Mindfulness and meditation are booming. With a market size of $1.1 billion as of 2015 (it's only grown since), which is part of the overall $16 billion market of alternative health according to market research firm IBISWorld, it's clear that stressed, anxious, and goal-oriented people are looking for ways to manage, respond to technology's unrelenting poke, and improve their relationship with their own minds and bodies.
A market this large gives rise to segmentation, and mbg predicts breathwork will be a buzzword in 2018. At our annual revitalize conference this year, breathwork sessions were by far the most in-demand. Teacher and meditation guide Ashley Neese, as well as human performance expert Brian Mackenzie and neurobiologist Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., discussed how breathwork is quickly becoming the next frontier in wellness. "I’ve seen a huge increase in demand for this work on the private, group, and corporate levels because of its effectiveness and accessibility," Neese said. "Breathwork is a foundational practice making it such a popular wellness modality."
"Meditation, while useful too, is not available in moments of stress whereas specific patterns of breathwork can be used anytime, anywhere to buffer stress, raise energy levels, and impact clarity of thought and decision making," said Dr. Huberman, who runs the Huberman Lab, a research division of the neurobiology department at Stanford University. "People are interested in how they can control their internal real estate," he said. "Specific patterns of breathing are a powerful knob on the nervous system and the body, in order to control state."
Indeed, one of the reasons for its resurgence—it was a popular spiritual practice in the '70s and '80s—is the scientific evidence of its efficacy to shift the body from a sympathetic, anxious state to a parasympathetic relaxed one. Conscious breathing activates the diaphragm, which stimulates the vagus nerve, much like laughter. "Through conscious manipulation of one’s breath, an individual can adjust personal chemistry and personal well-being," said Nevine Michaan, founder of Katonah Yoga who teaches breathwork as an integral part of the practice.
Mackenzie prioritizes breathwork techniques in training his clients, who are some of the top athletes in the world. "You can train the muscular and cardiovascular systems all you want, but if we don't understand the role of the pulmonary and respiratory system, we are missing out on essential improvements." He and Dr. Huberman are partnering on a series of breathwork protocols. "Breathwork, as we define it in our lab and in the protocols Brian MacKenzie and I are developing, has defined parameters (inhale duration, exhale duration etc.), and these are tailored to the individual, much like a physical workout. Both meditation and breathwork are valuable, but most people find breathwork to be a faster and more effective means to access the states they want," Dr. Huberman said. "A well-trained pulmonary system allows the 'warm-up' period [for an athlete] to integrate quicker, and can help with early competition or training jitters. Not to mention the ability to understand metabolic shifts that we were otherwise blind to before," said MacKenzie.
In that same vein, the Wim Hof Method has garnered media attention this year for its ability to give people superhuman self-healing powers. Hof is known as the Iceman because he holds the Guinness World Record for longest ice bath, running a marathon above the Arctic Circle without a shirt, and holding his breath for up to six minutes. Tony Robbins enlisted Hof to be a part of his speaking tour this year. His recent profile in Rolling Stone explains how he wants to heal the world, one WHM breath session at a time. Hof asks his clients to take 40 deep inhales and exhales, hold the breath, then take a long deep breath. During this time, a cascade of hormonal interactions occurs that, according to Hof, decrease inflammation and boost immunity.
But breathwork, like meditation, is experiencing a trifold revival: Biohackers are using it as a shortcut to a meditative state, scientists are studying its effects on the nervous system, and yogis are increasingly adding it to their regular practices as esoteric practices like Kundalini and advanced breathwork continue to gain popularity. "Breath is the quickest way to connect to ourselves," Neese said. "We all do it automatically, but when we learn to do it in a more controlled way, we have access to our intuition and feelings." With supernatural benefits that promise to help ease anxiety and access intuition, wellness will see more breathwork in 2018.