So how's Breathwork different to Pranayama? Aren't they the same thing? I often get asked these questions on our retreats as I offer both Pranayama and Breathwork as part of our curriculum. The plain straightforward answer to this question is no they are not the same thing. As yoga teachers often refer to Pranayama as a way to facilitate to beginner students, who are not familiar with the term, that they are about to perform the yogic Breathing exercises (control of Prana, or life force to be more precise) then these two things started getting mixed up.
As I was saying the Sanskrit (an old language used in India in which the yogic scriptures were written) word Pranayama doesn't mean breathing exercises. The break down of the word is Prana means "life" (breath) and ayama means "control", they both combined mean the control, or even better the extension of the life force. The Pranayama techniques are used to purify the mind and body just like the Asanas (postures) are performed for the purpose as well. So we use the term Pranayama for those "breathing techniques" (I am using this term merely to simplify understanding) described on the yogic practices such as Ujjayi, Bhastrika, Kapalabhati, etc. These are usually performed after, but sometimes before the Asana practice, often in a seated position, from only a few minutes to perhaps 1 hour or so. Often yoga teachers will guide you for 5 or 10 minutes after the practice, preceding the Meditation. Pranayama is more subtle layer than Asana to purify the mind for Meditation practice.
Breathwork is a much more modern term used to describe conscious connected breath, as a broad definition. This practice has had a major boom in the last few years, some other popular Breathwork variants include Transformational Breathwork, Integrative Breathwork, Rebirthing, The Wim Hof Method, etc. So how is this different from Pranayama? The main difference is the goal of this technique, while the main purpose of Pranyama is to purify the physical and mental body, as said before, Breathwork can guide you into deeper states of consciousness to release physical and emotional trauma, reach breakthrough insights and increase self awareness. The sessions normally last between 40 to 90 minutes, where one is laying down and it is often facilitated or guided by a teacher. Because maintaining a deep and connected breath for such a long duration can be difficult on your own these techniques are done in groups through courses and workshops. The music played during session is also an important element. Music has a powerful effect in your brain and can take you more easily into the journey through your emotions stored in the subconscious mind. Often the music also guides the rhythm and pace of the breathing and in that way facilitates the process.
The results you get from a Breathwork session are incredible, immediate and really the most eye opening experience I have EVER had. The first time I had a Breathwork session I was in completely awe. During that same weekend I had a few more experiences and as I left I felt like I was so light and energised it was literally like walking on clouds. I was hooked! I said to myself, people need to experience this stuff, it's too good not too pass on to others.. So then I decided to slowly introduce Breathwork sessions in my retreats, besides the Pranayama sessions that I already teach during the morning classes. The first retreat I did that people were like whaaaattttt is that?!! I had so many amazing testimonials, people were in so much awe I was like, this is it, this was what was missing in my retreat! It was like this big insight!
I am so grateful for my teachers and all the people I meet that are always feeding me with this endless knowledge. It is almost strange to call myself a teacher, as I feel like I am just a student, forever learning and just sharing this knowledge that was passed on to me. When I think this way it humbles me, because I realise the more I learn, the more I realise that there's so much out there! And I am very grateful for the opportunity that people give me to guide them into experiences like that, it is very fulfilling to be able to contribute to a better world somehow, even if in just such a very small way...