How Breathwork Can Heal

Joseph Dana
5 min readJan 30
Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Composition with Circles and Semi-Circles. 1935

I have been lazy about breathwork. Over the years, regular breath work has done wonders for my sense of self and facilitated early forays into the unconscious. When I regularly engage in focused breathwork, my body feels like it’s operating at its maximum as the practice loosens the dominance of the rational mind and fosters a deeper connection with the body. No matter what is happening, I am present when I return to my breath.

For several years now, I have followed a modified version of Wim Hof breathwork whereby I breathe deeply and circularly for 35 breaths and then go into a breath hold. After each breath hold, which tends to get longer as my rational mind releases, I return to circular breathing. This method enabled my first real experience in the unconscious, which I wrote about at length.

Curiously, I didn’t go deeper with breathwork until last weekend when I attended my first holotropic breathwork journey. Holotropic breathwork is the modern form of an ancient practice codified in the 1970s by Dr. Stanislav Grof and Christina Grof. They were using psychedelics as a psychotherapeutic tool until they were outlawed. This intense form of breathwork took the place of psychedelics to help clients release trauma. Holotropic breathwork and its various spinoffs are integral to the current boom in psychedelics. Many psychedelic guides worldwide offer breathwork as preparation for the journeys themselves.

When my wife said that our neighbor was offering a monthly breathwork gathering, the timing felt strangely perfect since I have recently gone back to my breathwork practice in conjugation with a new writing project focused on Kabbalah.

The ancient breath

In the Jewish mystical tradition, the breath animates our consciousness. Three different Hebrew words in the Torah mean or refer to the soul (nefesh, ruach, and neshama), and all are variations of words that mean “breath.” In Genesis 2:7 the Torah says that “the Lord God fashioned the human, humus from the soil, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life and the human became a living creature.”

In his book, The Path of Primordial Light, the Kabbalist scholar and teacher Zvi Ish-Shalom explores the vital connection between Kabbalah and the breath. He writes, “there are two main ingredients to…

Joseph Dana