Is Breathwork Safe for Your Clients? Weird Side Effects You Should Know
Breathwork is winning the popularity contest right now (and for good reason… it’s an insanely effective healing modality!). People are turning to it for self-healing and connection to their higher selves — but is breathwork really safe for everyone?
The short answer is… no, not for everyone.
In this blog post, we’ll be diving deep into the possible side effects of breathwork – both positive and negative – as well as safety considerations before facilitating breathwork. We’ll also look at contraindications to be aware of beforehand, so you can make an informed decision about whether breathwork is right for YOUR clients.
First up… let’s just get the possible “negative” breathwork side effects out of the way.
Possible Negative Breathwork Side Effects
Okay, so I know I said that breathwork isn’t safe for everyone. However, generally speaking, it is VERY safe when done with an experienced facilitator. It can be super healing for mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. Buuuuuttttttt…. it can also cause some weird and uncomfortable side effects for sure… especially if you’re not expecting them!
These are 8 weird possible breathwork side effects, for example:
1. Nausea, Vomiting, & Dizziness
Breathwork can cause nausea, dizziness, and vomiting, especially if done too intensely on a full stomach. Most people don’t vomit during Breathwork, but it is possible, so be prepared! So don’t eat a whole bunch of food, and then go do breathwork... you might barf it all up, which can get really awkward… I’m speaking from experience here. 😅
Tetany is another possible side effect of breathwork. It’s a condition in which your muscles involuntarily contract, and your hands clamp up and look like lobster claws 🦞. It can also affect the feet, face, or around your waist (but the hands are the most common place).
It can be a little painful sometimes, but the good news is it’s completely normal and harmless. The bad news is it lasts for two months…… JUST KIDDING!! 🤣 It goes usually goes away after about 15 minutes after completing the breathwork practice. But it’s one of these things where it can be quite intense for people if they don’t know what it is or don’t know that it’s coming.
It usually comes up when we’re resistant to what’s coming up within our unconscious. It can be a sign that we’re holding onto something that is asking to be released. If you experience tetany, you can ask yourself, “What am I holding on to?”.
Of course, in our Pause Breathwork Facilitator program, we teach you all about tetany, why it happens, the connection to the heart, and how the energy moves through the body. But it’s one of those weird side effects that can be uncomfortable if you don’t know what it is.
3. Temperature Changes
Breathwork can also cause temperature changes. There’ll be times when you’re doing breathwork where you will be sweating your tits off (can I say that?😅)… and other times when you’re gonna be freezing cold.
This is not a bad thing – it’s just your body moving energy and energetically cleansing your system. But it can feel strange if you don’t know what’s going on.
4. Intense Emotional Releases
Breathwork can also cause intense emotional releases even within a few minutes — which is actually a good thing!
Breathwork is meant to move energy and emotion through the body, so you may find yourself crying, screaming, shaking, and moving the body while you go through a deep emotional catharsis. If this happens, I invite you to welcome your emotions with acceptance and presence.
Each time you practice breathwork, it will be a totally different experience. Some sessions may be blissful and loving, while others may be more painful and intense. Trust that whatever unfolds is exactly what you need in the moment.
I still remember a time when I taught breathwork to a room of about 500 men. I swear there was not a single dry eye in the place. When we do breathwork, we release our inner “protectors.” Our protectors are the parts of us that say, “Don’t cry. You shouldn’t cry. You should be strong.” And when we let go of our protectors, we drop into our bodies. When we drop into our bodies, we can feel what needs to be released. And for so many of us, that’s sadness and grief. We need to let go of agony. We need to let go of all of these things that are holding us back from experiencing our true power and full self-expression.
So while intense emotional releases can be scary or seem at first like a “negative side effect”, the truth is they can be liberating and healing. Breathwork helps us to connect with our true selves and to release anything that’s getting in the way of living authentically.
