[ Breathwork and AVE || What happens to brain activity during breathwork || Using the roXiva RX1 with conscious breathing || Some favourite breathing patterns || The coherence breath || Breath awareness || Conscious connected breathing || Box breathing || The conscious sigh || Extending the exhale || Combining these with AVE ]
Outside of brainwave entrainment, breathwork is my go to for exploring and regulating mental and physical states.
The experiences I’ve had with both methods individually and combined are some of the most profound and enjoyable experiences I’ve had.
At a ‘breathcamp’ workshop on brainwaves and how to use BWE during group breathwork sessions, the breathwork facilitators and practitioners were excited to learn about stroboscopic light and sound machines and brainwave entrainment.
The sessions they experienced were mainly of the psychedelic variety but a few of them tried other sessions too. I noted that during these sessions at points of intense experience that a few of them started to breathe in certain patterns in order to maintain a sense of calm and/or to enhance the experience. A testament to how powerful a light and sound session can be.
And also a testament to how specific breathing patterns are associated with specific states.
Breathing consciously and with purpose is something I do often and I find the two practices to be hugely beneficial.
Breathing on purpose
I won’t go into the details of the benefits of breathwork here. Suffice to say that we have a part of our brain called the breathing/respiratory pacemaker that specifically matches certain breathing patterns with certain emotions and states of being. Also studies show that choosing to breathe on purpose rather than being at the mercy of our reactions, can effect mental clarity, stress and alertness levels and even physical health.
Neither will I go into the benefits of BWE (Brain Wave Entrainment) or AVE (Audio Visual Entrainment) as these are covered elsewhere.
The purpose of this article is to give a brief explanation as to what happens to brainwaves during breathwork and how to combine the two. And I will briefly describe some of my favourite methods of breathing that I use and find most beneficial.
What happens to brain activity during breathwork
Predicting what happens as measured by EEG to brainwaves during breathwork has a number of variables. Nasal (nose) breathing for example will have a different effect than mouth breathing. Often nasal breathing has a de-synchronising effect on brainwaves compared to mouth breathing.
Brainwave entrainment of course has a synchronising effect where both brain hemispheres will match each other in frequency.
Nasal breathing also seems to have a higher ability to phase lock respiration with brainwave activity compared to mouth breathing. So as respiration rate changes, so does the power of the associated brainwave frequencies.
[A note on breathing through the nose: Beyond the scope of this article but worth pointing out are the benefits of training yourself to more frequently breathe through the nose rather than the mouth. One of the benefits is an increase in Nitric Oxide which is responsible for lowering blood pressure and releasing Oxygen from blood vessels to organs to name a few. Here is a short video worth watching on the subject
Breathing rate and brainwaves
As breathing moves toward hyperventilation through the mouth (enhanced when combined with breath holds), there can be a significant drop in Alpha waves (8-12Hz). This is usually associated with an increase in Theta (4-8hz), Delta (0.5-4Hz) and Gamma waves (36-100Hz approx) similar to what happens with psychedelic experiences like DMT. This is less common and depends on breathing rate and intention.
There is evidence to show that during hypercapnia (an increase in CO2 concentration; such as that of high altitude or breath holding), that the increase in the breathing rate brings with it a corresponding increase in brainwave rate/activity also.
Most common during conscious connected breathing however, is to drop into either low Alpha or high Theta with in some cases slight elevations in Delta as well. This is similar to what would be expected in a shamanic or trance like state. This of course all depends on what else you are doing at the same time.
For example if you are counting breaths or following instructions that go beyond just pacing a person’s experience, you will tend to introduce Beta waves (12-36Hz approx) back into the mix.
Brain activity and increased emotional connection
Interestingly, counting breaths has been shown in research to give better access to emotions during breath practices.
This makes sense as the breathwork will boost Theta brain states which are the states where memories are encoded and decoded. While Beta brain states encourage awareness of these thoughts and emotions leading to the ability to process them. Guided breathwork with a facilitator will often have the same effect.
It’s no wonder that breathwork and Theta brainwave entrainment can lead to emotional processing and done correctly give some significant relief and release from old suppressed emotional challenges. Perhaps also, with counting.., the process becomes like a meditative mantra.
