Ketamine 101
July 19, 2022

Breathwork for Emotional Regulation

Breathwork for Emotional Regulation: How to prepare and integrate psychedelic experiences to create lasting behavioral change

We are in the midst of a healing renaissance. Now, more than ever before, we’re individually and collectively waking up to the need to take responsibility for our wellbeing.

Creating lasting behaviour change is hard. Yet it’s deeply important in order to find lasting satisfaction. 

When it comes to doing the inner work, we have many tools at our disposal. Two modalities at the forefront of this movement are breathwork and psychedelics. And as such, the two go hand in hand. 

Whether this is your first time coming to Better U for a Ketamine treatment or your tenth, if you’re here, it means you’re ready for change. You’ve decided a certain pattern, belief, or experience, is no longer serving you.

When it comes to psychedelic journeys, the experience can be as illuminating as it can be challenging, as expansive as it may be ego-dissolving. 

These medicines hold tremendous power, and as such, the wake of such a significant experience may leave you emotionally raw and unsettled. This is why we need practices to ground us, so we can incorporate lessons learned into our daily life. When we’re able to fully integrate the experience, we can implement and embody emotional and thought pattern shifts. 

This is where breathwork comes into play. 

It is a powerful modality that can be used both to “prep” for psychedelic experiences and to “integrate” them as well. Improving the “prep” and “integration” process will help to maximize your psychedelic experience to create lasting behavioral change. 

Or as we call it, transformation.

What is breathwork?

At its core, breathwork is something we each practice every day, with every breath, 25,000 times per day.

As a practice, it’s been implemented by societies for thousands of years.

To put it simply – breathwork is the conscious practice of controlling your breath to create a specific nervous system response. Your breath dictates your blood flow and circulation, immune system response, hormonal response, emotional state and nervous system state. It has an impact on almost all processes in the body. The type of breathing patterns you follow can help you master your physiology, with different methods for mental, emotional, and physiological state shifts as needed. 

Breathwork has grown in popularity due to pioneers like Wim Hof, a Dutch athlete who advocates for breathwork and hot + cold therapy as a means of tapping into our body’s innate healing capacity and emotional resilience.  

Wim Hof breathing tutorial by Wim Hof

Christina and Stan Grof - Holotropic Breathwork

Both simple and profound, breathwork holds the keys to expand your consciousness, optimize your health, release emotions, and reboot the nervous system through the body's natural healing capabilities. 

We are witnessing Breathwork reemerge at the forefront of this healing movement due to its accessibility, effects, and the growing body of scientific research supporting its vast benefits.

Breathwork can be used to strengthen the nervous system in three main ways:

  1. Upregulated breathwork 

Upregulated breathwork, which we’ll call “Up,” taps into our sympathetic nervous system to activate our body’s natural “fight or flight” response. Like a coffee replacement, this style of breathwork incorporates fast, quicker breathing patterns that floods our body with oxygen. This releases norepinephrine in the body, which works to boost mood, mental clarity, and focus. By hacking our autonomic system, we can naturally elicit “eustress” to boost our energy. This is best in the morning or afternoon as a response to procrastination. It can also be used to find creative energy.  

  1. Downregulated breathwork 

Downregulated breathwork, which we’ll call ‘Down,’ taps into our parasympathetic response to calm and relax our nervous system. You can think of downregulated breathwork as a glass of wine. This style incorporates longer, slower, deeper breaths that tap into the nerve endings at the base of our lungs. These diaphragmatic breaths tell our body it’s safe to relax as our heart rate slows. “Down” breathing can be used after work, prior to bed, or if you’re in the midst of a panic attack. This superpower technique can shift you into the nervous system state where you can experience more joy and slow the thinking mind.

  1. Emotional Regulation breathwork

Longer breathwork journeys are designed to regulate emotions and change your perception of self and time. We’ll call these ‘All Around.’ We can use deeper breathwork states to shut down the inner critic, identify, feel, process, and then release emotions. When we shut down the prefrontal cortex - our dominant, thinking mind – we’re given space to process emotions stored in our body. Then, we can fully release them. These sessions are powerful for breakups, guilt, forgiveness, shame, anger, grief and death, job loss, imposter syndrome. Anytime you need space from challenging emotions, this style of breathing can provide immediate relief.

To really tap into the benefits of breathwork, it's best practiced with a guide. When you combine expert guidance, immersive soundscapes, and subtle exploratory prompts and intentions, you can fully immerse yourself in the experience.

This is where tools like the Othership Breathing App come into play.

Othership has over 300 breathwork sessions designed by world-renowned breathwork facilitators to help you learn various breathwork techniques and implement a daily practice. The sessions are science-backed, music-driven, and intentionally curated to help you manage stress, mood, sleep improvement, and emotional regulation.

Breathwork + Psychedelics

Practice breathing and psychedelic treatment complement one another as they both serve the same goal. 

Similar to psychedelics, breathwork holds the potential to induce non-ordinary states of consciousness, which can lead to changes in self-perception and self-awareness, and ultimately positive behavioral change.  

Breathwork allows you to explore altered states, which can be used in preparation for a psychedelic experience. Breathwork is safe, and you have control in deciding when you’ve reached your limit. Since you can experience elements of the psychedelic experience, it prepares your mind and nervous system for the state you are going to enter. 

One particular method is called Holotropic Breathwork, a therapeutic breathing practice that involves fast breaths for long periods.