5. The Risk of Re-traumatization
One of the BIGGEST safety considerations before facilitating Breathwork is making sure that your clients are prepared and safe before diving in. Breathwork can be a powerful tool for healing, but it can also bring up old trauma too quickly if you’re not careful. It’s important to make sure that the client is physically and emotionally ready to do breathwork, and the Breathwork Facilitator should be aware of the client’s history with trauma.
If you have a client who has a lot of trauma in their history, it’s important that we don’t throw them into a really intense breathwork session right away. This is not ideal because we can flood the body with too much energy, and the nervous system might not know how to handle it, so it can actually be re-traumatizing. This can result in the client going into an energetic collapse or dissociation.
So if you are going to use breathwork with your clients, it’s important that you go really slow and be very mindful of trauma. Breathwork CAN be the most PERFECT thing for trauma healing if it’s done at the right pace, but too much too soon can re-traumatize people.
We want to slowly give the body small sips of energy to be able to slowly open up its window of tolerance bit by bit, moment by moment, so the body feels comfortable and safe using breathwork. That’s why we put a HUGE emphasis on trauma-aware training in our programs because it’s mega, mega, mega important.
6. Dry Mouth/Throat & Coughing
Another side effect of Breathwork can be dry mouth and coughing. If you’re finding it difficult to breathe through your mouth because your mouth is getting so dry, then simply switch to a breath pattern that uses the nose instead. There’s a video on my YouTube Channel HERE where I go through the four different Pause Breathwork techniques. You can check that video out to see what technique might be best for clients experiencing dry mouth.
Another thing you can try is to simply eat a spoonful of honey before starting your breathwork practice. This will help to lubricate your airways, and it is thought that the sweetness helps to create more saliva.
7. Uncomfortable Sensations or Pain in Different Body Parts
Body parts can also get sore, or we can feel painful sensations as a side effect of breathwork. This is because breathwork can bring attention to places where we’re storing tension or repressed emotions. This isn’t bad, though, because it brings more awareness to our pain so that we can consciously release it.
For example, I work at my computer pretty often, and I used to clench my shoulders A LOT. But through breathwork, I became mindful of this holding pattern. When I would lie down to do my breathwork practice, my shoulders were soooooo painful because I was holding so much energy, emotion, and tension there. But through breath, movement, and sound, I was able to release this tightness and free up my shoulders.
The same thing would happen in my solar plexus. I would start doing breathwork, and my solar plexus felt like it was on fricking on fire!!! 🔥 I realized it was because I was holding anxiety, tension, and stress in that part of my body. But breathwork helped me release this pain by feeling my way through the anxiety.
While breathwork can bring out some uncomfortable sensations or pain, it’s important to remember that this is actually a good thing! It shines a light on what needs to be released and helps us let go and come back into balance.
8. Weird Visuals or Psychedelic Experiences
Breathwork can also bring up weird visuals that seem almost psychedelic in nature. But this is completely normal and happens to about 30% of people! Even if it doesn’t happen right away, it can start to happen more over time as someone practices breathwork more often. This content surfaces from your unconscious as you release energy from the body. Old emotions or images from the past (or previous lives) can be attached to the emotions we’re tapping into.
But don’t worry – these visuals won’t hurt you and can even be pleasant or beautiful. Just observe them and let them come up. Breathwork is all about trusting that whatever comes up is meant to be there, so trust the process and ride the wave! But if it does feel like too much, you’re always in control. You can choose to release the breath pattern or slow it down, and you will return to your everyday normal waking consciousness.
The Positive Side Effects of Breathwork
So with all of THAT, let’s just take a hot minute to acknowledge that breathwork can be a very PRIMAL, vulnerable, and exposing experience… But it’s also one of the most powerful techniques we can use to heal our bodies, clear our minds, open our hearts, and truly feel the essence of who we really are.
So much of personal development is trying to think our way into feeling better. But with breathwork, we cut directly to our truth and through the limitations of the mind. We release what’s holding us back at such a deep level that we finally feel the liberation we desire.
The main thing to remember is that the “negative” breathwork side effects that we’ve talked about here are very, very, very normal. And despite some of them being rather uncomfortable, the overall benefits of breathwork far outweigh the temporary discomfort!