‘Checking out’ during breathwork
People who go too deep in brainwaves with breathwork (just like with BWE) will tend to go into low Theta or even Delta and likely ‘check out’ (almost asleep) and forget to breathe consciously. No danger there at all but may not be the intention for the session.
During breath holds, such as with the Wim Hof technique, the biggest change appears to be in an increase in the low Delta waves in the brain. This is one of the reasons for taking care with such techniques and with breath holds. Particularly where conditions could lead to injury (or drowning in water) due to how easy it is to go slightly unconscious in such a brainwave state. Fine when done in a safe environment. But particularly when in the water this should only ever be done with expert supervision.
Using the RoXiva RX1 with conscious breathing
Warning: I’m sure you are aware if you have tried it, just how powerful breathwork can be.., or if you are not then you should experience that first before trying the two together.
And I’m sure if you are a roXiva user, then you are also now aware of how powerful it can be.
Combining the two is not for beginners.
Be aware also that regarding seizure risk.., the three tests given medically to see if someone is prone to potential challenges here are-
1) Sleep deprivation
2) Flickering light
So as you can see; you are introducing potentially two or even all three of these variables into the equation when you combine these practices with an inexperienced person. I’m not saying breathwork is the same as hyperventilation.., but certain practices are close to that and uninstructed it can lead to that also. Problems are very rare but it’s still responsible for you to focus on safety.
One step and breath at a time
Any time you combine two practices at once it is wise to be proficient at both individually first.
So try each practice by itself and be comfortable with both before combining them.
Two suggestions for someone beginning to add breathwork practices to roXiva sessions. And both of these pose no added risk to even new users as they are slow practices aimed at calming the system.
The first is to adopt a slow breathing pattern while using a relaxing program. There are an infinite variety of breathing patterns for you to try; I suggest a breathing pattern called the coherence breath.
Some favourite breathing patterns
Most of these patterns are personal practices to do whenever you catch yourself thinking of your breathing and all can be used by yourself. There is something magical though, particularly with conscious connected breathing, in doing so in a group.
The collective energy of the other people in the room and the instruction and guidance of the facilitators with music playing in the background takes the experience to a whole new level.
The Coherence breath:
Popularized partly by the the Heart Math Institute; the coherence breath has the effect of bringing the heartbeat into a regular patterned alignment with the bodies overall frequency. It has a very calming effect and sets you into a state of being ready for any situation.
The pattern to follow is to inhale for five seconds, and exhale for five seconds through the nose.
Actually the precise best timing according to research is closer to 5.5 seconds than 5 but the difference is minimal and it’s easier to stick to 5. I actually prefer 6 seconds in and out, and for a tall person like myself this is again closer to the ideal. Have a play with 5 or 6 and see which feels right for you but overall 5 is a fine timing to settle on.
This breathing pattern is also useful for increasing HRV (Heart Rate Variability) which I have written about in another article.
Get into a habit of doing the coherence breath at regular times throughout the day and it will, like with brainwave entrainment, start to become your normal baseline way of being.
Although not considered a breathwork technique by many, the second suggestion is purely breath awareness.
Here you don’t try to alter or adopt a conscious breathing pattern at all but rather just observe, notice and follow the natural sensations of breathing in and out as you relax. This is of course the method of many meditation techniques.
Or combine the two. Controlled breath followed by breath awareness.
Conscious connected breathing:
For more advanced users, the conscious connected practices of most forms of breathwork such as Alchemy Of Breath, Wim Hof, Holotropic, Transformational, Re-birthing and others will give you an added dimension to intensity and consciousness exploration.
Emotional and trauma release, euphoria and in some cases psychedelic experiences are possible with this type of breathing. And almost always a feeling of positivity is the result.
Conscious connected breathing is simply the practice of breathing deeply and in a circular pattern at a steady rate. In other words, there is no pause at the top of the inhale and no pause at the bottom of the exhale and the breathing continues in a constant circular pattern. Typically the breathing is very deep, filling both the belly and chest fully followed by completely letting go.
