The origens and history of Breathwork & Pranayama
Origens of breathwork and pranayama
Article

The origens and history of Breathwork & Pranayama

Breathwork is a holistic practice that has been used for centuries to promote physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. The history of breathwork is rooted in ancient cultures and spiritual traditions, with different forms of breathwork being practiced in various parts of the world for thousands of years.

The Origens of Pranayama

One of the earliest forms of breathwork can be traced back to the ancient Indian practice of pranayama. Pranayama is a Sanskrit word that nowadays commonly is translated to "Breath control". But there is a deeper meaning to this. Prana means both Life energy and breath. Yama means to control. Ayama means to expand or lengthen. So Pranayama can be translated as "The regulation and expansion of life energy through breath".

Pranayama is a key component of yoga and Ayurveda. A science that has its roots dating over 5000 years ago. Ancient Indian texts of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita discuss the importance of breath control for spiritual growth and the attainment of higher states of consciousness.

By regulating the breath, one can still the mind and achieve a deeper understanding of the self and the universe. It has been used for thousands of years to promote physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being and continues to be an important part of yoga and Ayurveda today.

The practice of pranayama includes a variety of techniques of breathwork techniques. Each technique has a specific purpose and can be used to create different effects on the body and mind.

The origins of yoga pranayama can be traced back to the ancient Indian texts of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. These texts discuss the importance of breath control for spiritual growth and the attainment of higher states of consciousness. The practice of pranayama is described as one of the eight limbs of yoga in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a text that is considered the foundation of classical yoga.

In the Upanishads, breath control is described as a way to gain control over the mind and achieve a higher state of consciousness. It is believed that by regulating the breath, one can still the mind and achieve a deeper understanding of the self and the universe.

The Bhagavad Gita also emphasizes the importance of breath control, describing it as a way to achieve self-control and inner peace. By regulating the breath, yoga pranayama will purify the mind and body, leading to greater physical and spiritual well-being.

QiGong Breathwork Practices

In ancient China, the practice of Qigong, which is a form of traditional Chinese medicine, also emphasized the importance of breath control. Qigong practitioners believed that the breath was closely connected to the body's vital energy, and that controlling the breath could help balance and harmonize the body's energy. The Chinese call this vital energy 'Qi' and it is believed to flow through the body through channels called 'meridians'. They believed that by regulating the breath, one can improve the flow of Qi and thus promote overall health and well-being.

It is believed that thousands of years ago in ancient China, shamans and healers that were living in close contact with nature developed these techniques. It was later adopted in monasteries as well as a way to keep the mind and body healthy and in optimum condition, to condition and to awaken the mind for deep spiritual practices.

Nowadays millions of people are practicing QiGong. If you want to learn QiGong as well follow this link:  Learn QiGong breathwork

Ancient Egyptian Breathwork Practices

Ancient Egyptians had a deep understanding of the importance of breath control and developed a variety of breath control techniques to promote well-being. These techniques were not only used for spiritual and physical health but also in the context of their religious beliefs.

One of the ancient Egyptian breathwork methods was the practice of "Heka" which means "magic" or "magical power" in ancient Egyptian. Heka was believed to be the force that created and sustained the world, and the ancient Egyptians believed that by harnessing this force, they could achieve greater spiritual and physical well-being. The practice of Heka involved the use of breath control techniques and mantras to align the body and mind with the divine force of Heka.

Another ancient Egyptian breathwork method was the practice of "Sekhem" which means "power" or "energy" in ancient Egyptian. The practice of Sekhem involved the use of breath control techniques and visualizations to align the body and mind with the energy of the universe. The ancient Egyptians believed that by aligning themselves with this energy, they could achieve greater physical and spiritual well-being.

The ancient Egyptians also believed in the power of the god of wisdom, Thoth, to pass down knowledge of breath control to the ancient Egyptians. They believed that Thoth had given them the knowledge of how to regulate the breath and use it to achieve spiritual and physical well-being. This belief led to the development of various breath control techniques, including the use of mantras and visualization to align the breath with the energy of the universe.

In addition to these practices, the ancient Egyptians also used breath control in the context of their religious rituals and ceremonies. They believed that by regulating the breath, they could achieve a deeper connection with the gods and achieve spiritual transcendence.

In conclusion, the ancient Egyptians had a deep understanding of the importance of breath control and developed a variety of breath control techniques to promote well-being. These techniques were not only used for spiritual and physical health but also in the context of their religious beliefs. The practices of Heka, Sekhem, and Thoth, as well as their use in religious rituals and ceremonies, demonstrate the integral role that breath control played in ancient Egyptian culture and spirituality.

Breathwork in the modern age

In the West, the practice of breathwork can be traced back to the early 20th century with the work of Dr. Otto Rank and Wilhelm Reich. Both believed that the breath was closely connected to emotional and psychological well-being. Reich developed a form of breathwork called "breathing therapy" which was used to help individuals release repressed emotions and traumas. He believed that repressed emotions were stored in the body and that by releasing them through breathwork, one could improve emotional and psychological well-being.

In the 1950s, a man named Leonard Orr developed Rebirthing-Breathwork, which is a form of conscious connected breathing. Rebirthing-Breathwork is a self-healing technique that aims to release emotional and physical blockages through conscious and connected breathing. Orr believed that the birth process was traumatic and that the trauma is stored in the body, causing emotional and physical issues. He believed that by releasing the trauma through breathwork, one could improve overall health and well-being.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Stanislav Grof and Christina Grof developed Holotropic Breathwork, which is a form of breathwork that uses rapid and deep breathing to achieve altered states of consciousness. Holotropic Breathwork aims to access the healing potential of the unconscious mind and promote self-exploration and personal growth. The Grofs believed that by accessing the unconscious mind, one could access repressed emotions, traumas, and negative patterns that were blocking personal growth and well-being.

A combination of cold water immersion and breathwork

In the beginning of the 21st century Wim Hof, also known as "The Iceman", brought breathwork practices more into the public and science. Wim Hof is a Dutch extreme athlete and alternative therapist who has gained fame for his ability to withstand extremely cold temperatures. Through his world records such as climbing Mount Everest in just shorts and running a marathon in the Namib Desert without water, TV shows and seminars, Hof has been able to popularize his breathwork method and helped it to reach a wide audience.

Like this more people started doing Pranayama and breathwork and many people, including athletes and individuals with chronic health conditions, have reported benefits from practicing breathwork. This has helped to make breathwork more and more popular.

Hof has worked with scientists to study the effects of his method on the body. In one study, researchers found that breathwork can increase the release of anti-inflammatory molecules in the body, which help to reduce the risk of infection and disease. 

Today, breathwork is a diverse practice that encompasses many different techniques, including yoga pranayama, Qigong, holotropic breathwork, and more. Each form of breathwork has its own unique approach, but they all share the common goal of using the breath to promote physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being

If you want to learn the wide variety of breathwork and Pranayama techniques that will improve health, mental focus and inner peace, then we would highly recommend doing Michaēl Bijker's "Breath is Life" course. The course is available for everyone on a "pay what you can" basis.  

23 January 2023

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