Check the Length of the Training
There are many shotgun trainings out there, some as short as one weekend. As mentioned above, breathwork is deep work and there is a lot that can come up in a session that the practitioner needs to be prepared to handle. This takes time! Also, you can only hold space for the depth of healing and growth that you have undergone yourself, and a short training does not allow the time necessary for the practitioner to go on their own deep inner journey. We therefore recommend you look for a school or practitioner that has at least 200 hours of training for online sessions or 300 hours for in-person sessions.
Check If the Training or Practitioner is Trauma-Informed
Breathwork can serve as a means to expel trauma by facilitating the release of deeply ingrained tension and pent-up energy residing within the body and subconscious mind. This practice allows for the liberation of trauma, enabling the person to heal and restore equilibrium. While trauma release can be incredibly transformative, it can also be dangerous if the facilitator is not trauma-informed. The breather can easily go into catharsis and the activation of suppressed traumas can cause retraumatization if the facilitator does not know how to safely guide the breather through it and out of it. Because of this, it is critical to seek out a school or practitioner that is trauma-informed.
Check If They Work With the Window of Tolerance
A big part of trauma-informed breathwork is knowing how to regulate the nervous system and stay within the window of tolerance. The window of tolerance is the optimal state of arousal for a person and it is different for everyone. If a person has unprocessed trauma they will likely have a narrower window of tolerance and be more prone to hyperarousal (becoming too activated) or hypoarousal (shutting down/dissociating).
It is a delicate dance, and a skilled trauma-informed practitioner will use tools such as resourcing, titration, and pendulation to ensure their breathers stay within the window. Working this way, allows the person to comfortably process and integrate intense experiences while staying connected to their body. This not only prevents retraumatization but also builds resilience and increases the person’s window of tolerance.
Check If They Promote Embodiment Over Cathartic Release & Out-of-Body Experiences
We live in an adrenalin-chasing society and some breathwork modalities think the bigger the release the better, but those types of cathartic releases are not easy to integrate. Moreover, they tend to overstimulate the nervous system, can leave you more dysregulated, and can lead to retraumatization. Another potentially problematic approach to breathwork is promoting out-of-body experiences. To ‘achieve’ these experiences the participant may be pushed to breathe too fast, and this can be very dysregulating. Also, the disconnection from the body that occurs with this approach is the opposite of what we need to heal and integrate trauma. With trauma, the body separates from the mind, and keeping the body and mind connected during breathwork is the key to healing trauma.
Most experienced trauma-informed practitioners will steer away from catharsis and body detachment, and instead use resonance to ensure their breathers stay within their window of tolerance and do not become overcharged or overwhelmed. The focus should be on supporting the breather with love and care, as opposed to chasing experiences. The goal for the breather, should be to stay in their body and feel the energy of emotion moving through it. Feeling the sensations of the past in the present moment, while remaining within the window of tolerance, allows for the residues of trauma to be processed and released in a gentle and safe, yet powerful way.
Check If Movement is Encouraged
Trauma is stored in the body and the body remembers long after the mind forgets. Fortunately, the body is incredibly wise, and spontaneous healing can occur if we get our minds out of the way and allow the body to intuitively move. While all natural body movements should be encouraged during breathwork, movement can also be stimulated purposefully for trauma release. An example of this is shaking. Shaking sends a signal to the body that the danger has passed, and this supports the fight-or-flight system in turning off and traumatic experiences from the past in being released.