March 26


Psychedelics and Breathwork: Companions That Travel Well Together

By Tatyana Kholodkov

March 26, 2023

Pause for a moment and notice, as you take the very next breath, where you feel it the most. All day long, our body takes in air and processes out carbon dioxide,  saturating our bodies, and quietly undulating our bellies.

Why would we pay attention to our breath? 

Our breath makes us feel alive, energy naturally flowing through us.  Breathing is also closely linked with our emotional and mental state. For example, when we are very anxious or in pain, our brains can become quickened and shallow. When we are sad, our breath can feel stuck in our chest, and our throat tightens. All this may occur outside of our conscious awareness. However, with our deliberate attention, we can also change how we feel by intentionally changing our breath. As a therapist at The Project Yes, I understand this process and am here to guide you on the journey.

Looking up through the red leaves of a tree. Breathwork and Psychedelic Psychotherapy in Durham, NC work together to give you the best possible experience.

The Origin of Breathwork

You may have heard the term “breathwork,” now popular among peak athletes, tech company employees, and biohackers. But the origin of many of these popularized methods stems from ancient practices of southeast Asia and other eastern origins. For thousands of years, in other parts of the world, individuals have understood the relationship between our bodies, our mind, and our breath. 

Pranayama: What is it?

The method of Pranayama is an example of a breathwork methodology with roots in yoga teachings from India. In essence, Pranayama involves the intentional control (Yama) of a “vital force” (prana). When we control our breath, we are able to alter subtle processes like the contraction of muscles, the massage of organs, the stimulation of glands, and the response of our nervous system. In the system of yoga, pranayama prepares us for the practice of concentration, because the mind has become more settled and receptive. It can also be used for specific states or mind-body conditions, such as breath that is calming versus breath that gets our internal energy activated.  There are even breathing patterns that can help shift our body temperature!

Modern Research is Finding New Interest in Breathwork

Modern research is becoming very interested in breathwork. There is an exponential increase in the study of breath across disciplines, with findings examining factors such as how breath retention helps people with anxiety, the impact of breathing on cortisol levels, and how mouth breathing is associated with a whole host of negative health outcomes! There’s so much interesting research to share, I’ll write about it in another post. 

Individual practicing deep breathing with her hand on he heart representing the center of focus during Breathwork in Durham, NC.

A Conjunction of Eastern and Western Healing Practices

This is where eastern and western healing meet. The ancient breathwork practices are showing up not only as health recommendations, but also in therapy as grounding skills, coping tools, and part of somatic therapy. When I work with clients seeking help with trauma treatment, persistent depression, and wanting clarity in their life, we use a combination of integrative approaches.  If we are also using ketamine-assisted psychotherapy or psychedelic integration, then breathwork becomes part of the entire psychedelic process. 

Psychedelic Therapy and Breathwork

Prior to engaging in psychedelic therapy, it can be helpful to develop practices that help you open up your mind and find a sense of steadiness. Psychedelics can bring up awe, wonder, distress, and confusion. Trusting yourself in the process and staying open to the experience can be the difference between having powerful messages to integrate versus just a “bad trip.”  By engaging in breathwork prior to psychedelic use, we can experience a sense of safety in our nervous system.

Training Our Minds to Focus

We can also train our minds to focus, particularly with exercises that involve visuals, counting, and movement all synced together. When we strengthen our capacity to focus, it can become easier to focus on our self-healing goals. It is also common to feel nervous before taking a psychedelic, and breathwork can help us release tension. I also teach breathwork practices to nearly all clients who come to see me for mind-body approaches to anxiety and trauma healing. 

Individual with her hand on her belly practicing Breathwork in Durham, NC during a Psychedelic Therapy session.

The Benefits of Breathwork During a Psychedelic Experience

During a psychedelic experience, we can use our breath to keep the experience moving. For example, with a long, slow exhale we may be able to release big emotions that have been held back. Something opens in our body and our mind. We can take a couple of bigger, more powerful, faster breaths to get the “engine” going, a technique that is also used in holotropic breathwork. You may notice your experience shifting as you change your breath. 

Intense Emotions After a Psychedelic Journey

After a psychedelic journey, we may notice a lot of feelings arise. That which we hold back from our consciousness awareness finally has a bit of space. Some people notice that they cry, or even sob. Some may feel anxious and quite tense. We may even be overwhelmed with feelings of love. When we have personal practices that help us move through feelings, such as breathing with mindful awareness, we can trust ourselves to get through even when big emotions arise. Breathing mindfully can help us reconnect back into our body and the sense of reality around us. This can be especially useful if we have a profound experience, and the world awaits us. 

Using Breathwork to Extend the Effects of Psychedelic Medicine

Breathwork can also be used to extend the effects of psychedelic medicine. In ketamine-assisted psychotherapy, breathing gently can help with lingering a bit longer in the “afterglow” of the experience. This allows us to rest a bit longer without automatically shifting into our ordinary state of mind. We can also spend that time reflecting on what arose. Many individuals find that breathwork can also bring about past medicine journeys, perhaps even bringing them “to the same place” where they had a particularly poignant felt sense. We may notice that when we breathe in a way that regulates our nervous system, our hearts are more open. 

Psychedelic Therapy and Breathwork Are Best With a Well-Trained Guide

Keep in mind, breathwork, like psychedelic exploration, is best to be navigated with a well-trained guide. Breathwork practices have contraindications for different health conditions and can produce very intense emotions. Attention to the breath can also be very triggering for some individuals, and thus practices must be built up slowly and taught trauma-informedly. But once learned, it’s like riding a bicycle- your body remembers. Breathing practices are a wonderful addition to your self-healing tool kit and a natural complement to psychedelic journeys. 

You can always return to your breath, again and again. I invite you now to pause, relax your eyes, just notice the next three breaths, and feel that you are alive.

Begin Psychedelic Psychotherapy in Durham, NC Today

If you have been struggling with your mental health and traditional treatments have not worked we can help. Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy is a proven alternative treatment that can address mental health issues that have proven treatment-resistant in the past. At Project YesDr. Kholodkov is trained extensively in the KAP Process and is here to help you on your journey to healing through Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy and beyond. Follow the steps below to get started:

Other Services Offered by Project Yes

In addition to Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy, we offer Psychotherapy Services for AnxietyInsomniaIntegrative HealthOCD, and Trauma and PTSD as well as Yoga and Meditation Options. We look forward to guiding you on your journey toward optimal physical and mental well-being.

If you want to learn more about Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy and our other services please check out our blog here!

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