This technique was developed by early LSD researcher, Stanislav Grof, in the 1960s. During his studies, Grof noticed when his patients were experiencing difficult emotions, as they started to breathe deeply into it, they started to not only shift their emotions, but would even reinduce the psychedelic state.  

This led to developing the practice of Holotropic breathwork, as an alternative method of attaining similar results from LSD. He aimed to discover how to harness the power of your own breath to achieve similar healing purposes from altered states. He named this breathwork style after the Greek words “holos,” meaning “whole,” and “trepein,” meaning, “to move toward.” 

Essentially - “moving toward wholeness.”

Just as we recommend to clients during a ketamine treatment – whenever you want to further explore your emotions, you can go inward. There is space and safety to reflect on the emotions you experience and go deeper into your inner work. This is why breathwork practice and intentional psychedelic use go hand in hand. 

 

Breathwork for Psychedelic Prep

Before entering into a psychedelic journey, it’s crucial your nervous system is prepared. 

Just as breathwork transitions the mind for meditation, breathwork prepares your nervous system for a psychedelic journey.

Working with ketamine can bring up unprocessed emotions and memories. Feeling safe and secure is fundamental for the psychedelic journey. This safety starts within your nervous system - within your own being.

This is why your breath can be your anchor. It is a constant – a point of groundedness you can continually return to during your experience.

You can anchor your intention - the guiding belief and focus of your psychedelic experience - with your breath. Just like your intention is a focal point to return to, your breath is a constant point of groundedness you can continually return to during your experience. Tying the two points of focus together can deeply solidify the why behind your healing experience. 

With any new endeavor we take on – whether it’s summiting a mountain, starting a business, or in this case, participating in Ketamine-Assisted Therapy treatment – it’s essential we embark on this path as prepared and well-equipped as we can be.

And, it’s equally important to have a game plan for how we will handle and process difficult emotions as they arise.

Breathwork can transition your body out of the body’s chronic “fight or flight” stressed state and into a state of calm and surrender. By flooding your cells with more oxygen, you regulate the physical stress response in the body - especially as it arises in anticipation of a psychedelic experience. This practice helps to mitigate emotional turbulence and create a deeper sense of safety. 

You can prepare for your ketamine treatment with Better U with some of these longer, emotional regulation sessions with the Othership App:

These types of breathwork can help move energy and release “stored” emotions in your body. The practice will allow you to deepen your connection with yourself and your subconscious. 

 

Breathwork for Integration

Integration is perhaps the most important pillar of the psychedelic experience. 

Without integration, we can get lost in the cycle of novel experiences and blissful highs without ever implementing the lessons and growth from the experience. 

Integration is our opportunity to create meaningful change. As Jack Kornfield put it – “After the ecstasy, the laundry.” 

This is where the real work begins. 

Psychedelics are a quicker route to healing and growth. In a way, they work to kick-start the process. But it’s up to us, especially after the experience, to maintain the practices and do the work needed to sustain the changes.

When we integrate the shifts that came from a psychedelic experience, it’s paramount we are in a calm, balanced, and grounded state. To do so, we can utilize our breath. Our breath is the greatest access point to manage and regulate our nervous system.

Guided Breathing Sessions for Psychedelic Integration 

To continue on the path of integrating new, behavioral changes, building a mindfulness routine that you will incorporate into your life is paramount. There are a few ways you can maintain a consistent breathwork practice as you rewire your neural pathways and recalibrate your nervous system response.

Daily downregulated breathing: Practicing downregulated styles of breathwork have tremendous physiological and mental benefits. This practice is most beneficial as a way to transition out of the day and back into a state of presence and awareness. This allows your nervous system to rest and bring yourself back into a similar, receptive state as you were in your psychedelic journey. 

A weekly emotional release: Carving out time every week, like on a Sunday, is a practice that allows you to continually move and process emotions as they arise in the aftermath of your experience. Like a weekly deep clean, committing to a longer breathwork session every week will ensure your emotional state stays harmonious. 

Breath awareness, throughout the day: Whether you set a notification or make a mental note tied to a specific cue - coming back to your breath, as often as you can, will always be a valuable practice in mindfulness. Just 6 conscious, slow, deep breaths hold the capacity to shift our state, and can be a moment to return to an intention or insight you’re carrying with you from your psychedelic experience.

How to Implement Daily Breathwork Practice for Integration

Ketamine therapy is especially effective because the medicine not only works to pattern disrupt our default way of thinking

When our nervous system is regulated, we can allow for the healing, insights, and growth that we experienced during the psychedelic experience to integrate.

Both psychedelics and breathwork hold the potential for profound healing. These practices can pattern interrupt, which allows us to carve out new behavioral pathways. When used in conjunction, we’re able to access the greatest therapeutic impact. 

Whether your intention is to break through limiting thought patterns, process trauma from your past, or reset your nervous system state, incorporating breathwork throughout your psychedelic experience - from preparation to integration - will allow you to make the most of your experience. 

Psychedelics are no magic pills, and no matter how rewarding the experience,

Embarking on the psychedelic medicine path can lead to intense experiences. You’re taken out of your ordinary state of mind, which can be overwhelming.

The impacts are often felt on a mental, emotional and spiritual level.  

Breathing is the most essential part of the autonomic nervous system to control and navigate. The way you breathe will affect the chemical and physiological activities in your body and even can induce a non-ordinary state of consciousness, similar to a psychedelic experience. \