What is the difference between breathwork and meditation?
March 14th, 2022,
5 min read
They both bring more health, inner peace, and awareness, and they are complementary, but certainly not the same. What is the difference between breathwork and meditation? Breathing plays an important role in most types of meditation. And you can think of breathwork as a form of meditation. Yet they are not the same. In fact, for many, meditation — sitting still and focusing your attention on one single thing — is one of the hardest things to do. While doing breathing exercises is often a lot easier. Let's start with an explanation of both terms. What is meditation? And what is breathwork?
Meditation is about (mental) silence. You close off from the outside world and concentrate completely on one specific reference point. That can be external or internal, something in your environment such as a sound, or something that is going on in your body or mind. Breathing is often taken as a reference point because you always have it with you and the rhythmic movement (breathing in and out) makes it easier to stay focused. While for meditation, it is not the intention to adjust your breathing rhythm, you should merely observe your natural breathing. By focusing on your breath, sounds, images, sensations in your body, feelings, or thoughts, you learn to become fully aware of the present moment. Meditation is not about controlling or directing your thoughts. It is often thought that that is what it is all about, and motivation is lost if that does not work. This is also why many people find meditation difficult. Meditation is all about observing what presents itself, about accepting it and staying aware of it - and not getting caught up in the story. Thoughts, sensations, and emotions come and go, the art of meditation is to be 'only' aware of them and not to judge them. The recently deceased Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh described it beautifully: “To meditate does not mean to fight with a problem. To meditate means to observe.”
Conscious breathing can be done by anyone. And the effects can sometimes be triggered in seconds.
Breathwork can be described as consciously directing your breathing in a certain way, in order to influence certain processes in your body and mind. Unlike meditation, which is purely a cognitive process, breathwork requires you consciously change your breathing, with a specific goal or result. Depending on the technique or method, this may involve making your breathing deeper or more shallow, slower or faster, towards your stomach or your chest, through your nose or through your mouth or perhaps omitting the pauses between the inhalation and exhalation. There are many variables that you can play with in order to achieve a certain result. The term breathwork is widely used. In fact, any conscious effort to direct your breathing is breathwork, from calming breathing exercises (such as with moonbird) to more intense techniques like the Wim Hof breathing or Transformational Breathwork, where you breathe 'connected' for extended periods, i.e. leaving out the pauses between the inhalation and exhalation. With all types of breathwork, people are often amazed to experience the strong and instant effects, from breathing yourself into sleep to working through deep-seated emotional blocks and trauma. Why are meditation and breathwork so different from each other? They are both 'consciousness techniques' and therefore appear very much alike. Yet, breathwork and meditation are very different. We often receive questions about this topic at moonbird HQ, which is why co-founder Stefanie Broes explains the differences between breathwork and meditation, and why they are in fact complementary. Stefanie: “Firstly, meditation is more cognitively or mentally focused. For example, you are observing your thoughts, your body, or your breathing. What are you experiencing in this present moment? Breathwork, on the other hand, is more physical, you are consciously adjusting your breathing rhythm. With this, you also immediately change your state of being, in the moment. In addition, for many people meditation is very complex. It is not easy to be quiet with your thoughts, it can even be very confronting. Moreover, meditation is something that you have to maintain permanently to deepen your practice and become more proficient at it. It takes a while to experience results (a calmer mind). Conscious breathing, on the other hand, can be done by anyone. And you immediately experience what it does to you, think of calming down or falling asleep. The effects can sometimes be triggered in seconds.”
So they are different, but not replaceable. Meditation and breathwork are both very beneficial, in fact, they are complementary. Stefanie: “Meditation can be seen as a kind of philosophy or attitude to life. It’s a way to approach life with a more open mind and a more flexible mindset. It teaches you how to deal with the storm of thoughts in your head, and take more conscious actions instead of living on autopilot. You can see your breathing as a tool or a technique that makes you aware of how you are doing (Is my breathing faster or shallower than normal? Maybe I am under stress?), and can also immediately offer an effective solution to calm yourself down (breathing more slowly triggers your relaxation response). I combine the two myself on a daily basis. I use meditation to be mentally calmer and more resilient in life, and breathing to check in with myself and breathe myself into sleep if that sometimes takes a little longer than I would want. Two great techniques that have helped me a lot in my life. I hope that more people will come into contact with them through moonbird.”
It's simple, it works instantly, and you always have it with you: your breathing. We developed moonbird to make calming breathing exercises easy and effortless. Because relaxing, calming your thoughts, and falling asleep doesn't have to be complex. Experience for yourself what breathing with moonbird can do for you, you can try our device for 14 days, risk-free.
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