deeply hardwired instincts and imprints based around fear and survival, making you braver and more resilient.
There has been plenty of research on the effects of holotropic breathwork over the years. Holotropic breathwork is used as an addition to psychotherapy (Rhinewine & Williams, 2007), is effective in helping recovery from addiction (Metcalf, 1995), and as a tool for personal and spiritual development (Cervelli, 2009).
Rebirthing breathwork was created by Leonard Orr – also in the 1970s – and it is very similar to holotropic breathwork in its effects, methods, and results.
Orr believes that this breathing technique simulates the feeling of being born from the womb and taking your first breath. This is supposed to help you overcome the most traumatic experience of your life – birth itself (“Discovery of Rebirthing Breathwork”, n. d.).
Orr was a student of Haidakhan Babaji, a satguru (supreme teacher) described in the book “Autobiography of a Yogi” as immortable and able to give gifts to anyone who can call his name sincerely (Yogananda, 2006). Orr considered himself one of those people, and believed he was given the gift of Rebirthing Breathwork. He believed it would be possible to become immortal in our physical bodies by using rebirthing breathwork. When his teacher Babaji died in the 1980s, his immortality came under question.
How Does Rebirthing Breathwork Work?
Rebirthing breathwork is practically the same process to holotropic breathwork, but without the dramatic music. The emphasis is on the relaxed exhale. As humans we tend to force the exhale or breathe out with tension, but Rebirthing tells us that the exhale should be as relaxed as possible to help release stress and tension from the body.
Explanation Of Rebirthing Breathwork
Leonard Orr has not spoken much about how his techniques work, or whether any health or psychological issues can be caused by frequently repeating the process in the long-term.
Equally, there is very little scientific research available on rebirthing breathwork. There is some research to suggest the activation of the autonomic nervous system during rebirthing breathwork (de-Wita et al., 2018). There is also research based on personal accounts of participants’ experiences (Carr, 2014).
As the techniques are so similar to those of holotropic breathwork, most of the same science could theoretically be applied to rebirthing.
Rebirthing breathwork has had negative media coverage after the death of a young girl. The unfortunate death was not a result of rebirthing breathwork, but of corrupt practice and abuse (Josefson, 2001).
The Wim Hof Method
The Wim Hof Method has become incredibly popular in recent years. Wim Hof, AKA The Ice Man, created his breathwork methods after mastering Yoga and martial arts from a young age. His method was refined further as he cultivated his relationship with extremely cold conditions. Hof wanted to be able to stay longer in the freezing cold water as it had such a therapeutic effect on relieving his symptoms of depression.
The Wim Hof Method generates heat in the body and brings the mind to a place of stillness so that participants are able to control feelings of fear and stress that arise from being in such cold.
Hof has broken more than 20 World Records: several of them involving his ability to handle extreme weather conditions, proving scientifically that you can control your autonomic nervous system, by harnessing the power of breathwork and meditation (Kox et al., 2012).
What sets this method apart from Rebirthing and Holotropic Breathwork is that the Wim Hof Method is a daily practice, which takes 5-10 minutes to do.
How Does Wim Hof Method Breathwork Work?
The Wim Hof Method consists of 20-30 cycles of continuous connected breathing with no pauses between each inhale and exhale. Similarly to Holotropic and Rebirthing, the exhale should be very relaxed and participants should not exhale fully, but still leave some air in the lungs to breathe in more oxygen than you breathe out. Then, on the final exhale, participants empty their lungs completely and hold their breath for as long as possible.
Participants naturally feel an urge to breathe and when the breath can be held no longer, participants inhale fully and hold their breath again for up to 30 seconds, squeezing the forehead muscles. The entire process is repeated for 2-3 rounds.
An important thing that differentiates the Wim Hof Method breathwork from Rebirthing and Holotropic breathwork is the breath retention phase where you hold your breath out for as long as possible, then hold it in for up to 30 seconds.
Explanation Of The Wim Hof Method
What sets Wim Hof apart from both Leonard Orr and Dr Stan Grof is his enthusiasm for trying to scientifically show exactly what is happening to the mind and body during the breathwork, as well as to explain why people get the health benefits they receive from daily practice.
Hof and his team are transparent in their research, and a lot of it is freely available on The Wim Hof Method website (“The Science Behind The Wim Hof Method”, n. d.).
