Lose Yourself to Find Yourself: How Transcendence Through Breathwork Can Produce Incredible, Lasting Benefits

There is a growing body of evidence proving what breathers, psychonauts, and seekers have long known: having your sense of self fall away and connecting to a higher consciousness (self-transcendence) can lead to dramatic, lasting improvements in your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual wellbeing.

Below we will explore the transcendental experience – what it involves, how common it is, how it is brought on, the extensive benefits, and its connection to Breathwork.

What is a Transcendental Experience?

Transcendental experiences have been reported throughout history, across cultures and religions, and in both scriptural and secular writings [1]. It is characterized as a heightened state of consciousness, expanded or altered awareness, and a connection to something greater than self or ego.

There are different levels of transcendental experiences, with a ‘peak transcendental experience’ (or mystical experience) typically involving the expansion of perception beyond the human body and one’s personal identity, and the transcendence of space and time. Peak experiences usually also involve a sacred union or connection to the creator, the universe, God, the higher self, the divine or whatever term one uses to describe the source of being [2]. People often return from peak experiences with a new lens in which they see and experience the world – one with more beauty, love, unity, and flow. [3] They also report feeling more connected to life and self, and most experience enduring vitality, serenity, equanimity and meaningfulness, as well as a shift in life’s priorities. [4],[5],[6]

How Common Are Peak Transcendental Experiences?

Research suggests approximately ⅓ of people will have a peak transcendental experience that lifts them outside of themselves and connects them to source, at some point in their lifetimes. [7],[8],[9] It also suggests that the likelihood of having such an experience is not dependent on religious beliefs or spirituality. Self-proclaimed agnostics and atheists can experience it as well, and according to one study approximately 25% of them will. [10]

How Transcendental Experiences are Brought On

Transcendental experiences can be brought on voluntarily or involuntarily. Fasting and isolation, and other types of acutely intense physical or emotional events including giving birth, acute personal crisis, chronic disease, or the most commonly reported trigger – near death experiences can induce it involuntarily. [11],[12] Voluntary methods commonly include psychedelics (especially common when used in the right set and setting), raja yoga, vision quests, concentrative meditation (mantras, prayer etc), spiritual rituals, temazcales, sensory deprivation, and last but not least – Breathwork.

Many people report peak transcendental experiences as the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant lifetime experience. [13],[14] Studies show those who report having had a peak experience score markedly higher on measures of psychological wellbeing than those who did not report such experiences, and the effects are lasting. [15],[16],[17] Positive changes often noted include changes in attitude towards self, others, life, and consciousness; changes in behavior and ways of thinking; and an increase in life satisfaction, purpose, self-worth, creativity, compassion, and personal power. [18],[19],[20]  Studies have also found transcendental experiences of all levels improve the mental wellbeing of people with PTSD, depression, anxiety, terminally ill patients, the elderly (and others who are facing their own mortality); and are tremendously helpful for the recovery of drug, alcohol, and other addictions. [21],[22],[23],[24],[25],[26],[27],[28]

How Transcendental Experiences Affect Your Physical Health

“Every change in the physiological state is accompanied by an appropriate change in the mental-emotional state, conscious or unconscious, and conversely, every change in the mental-emotional state, conscious or unconscious, is accompanied by an appropriate change in the physiological state.” [29] In other words your mental and emotional health affects your physical health, and vice versa…and there is undeniable evidence proving this.

With the above in mind and taking into consideration the tremendous impact transcendental experiences have on mental and emotional health, it makes sense that these experiences would impact physical health as well. In fact, there is an abundance of anecdotal and clinical evidence linking transcendental experiences to the enhancement of physical health and the remission of pathological conditions. [30] There is also an abundance of evidence linking stress, anxiety, and depression to dramatically increased risk for chronic disease, heart attacks, poor immunity, and impaired healing. [31],[32] Because transcendental experiences often lead to a reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression, they in turn may help reduce the aforementioned health risks.

How Common are Transcendental Experiences in Breathwork?

Modern Breathwork as we know it today was born in large part by transpersonal psychologist Stan Groph. He developed it to help his PTSD patients achieve recovery through non-ordinary states of consciousness which mimic psychedelic experiences. [33],[34] Perhaps not surprisingly considering its roots, Breathwork is almost always associated with a heightened state of consciousness, and some level of self-transcendence.

However, Breathwork does not always lead to peak transcendental experiences where there is a complete loss of self and sacred union with source, as described in the first part of this article. There is no definitive answer for how often a Breathwork journey will lead to these peak experiences, however one small study on 134 participants found approximately 10% of individuals will experience it during a session. [35]

Worth noting, we advise against partaking in Breathwork with expectations or trying to achieve a peak experience. The Breath always takes you exactly where you need to go, and lasting benefits such as increased self-awareness, self-love, self-esteem, connection, meaningfulness, and happiness occur in breathers regardless of if they had a peak experience or not. This is especially true for repeat breathers, and for those who take the time to integrate their learnings.

How Breathwork Heightens Consciousness and Triggers Transcendental Experiences

The exact way in which Breathwork transforms consciousness and leads to transcendental experiences is unknown, however emerging evidence suggests the psychedelic ‘spirit molecule’ DMT(N, N-Dimethyltryptamine) may be at play. DMT is found in nature and the human body, it is the strongest-known psychedelic substance in the world, and it’s the same molecule that is considered the impetus for the hallucinogenic and often mystical experiences associated with Ayahuasca. [36] Some believe the release of DMT during Breathwork is triggered by hyperventilation, hypoxia (low oxygen) and physiological changes such as an increase in pH and decrease in C02. [37] However this is not proven, and the depth of breaths taken during Breathwork should in theory lead to more oxygen and not less oxygen in the body. 

Regardless of what might cause DMT to be released in Breathwork, the hypothesis that it is released would explain why Breathwork journeys so often parallel intentional psychedelic experiences and why many of the benefits are the same (for more info on DMT & Breathwork, click here).

Whether DMT is Released or Not, There is No Denying the Facts that:

  1. Breathwork can lead to peak transcendental experiences.
  2. Most Breathwork sessions lead to some level of transcendence and a connection to a higher consciousness as well as your subconscious. In this higher space of awareness rapid healing, life changing insights, and major breakthroughs can occur and we become empowered as we realize everything we need is already within us.
  3. Dramatic and lasting positive effects on mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing are commonly noted by breathers – regardless of whether or not they had a ‘peak’ experience. 

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