On average each breath takes about 2-4 seconds to complete. Faster gives a more intense experience and slower calms the experience down. Sessions will often last an hour which produces some amazing results.
I don’t use this as often as the others but this has it’s advantages. Because it requires more focus.., it has the effect of focusing the mind more on the breath than the more commonly used techniques. And that can be a great way to pull away from unwanted thoughts.
Simply put, you breath in the pattern of a box shape with each step of equal length. So for example, inhale for a count of 4 seconds, hold at the top for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and hold at the bottom for 4 seconds. And repeat for as long as you want.
Again.., this is best done through the nose. You can progressively make each step longer if you choose to as well. I sometimes get to the point of 15 seconds for each step which is one breath per minute.
Box breathing is the main breathing technique adopted by the military (Navy Seals being an example) and is used to calm and prepare for intense situations.
In this case box breathing is used in preparation of potential conflict and upcoming stress. Then a switch is made to something more like the coherence breath (IE: the breath holds are stopped) once ‘on the ground’ and action is imminent.
Due to it’s structured nature, box breathing is a good pattern to use without relaxing too much and falling asleep and keeping you calm but alert.
The conscious sigh:
This may seem weird but sighing on purpose can be hugely rewarding and a really fast way to chill out. It’s as simple as what it sounds.
A slow deep inhale through the mouth or nose, followed by a complete letting go of the breath (preferably through the mouth) in an audible sigh sound. The sound can be subtle or even just the sound of the air rushing out and nothing else.
The key here is to let go of everything in that moment of exhale.., the air, tension in your body, thoughts.., all of it. Just for that second.
The thoughts will come back but just for that moment, let everything go. There’s a reason why we sigh automatically. It feels good and causes you to take a slow breath followed by a complete exhale more than normal.
The effect is very fast and can of course be done anywhere as with most of these breathing practices.
Extending the exhale:
Lastly, and probably the easiest and most useful technique along with the conscious sigh.., is a simple adjustment to how long you inhale for compared to how long you exhale for.
Research shows that as we inhale our heart rate and blood pressure slightly increases (as if ready for action) activating our sympathetic nervous system (flight or flight).
By contrast, as we exhale our heart rate and blood pressure slightly decreases activating our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) state of mind and body.
By purposely manipulating the time spent doing each of these phases of breathing we can effect our mental and physical state very quickly and reduce the amount of stress hormones (eg: Cortisol) in our system.
This breathing is best done into the belly/abdomen and preferably through the nose although through the mouth will work too.
Try it now!
Inhale slowly for about 4 seconds into the belly.., and then exhale slowly for 8 seconds. Even after only 3 or so breaths like this you will notice a significant increase in calmness.
Most people find that within 10 breaths they can change almost any feeling.
Combining these breathing patterns with audio visual entrainment
In my experience I like to go for combining Theta with Gamma for a unique experience. One way to do this is to allow the breathing itself to introduce Theta, and then use Gamma entrainment.
Using a specific pattern like the coherence breath with any relaxing session will add to the effect and set up a type of conditioned response (anchor in NLP terms) where both magnify each other.
A more focused and faster breathing style like conscious connected breathing will tend to charge the system and increase the effect of consciousness exploration with such programs designed for that.
Psychedelic breathing and light machines combined
Or for a full on psychedelic experience.., start with either Theta or Gamma (or both) while charging the system (with for example 3-4 rounds of Wim Hof style breathing), then introduce some psychedelic effects. This will be quite intense and should not be done by inexperienced users.
The roXiva program called BREATHE WITH ME does just that.
This program is a guided breathwork session in both English and French with phases of circular breathing to charge the system and breath holds to super oxygenate the brain and body. At key points timed psychedelic visuals and brain frequencies associated with trance and hyper awareness states add to the experience of consciousness exploration.
It’s very cool so if you get a chance to try it then do.
Again, I don’t recommend it for beginners.
I hope you enjoy adding some conscious breathing techniques to your brainwave entrainment practice and as always..,
See you on the other side of the light…
Want to learn more about breathwork? I highly recommend my good friends at Alchemy of breath