Wim Hof has been criticised for over-stating the benefits of his breathwork methods and exaggerating the effects. Furthermore, critics who have tried to disprove his method have actually ended up becoming advocates of his breathwork techniques (“Testing The Ice Man”, n. d.).
His method has come under fire following the deaths of two people who practised the method and then submerged themselves in water (Caiola, 2017). It is strongly advised by the Wim Hof Method to never practise in water, nor to practice extreme methods without correct supervision.
Breathwork is different from Pranayama.
No one really knows the true origins of Pranayama but it is at least 5,000 years old – perhaps even more than 10,000 years old depending on which historian you choose to listen to! However, the Yoga Sutras, from which Pranayama is based today, was first systemised and recorded by Patanjali around 200-300 BC.
In Sanskrit, Prana means energy and Yama means control, or restraint. Pranayama is a series of breathwork techniques, each with a different therapeutic purpose that is said to work through the control of energy in the body. Through Pranayama we learn how to become aware of this pranic energy and how to manipulate it in a way that is beneficial for cleansing and balancing the mind, body, and spirit.
There are many different types of Pranayama exercises, but the SOMA Therapeutic Breath techniques focus on 7 Pranayama exercises that have the most practical benefits for everyday life as well as evidence-based research to support them.
OMKAR: Chanting and extending the exhale with AUM mantra. For relaxation and cooling the body, preparing for Yoga asanas, and a useful exercise to help you get into flow state.
ANULOM VILOM/NADI SHODHANA: Alternate nostril breathing. To activate the whole brain, for relaxation, and preparing for Yoga asanas.
BHASTRIKA: Bellow breathing. For energising the body and mind, cleansing the body, oxygenating the brain, and balancing the Ayurvedic Doshas (particularly Kapha).
KAPALBHATI: Rapid forced exhales while pulling in the abdomen. For getting rid of stale stomach gases, clearing the sinuses, increasing energy levels.
KUMBHAKA: Breath retention either on inhale (puraka/antar) or on exhale (rechaka/bahir). Promotes healing, deep meditation, builds CO₂ tolerance (when held on exhale).
UJJAYI: Constricting the throat to slow down and control airflow in and out of the lungs. For relaxing, relieving headaches, clearing sinuses, and cleansing the body of built up toxins.
KAKI MUDRA: Drinking air. For cleansing the bowels and promoting the growth of good bacteria, also reduces hunger pangs during a fast.
Nisshesha Rechaka Kumbhaka (nish-esh-ah – resh-ah-ka – kom-bah-kah) is an ancient Pranayamic technique. In Sanskrit, Kumbhaka means breath retention. Nisshesha Rechaka Kumbhaka means holding your breath (on the exhale) beyond the comfort zone. This is like the technique employed in the Wim Hof method, and it features in SOMA Breath techniques as well.
Explanation Of Pranayama
Pranayama techniques control air flow in and out of the body. Omkar, Anulom Vilom/Nadi Shodhana, Ujjayi, and Kumbhaka all create a slower rate of air flow, meaning CO₂ levels rise and O₂ levels drop. In the case of Kumbhaka, there is no air flow at all, resulting in a dramatic increase in CO₂ and decrease in O₂. Bhastrika and Kapalbhati are more energising, and create the opposite effects with a major increase in O₂ and decrease in CO₂.
The Pranayama techniques with the most significant health benefits and proven scientific research to back them up are Omkar, Anulom Vilom/Nadi Shodhana, and Kumbhaka. For example, there is research on the effects of Omkar on psychological, cardiovascular health, and also melatonin production (Harinath et al., 2004). Nadi Shodhana has been linked to pulmonary and cardiovascular health and to higher brain functions (Kinabalu, 2005) and shows positive results after 6 weeks of practice (Singh et al., 2011). Kumbhaka has a wealth of research behind it, including the effects of Kumbhaka on bronchial asthma (Murthy et al., 1984), improving sport performance (Hakked et al., 2017), sleep apnea (Chandra & Sharma, 2017), and more.
Bhastrika and Kumbhaka are used in the Wim Hof Method, which has a lot of research to evidence the health claims and benefits, as mentioned earlier.
Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide
The very fact they are focused on lowering O₂ levels and rising CO₂ levels contradicts most of our modern ideas about the role and importance of oxygen to our health and wellbeing. This component of breathing and breathwork can come as a surprise to us. Our modern “common sense” understanding is that oxygen is good and CO₂ is bad. Ancient knowledge tells is that isn’t the case… at all. CO₂ seems to be central in unlocking our human potential.
How did we come to believe the opposite? Well, when we’re feeling stressed it feels good to sigh, doesn’t it? A deep breath helps us to relax. We also know that oxygen is essential to human life (so is CO₂, by the way). And let’s face it, holding your breath is not a comfortable experience. It sends your survival mechanisms into overdrive after just a few seconds.
If carbon dioxide is so good for us, then we should increase the CO₂ level in our bodies right now. Sounds simple enough, right? But it’s not that easy.
Why do we struggle to get our CO₂ levels high enough to experience all of these benefits? Have we devolved somehow? Are we less resilient than our ancient ancestors?
So while SOMA Breath does fit into the category of breathwork, SOMA Breath also fits into the category of Pranayama. But it still doesn’t totally fit into either category.
SOMA Breath is a complete holistic system of breathwork techniques. There is no one size fits all, and SOMA takes into account the fact that every single person is unique and may require different breathing techniques depending on their needs (especially if health related or medical).
SOMA Therapeutic Breathwork techniques are the core Pranayama techniques that have the most scientific evidence to support their function.
The SOMA Awakening is inspired by the most revered Pranayama technique called Nishessha Rechaka Kumbhaka and the ancient ritual of Soma that appears more than 50,000 times in the ancient text, the Rig Veda. The Rig Veda is the basis of modern day Hinduism and the Vedic philosophy that Yoga originates from.
The SOMA Awakening is also inspired by the core breathwork technique of the Wim Hof Method, the work of Dr Prakash Malshe an Indian doctor based near Rishikesh – the birthplace of Yoga – who uses Pranayama and Yoga to treat his patients, and by Swami Ambikananda Saraswati of the Traditional Yoga Association in the UK who has one of the most popular Yoga schools that teaches methods based on the earliest recorded traditional Yoga practices.
SOMA Breath techniques are designed to be practiced regularly, some on a daily basis, and lead to improvements in every area of your life.
How Does SOMA Breath Work?
SOMA Breath takes the fundamental Pranayama techniques listed above, puts them in a certain order, and makes them easy and accessible to anyone who would like to benefit from them.
These breathwork exercises become your toolbox of techniques that you can use to prevent or treat a range of issues that may arise in your body.
Think of SOMA Breath as a means to activate your “Inner Pharmacy” through the power of your breath.
SOMA Therapeutic Breathwork
REST/RELAX: Turn off stress and lower heart rate and blood pressure.
ENERGY: Raise core body temperature, heart rate, and produce a controlled stress response to ward off illness and inflammatory diseases.
LONGEVITY: Experience the benefits of intermittent hypoxia for more stamina, better circulation, and to trigger the circulation and activation of stem cells for anti-aging, longevity, and peak performance.
DETOX: Clear toxins from the gut, clear nasal and sinus congestion, and purify the bloodstream.
CLEANSE: Drink air to purify the digestive system, suppress hunger during a fast, eliminate bad bacteria and promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut.
BALANCE: Balance and restore the nervous system, create harmony between the left and right hemispheres of your brain, improve heart health and HRV.
The SOMA Awakening
The Awakening is a 90-minute breathwork ceremony featuring a series of ancient breathing techniques arranged into a sequence that combines rhythmical breathing to beat-driven music and includes vocal toning/humming, breath retention, meditation, visualisation techniques, and the activation and transmutation of sexual energy.
This has the power to:
- Awaken dormant parts of the brain.
- Enhance creativity and problem solving.
- Create heightened states of consciousness and inspiration.
- Improve brain function and mind power.
- Cleanse and purify the bloodstream and lymphatic system.
- Stimulate self healing.
- Reduce depression and anxiety.
- Clear negative imprints and traumas from early life (0-7 years).
- Reimprint your mind with more empowering beliefs and habits.
- Set intentions and create the motivation and energy to complete important goals.
- Self realisation: discover your true self and your deepest inner calling.
The Awakening is one of the most popular experiences the SOMA Breath offers. It literally wakes people up to their full human potential!