Psychedelic medicines can bring powerful insights that allow us to reframe our circumstances and consider new ways of living. In the after-glow of an experience, we have valuable time during which we are more mentally flexible to implementing practical, positive changes into our day to day lives.
Psychedelic guides and researchers have long considered this key period, called “integration”, a vital component of psychedelic work. Integration protocols and strategies including breathwork and mindfulness can help achieve the best possible long-term therapeutic outcomes from psychedelic experiences.
What is Psychedelic Integration?
During a psychedelic journey, it is common to have out-of-body experiences, ineffable visions, and insightful personal downloads. However, after the initial revelations, the experiences and lessons learned can quickly dissipate like a dream, becoming lost in the fast pace and stress of modern life. We return home to our usual environment, where it is easy to fall back into old ways of being and doing. Ongoing support for integrating new insights can facilitate real, lasting change.
This is where integration comes in. As we have heightened neuroplasticity after psychedelic medicine use, it is the best time to introduce practical changes and habits to ground new insights into our lives. Combining psychedelics with a daily integration practice helps people sustain long-term shifts in their behaviors and maintain a more positive attitude.
“If one’s intention is the seed of what they are calling into their life, and a journey is the ritual that opens that seed into a sprout, then integration is nourishment that helps it grow healthy.” – Kristina Hunter in Consciousness Medicine
In his book, How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan uses a metaphor to describe this new neural flexibility. He describes it as a fresh snowfall covering all the old tracks you would take down a ski hill. As we get older, these tracks tend to get deeper, and it’s easy to become stuck using the same ones over and over. With psychedelic use, you have the opportunity to start fresh and create a new path.
Previous bad habits, however, can be more powerful than new insights. If we don’t commit to introducing positive changes, old behaviors tend to reemerge. Common integration practices include counseling or psychotherapy, sharing your experiences with trusted friends and family, journaling, creating art, singing, massage, meditation, yoga, and breathwork. These practices allow the insights from medicine work to continue to foster personal transformation several weeks after the experience itself.
What is Breathwork?
The term breathwork is used to describe the mindfulness practice of conscious breathing. Practicing breathwork involves actively controlling the length and depth of your inhales and exhales, to have an effect on emotional and physical state.
Breathwork is an ancient mind-body practice with numerous health benefits. Eastern religions and spiritual practices such as Buddhism, martial arts, yoga and Tai Chi have long encouraged the practice of deep breathing. In these practices, diaphragmatic breathing is thought to contribute to physical health, emotional balance, and social adaptation.
More recently, the academic literature is beginning to examine and acknowledge the value of deep breathing exercises on our well-being. Breathwork can help to support the benefits of psychedelic therapy by reducing stress, decreasing anxiety, enhancing psychological flexibility, supporting the autonomic nervous system, promoting emotional release, boosting mood and increasing self-esteem.
Breathwork in Psychedelic Integration
As mentioned above, practicing breathwork can have a huge range of positive effects on the mind and body. We are learning that our breath is one of the core pillars of health that has long been overlooked in western medicine. There are several powerful benefits to incorporating a breathwork practice in psychedelic integration. The following are five of these powerful benefits.
Creating similar altered states of consciousness
Breathwork styles such as Holotropic breathwork developed by Dr. Stanislav Grof —one of the foremost researchers in non-ordinary states of consciousness— are recognized to create very similar experiences to psychedelics themselves. This allows people to bring the magic of these abstract experiences into the day-to-day, and continue their relationship with this mystical space of expanded consciousness.
Reducing stress and anxiety
The theme of slowing down and enjoying life in the present moment is common amongst psychedelic insights. Slow, deep breathing practices have a powerful effect on our nervous system, taking us out of our overwhelmed “fight or flight” mode, and powerfully reducing stress and anxiety. Breathing techniques can be used daily for as little as 2-10 minutes to connect with ourselves and enhance our present awareness.
Reducing depression and boosting mood
Breathwork has been shown to reduce depressive symptoms and boost mood. Studies have found deep breathing to promote brainwave activity associated with enhanced emotional control and psychological well-being. With the growing mental health crisis, breathwork has great potential as an adjunct therapy in depression and mood disorders.
Psychedelic medicine is becoming known for its positive effects in breaking addictive patterns as well as reducing symptoms of PTSD. Psychedelics often show us the root cause of addictive behaviors and allow us to reframe our circumstances with greater self-acceptance and self-love.
Deep breathing programs have been identified as a great complementary therapy with benefits in PTSD as well as addiction. In a similar manner to psychedelic medicines, there are advanced breathwork practices that shut down the pre-frontal cortex, turning off our self-identity and allowing the body to process stored emotions.
Improving self-esteem and self-awareness
Holotropic breathing has been shown to boost self-esteem and self-awareness. In a 2015 study, several positive self-awareness changes were reported including improved scores for temperament, interpersonal problems, boundary setting, and hostility.
