Recently, the ancient practice of breathwork has gained renewed attention as a powerful tool for enhancing overall wellbeing. Its bodily, mental and emotional benefits have been reported by the most rigorously peer-reviewed, respected medical journals. New England Journal of Medicine found that regular slow breathing exercises improved lung function and reduced asthma symptoms while International Journal of Behavioral Medicine reported breathwork was associated with improvements in immune system function in HIV patients.
So what exactly is breathwork and how does it work? To explore these questions, Normal’s Founder Jinou Park, sat down with Avery Whitmore, a Healing Arts Practitioner, who is deeply committed to the transformative powers of sound, breath, and meditation. Avery’s commitment to live a life of service has led him to many opportunities over the years, from working with powerful, mission-driven clients and organizations – such as Chopra Global, Alo Moves, and more – to ongoing learning from teachers of a wide variety of wisdom and spiritual lineages.
Normal . has been selected to curate a series of Experiential Programming at the Patina Maldives Fari Islands throughout 2023 and 2024 and take what is already a destination of wondrous depth to new levels of immersive experience. Avery Whitmore who will open the inaugural event Experience as Healing (2-3 June, 2023) shared insights into the history and origins of this ancient practice, as well as the many benefits. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Avery, when did you first come across the practice of breathwork? Were you always interested in ancient spiritual, physical healing practices?
I came across breathwork about eight years ago. I had some transformational breakthroughs at a young age and that journey initially led me to study massage therapy. There, I was inspired to study other modalities and I went in deep into this work.
I heard you were born and raised in Ohio… grew up surrounded by energy workers and artists, exposing yourself to various forms of healing at a young age. What was that experience like? Actually, exposing yourself various forms of healing in young age… what does that even mean?
Growing up surrounded by all that was not only deeply inspiring on a personal level, but it also exposed me to a wide range of perspectives. This fostered a strong foundation in wellness and spirituality from an early age. My parents never pushed me in any particular direction; rather, they encouraged me to explore and experience these different modalities for myself. I developed a genuine connection to this realm, and it became an integral part of me. As I matured, I felt a natural inclination to delve deeper into these practices, which ultimately led me to where I am today.
What exactly is breathwork and how does it work?
Breathwork is a practice of conscious breathing that involves deep, intentional breathing techniques to help quiet the mind and promote relaxation. It is an integral part of many spiritual and mindfulness practices, including yoga and meditation, and has been used for centuries in cultures around the world. At its core, breathwork is about learning to control your breath and use it as a tool to manage your emotions and promote physical and mental health. There are many different styles and techniques of breathwork, ranging from slow, intentional breathing to rapid, rhythmic breathing exercises.
Growing up surrounded by energy workers, artists, and various forms of healing was not only deeply inspiring on a personal level, but it also exposed me to a wide range of perspectives.
Which are those cultures around the world that practiced it? Usually we think of yogic, Pranayama origins from India.
Chinese practice of Qigong involves breathing techniques as well as movements and meditation, and it has been used for thousands of years as a way to improve health and vitality. In Egypt, the practice of Hekau involved the use of specific breathing techniques to access spiritual power and connect with the divine. While the specific techniques and practices of breathwork may vary across cultures, the underlying principle is the same: to use the breath as a tool for improving physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
Let’s dive deeper into those benefits. Reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression to improving cardiovascular function makes a lot of sense. But there’s even reports of improvements in immune system function in HIV patients. I’m not necessarily asking for medical diagnosis. From a practitioner’s point of view, what do you think is the source of all this healing?
While the benefits from this practice can be examined through a scientific lens, there is a profound spiritual aspect that cannot always be easily explained by science alone. Breathwork not only supports the immune system, but also bolsters emotional well-being. As energy flows more freely and our bodies become more connected, we experience greater unity with the cosmos, the earth, our hearts, and our visions. Breathwork offers an opportunity to deeply remember and reconnect with your truth and the universal truth.
A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that a specific form of breathwork called “resonant breathing” was effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression in a group of patients with heart failure.
Resonant breathing is a form of breathing that involves slowing down the breath to a rate of about six breaths per minute, which is slower than the normal breathing rate of most adults. The technique involves inhaling for a count of five, holding the breath for a count of five, and then exhaling for a count of five. This cycle is repeated for several minutes, typically for a total of 10 to 20 minutes per session. The goal of resonant breathing is to synchronize the breath with the heart rate, which can help to activate the body’s relaxation response and reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress.
Research studies have shown that resonant breathing can be an effective technique for reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions, as well as improving cardiovascular health and reducing symptoms of pain and inflammation.
Reading about you and your work, there’s a lot of references to purpose, mission-driven projects etc. Is this important to you and why?
Purpose-driven and mission-oriented projects hold immense importance to me because they embody the essence of a life devoted to service. To me, being of service to others is the greatest privilege and honor I have experienced as a human being. In recognizing the gifts we receive, we come to understand that we live in an incredibly generous world. Simply, my life has become rich and abundant. My motivation for pursuing this line of work stems from a profound inner calling to serve others, which resonates deeply within my heart. Embracing this calling has led to a life that grows more beautiful and fulfilling with each passing day.
I once participated in breathing workshop with Wim Hof. His method is deep inhaling and unforced exhale repeated 30-40 times. At the end of this, I found myself able to hold my breath for almost a minute, which I know I’m not usually capable of. He preaches not just mental but physical benefits of anti-inflammatory, immune system boost and even autoimmune disease relief. Are there other breathing techniques similar to that?
Yes, there are various techniques that share similarities with the Wim Hof Method. In our advanced breathing session in June, I will be teaching a conscious connected deep breathing technique that is both similar and distinct from Wim Hof’s approach. Through this practice, you will likely be able to hold your breath for over a minute, and may even experience non-ordinary states of consciousness. These states can lead to visions, feelings of deep connection, or a heightened sense of unity and connection to all things around you.
The Wim Hof Method
The Wim Hof Method is a breathing technique developed by Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof, who holds several world records for withstanding extreme cold temperatures. The technique involves a series of deep, rhythmic breaths followed by periods of breath holding, to increase oxygen saturation in the body and create a range of health benefits.
To practice the Wim Hof Method, one begins with several rounds of deep breathing, inhaling deeply and exhaling rapidly for a set number of breaths. This is followed by a period of breath holding, with the aim of gradually increasing the length of time the breath can be held. The practice is typically done while seated or lying down, in a quiet and comfortable environment.
Scientific studies have shown that the Wim Hof Method can have a range of health benefits, including reducing inflammation, boosting immune system, enhancing mental wellbeing, improving physical performance.
I know you travel a lot for Chopra Global and various other corporate wellness programs. But this will be your first time visiting the Maldives? Anything in particular you’re anticipating or excited about?
I have been incredibly fortunate to have had numerous opportunities for travel, and I am absolutely thrilled about my upcoming trip to the Maldives. It appears to be paradise on earth, and I can hardly wait to experience it firsthand. What excites me most about this journey is the prospect of connecting with the local community, immersing myself in the natural beauty of the land and ocean, and of course, the opportunity to guide breathwork and sound sessions.
Avery Whitmore opens Patina Maldives upcoming Experience as Healing event on 2-3 June 2023 with Healing Sound, a multi-instrument sound experience followed by communal breathwork.