Breathwork has been proven to have a bunch of positive side effects like:
- Immediate anxiety relief and stress reduction.
- Connecting you with your emotions & changes your response to them.
- Revitalizing your organs.
- Giving you access to your higher power.
- Reducing toxins in your body & providing an energetic release.
- Increasing energy.
- More mental clarity.
- Deepening your relationship to your body.
- Releasing trauma that has been stuck in your system for years.
- Rewiring our neurology for better mental health.
- Improving self-esteem and confidence.
- Reducing physical pain.
- Improving sleep.
- And so much more!
Safety Considerations Before Facilitating Breathwork
As you can see, breathwork can be an incredibly powerful tool when used in a safe and intentional way. But it is important, as a breathwork facilitator, that you are trauma-aware and knowledgeable about safe techniques for helping your clients release tension or emotions. We’ve already covered so much in this blog, but some quick tips to remember are:
Pre-screen clients: Ask them about their health, trauma history, and any medications they’re taking. Breathwork is not for everyone, so it’s important to ask these questions before you begin.
Set an intention: Before each session, set a clear intention of what the work will be focusing on and why. This will create a framework for the session and ensure that it’s a safe and intentional space.
Create a comfortable environment: Breathwork can be intense, so create a comfortable space for your clients in person or online to explore the depths of their unconsciousness. Make sure the room is quiet and dark, have blankets on hand for comfort, and play soulful music in the background if desired (just make sure it’s not too loud).
Contraindications to be Aware of Before Facilitating Breathwork
Another way that you can ensure the safety of your clients is to make sure you are aware of any potential contraindications before facilitating Breathwork.
Here are a few contraindications where breathwork should be avoided:
- Detached Retina
- High Blood Pressure (not controlled with medication)
- Cardiovascular disease including angina, previous heart attack or stroke
- Diagnosis of an aneurysm in the brain or abdomen
- Uncontrolled thyroid conditions and diabetes
- Asthma – if the client is asthmatic, ask them to bring their inhaler to the session.
- Prior diagnosis of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or previous psychiatric condition
- Hospitalisation for any psychiatric condition or emotional crisis within the last 10 years
- Any other medical, psychiatric, or physical conditions which would impair or affect the ability to engage in any activities that involve intense physical and/or emotional release
If your clients have any medical conditions or are currently taking medication, have them consult a doctor before starting breathwork. Medical conditions may include but are not limited to high blood pressure, depression, kidney disease, heart disease, chronic panic attacks, and asthma.
Also, breathwork is not recommended for pregnant women. The practice can create intense emotionality within the system, which may create emotional disruption for the baby. Breathwork is highly recommended prenatal to allow for the release of past trauma and to create a healthy, energetic environment for the baby, as well as postnatal. Breathwork is safe to use when breastfeeding.
Breathwork IS safe for children, but being in an altered state of consciousness with intense emotionality might be jarring for their system. This decision is ultimately up to the caregiver or parent.
The Bottom line: is breathwork safe for YOUR clients?
For the most part, YES — Breathwork is safe for the VAST MAJORITY of people (but not everyone). It’s just a matter of facilitating breathwork in a safe, trauma-aware way if they don’t have any contraindications. In order for it to be safe, we have to be mindful of our nervous systems and our clients’ nervous systems, and we have to be mindful of our client’s window of tolerance.
How to Become a Trauma-Aware & Safe Breathwork Facilitator
It’s important to remember that breathwork can be intense for some people, so it’s essential to ensure safety before facilitating breathwork. By making sure you’re trauma-aware and understand the potential side effects of breathwork, you can create a safe space for your clients.
The good news is, I’m OBSESSED with this wonderful, wacky, and amazing modality and have a 6-month Pause Breathwork Facilitator Training that will teach you the skills and tools needed to become a trauma-aware practitioner.
But if you’re not ready to go that deep just yet, and you just want a quick taste first, then I’ve recorded a totally FREE training for you to get started. It’s called “Get Lasting Results for Your Coaching Clients.”
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