3 Guided Breathing Exercises for Psychedelic Integration
The following are three guided practices that can be used to integrate psychedelic experiences. The first two are daily breathwork practices to support the creation of a healthy mindfulness routine, and the third is a longer session to provide emotional release and support expanded consciousness.
Coherent breathing —also called resonant breathing— is a slow breathing pattern of roughly 6 breaths per minute. In her book Heart Breath Mind, Dr. Leah Lagos advocates the benefits of coherent breathing to increase heart rate variability (HRV), which is a marker of our adaptability to stress.
This specific type of breathing is recognized by several academic studies to have health benefits including reduced markers of depression, decreased stress and anxiety, and greater self-reported well-being. If the psychedelic experience has indicated more restorative integration practices, coherent breathing is perfect for calming the nervous system.
The video below is a morning practice, designed to help you feel balanced, energized and accomplished all before your feet hit the floor. It will begin with coherent breathing and continue into more up-regulated breathing styles, while also combining visualizations, affirmations, journaling and incredible music, leaving you empowered and ready for the day.
To practice coherent breathing at home, follow this video.
Up-regulated breathing was popularized by Wim Hof as a method to boost energy, feel empowered and relieve stress. This breathing exercise involves more effortful deep breathing to elicit a powerful response throughout the body. If the psychedelic experience has indicated more uplifting and motivating integration practices, up-regulated breathing is a great practice.
The following short up-regulated breathing session will help you feel energized in only 14-minutes. In three short rounds of up-regulated mouth breathing, you will be guided into a state of complete bliss and receptivity. Paired with energizing music and a sensory body-scan, this breathwork session will give you exactly what you need to feel good now. This practice is perfect to integrate into your morning routine, or boost your energy for a productive afternoon.
To try this 14-minute up-regulated breathing session, follow this video.
Longer, up-regulated breathing sessions help to shut down the conscious mind, allowing the body to release negative emotions and experience altered states of consciousness without the use of psychedelic medicine. After a psychedelic experience, it is recommended to do these longer sessions every 1-2 weeks for continued integration.
Up-regulated breathing can feel like work at first, but stick with it. After an initial effort, your body will continue the breathing pattern more easily and you can experience very powerful emotional releases.
This final guided breathwork session will take you through 5-rounds of up-regulated mouth breathing and an 8-minute inner child meditation, leaving you feeling refreshed and ready to take on life.
To try this longer, 29-minute up-regulated breathing session paired with a guided meditation, follow this video.
Integration practices should feel good, practical, and supportive. There are many different styles of breathwork that can support you on your integration journey to get the most out of psychedelic experiences. To get started at home, try the Inward Breathwork free, 3-day breathwork mini-series delivered to your inbox.
Prepare for Your Psychedelic Medicine Experience with Breathwork
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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. If you are in a life-threatening situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Line at +1 (800) 273-8255, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room.
Important FDA Safety Information
Ketamine is not FDA-approved for the treatment of depression or anxiety. Learn more about off-label uses here.
Side effects of ketamine treatment may include: altered sense of time, anxiety, blurred vision, diminished ability to see/hear/feel, dry mouth, elevated blood pressure or heart rate, elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure, excitability, loss of appetite, mental confusion, nausea/vomiting, nystagmus (rapid eye movements), restlessness, slurred speech, synesthesia (a mingling of the senses).
Do not proceed with ketamine treatment if any of the following apply to you:
- Allergic to ketamine
- Symptoms of psychosis or mania
- Uncontrolled high blood pressure
- CHF or other serious heart problem
- Severe breathing problem
- History of elevated intraocular or intracranial pressure
- History of hyperthyroidism
- Other serious medical illness
- Pregnant, nursing, or trying to become pregnant
Ketamine has been reported to produce issues including, but not limited to, those listed below. However, lasting adverse side-effects are rare when medical protocols are carefully followed.
While ketamine has not been shown to be physically addictive, it has been shown to cause moderate psychological dependency in some recreational users.
- In rare cases, frequent, heavy users have reported increased frequency of urination, urinary incontinence, pain urinating, passing blood in the urine, or reduced bladder size
- Ketamine may worsen problems in people with schizophrenia, severe personality disorders, or other serious mental disorders.
- Users with a personal or family history of psychosis should be cautious using any psychoactive substance, including ketamine, and discuss potential risks with your MindBloom clinician before proceeding with treatment.
- The dissociative effects of ketamine may increase patient vulnerability and the risk of accidents.
To promote positive outcomes and ensure safety, follow these ketamine treatment guidelines:
- Do not operate a vehicle (e.g., car, motorcycle, bicycle) or heavy machinery following treatment until you’ve had a full night of sleep
- Refrain from taking benzodiazepines or stimulants for 24 hours prior to treatment
- Continue to take antihypertensive medication as prescribed
- Avoid hangovers or alcohol intake
- Refrain from consuming solid foods within 3 hours prior to treatment and liquids within 1 hour prior to treatment
- Ketamine treatment should never be conducted without a monitor present to ensure your safety