Whether you are looking for ways to manage your day-to-day stress, dealing with personal loss, or trying to live a healthier lifestyle, breathwork can help you have a better quality of life. Breathwork is a simple technique used by people for thousands of years for its numerous benefits, including a calm mind and body. If you practice yoga or meditate, consider pairing breathwork with these mindful activities as well to reap compound benefits.
When breathe, you take oxygen into your body, which is essential for your body to function optimally. When you are in physical or emotional distress, your breathing may become laboured, which limits the oxygen content that your body gets and impacts your overall health. Breathwork is an essential tool that you can use to calm yourself in stressful situations and make the best use of your mental and physical resources.
Here you will learn about what breathwork is, its types, benefits, and more.
What is breathwork?
Although you breathe continuously throughout your life, conscious breathwork is different. The way you breathe makes an enormous difference on your body and mind, especially the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Breathwork refers to conscious and systematic breathing techniques or exercises, which you can practice separately, during your workout or yoga or in a meditation session.
There are numerous breathwork exercises that help people improve their mental, physical, and spiritual well-being, such as shamanic breathwork, rebirthing breathwork, and holographic breathwork. These systematic breathing patterns have been known to promote relaxation and energise you.
Breathwork is a practice as old as time, but it has seen a surge in popularity recently. People have been practising breathwork for thousands of years now, but it has gained popularity in the recent times. To enhance the benefits of your breathwork, you can imagine positive energy filling you up as you inhale and releasing toxins and relaxing as you breathe out.
Breathwork and meditation are interconnected; you need to perform some form of breathwork for many meditation practices. However, you can practice breathwork on its own without pairing it with any meditation and still enjoy the benefits of mindfulness.
Benefits of breathwork
Breathwork promotes deep relaxation of the tissue, helps our body use oxygen better, and promotes of cell renewal, among other things. People who regularly practice breathwork notice reduced stress levels, lower blood pressure, and fewer symptoms of respiratory distress. This practice enhances positive thinking and cultivates a calm mind. Breathwork prepares your body and mind for the meditation practice and helps you connect better with yourself in the meditation session.
People who practice breathwork regularly notice a reduction in anxiety and enhanced cognitive abilities. Breathwork practices have many benefits, whether you practice them alone or with another mindful activity.
Here are some benefits of breathwork:
- Reduction in stress levels and related mental health problems, including anxiety and depression
- Alleviate symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Immunity boost
- Management of pulmonary disorders such as asthma, chronic obstruction pulmonary disorder (COPD), bronchitis, etc., and reducing their symptoms
- Reducing hypertension in adults
- Improve the overall quality of life for people with cardiovascular ailments and cancer
In addition, breathwork combined with meditation also helps in enabling you to let go of negative emotions, process your feelings, and promote positive self-development.
Types of breathwork practices
Including breathwork in your meditation can be the next step for a beginner to propel their meditation practice further and enjoy additional benefits associated with the approach. There is a wide range of breathwork practices that range from beginner-friendly to advanced in their difficulty level. Listed below are some of the most common breathwork exercises that people use separately or with their meditation practices to decrease their stress levels.
- Diaphragmatic breathing
Sometimes also referred to as belly or abdominal breathing, this breathwork exercise involves the engagement of the diaphragm. All breathwork exercises usually start with you sitting or lying down in a comfortable place with an erect spine. In diaphragmatic breathing, you place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Take a breath and notice what happens to your body. Your chest should ideally remain still as your stomach expands with every inhale. If you notice that your chest is puffing up more than your belly, try consciously expanding your stomach as you breathe in. Continue to take deep breaths and exhale slowly with your lips pursed.
- Box breathing
This is a simple technique that is quite effective in increasing your performance and concentration levels while simultaneously reducing stress. Box breathing, also known as square breathing, is a technique that involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding the breath in for 4 seconds, exhaling for 4 seconds, and pausing for 4 seconds before inhaling again. This is done in a loop. People who have lung diseases, such as bronchitis, can benefit from practising box breathing before meditation or in stressful situations.
- The 4-7-8 breathing
Like box breathing, this breathwork practice involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds. The 4-7-8 breathing works well in calming a racing mind and relaxing the body. The technique is based on pranayama and helps you gain better control of your conscious breathwork, which in turn helps with advanced breathwork and meditation practices.
You can use this breathwork exercise during a stressful situation to calm yourself and regulate the fight-flight-or-freeze response. This breathwork exercise forces you to focus on the breath and helps you focus better instead of worrying about things that are out of your control.
- Alternate nostril breathing
Nadi shodhan pranayama, or alternate nostril breathing, is a yogic practice that reduces anxiety and promotes overall well-being. To do this exercise, you can start by sitting in a relaxed position, either cross-legged, on your knees, or on a chair. Then close your eyes and take a few breaths, inhaling and exhaling deeply. After that, take your thumb and place it on one nostril, and take the ring finger of the same hand and place it on the other nostril. Inhale steadily from the one nostril, exhale from the other and vice-versa to complete one cycle. Repeat this cycle about 9-10 times, and you will feel calmer and more relaxed immediately after.You can do this type of breathwork during meditation, with your yoga practice, or on its own; it has many variations , including anulom vilom.
Things to know about breathwork
Here is a list of things that you should know about breathwork:’
- Take it easy at the start
If you have recently started practising breathwork, then it is important to take it easy and slowly work your way up. Try setting a timer for 30 seconds or a minute while practising your breathwork for the first few days. If you are not satisfied with the short sessions, you can consider increasing the frequency of your practice and performing 1-minute long breathwork twice or three times a day. Increase the time of your sessions as you get used to the breathwork in a steady manner. This will not only help you get accustomed to a new practice, but also help you stay consistent in the long run.
It is also important to note that you cannot really do breathwork wrong if you are breathing. Your body has an in-built mechanism that will not let you suffocate, but if you have a pre-existing condition, you should inform the instructor in advance.
- Move the breaths to your belly
Many people do not realise that they are not breathing as efficiently as they could. Try placing one hand on your belly and the other on your chest; ideally, when you breathe in, your belly should expand. Deep breaths do not make your shoulders puff up or your chest expand dramatically. When you inhale, your diaphragm is engaged, which causes your belly to blow up, and similarly, when you exhale, your belly drops.
- A word of caution
Although you cannot really do breathwork wrong, there are some factors you should consider. If you have any doubts about a particular breathwork, talk to the instructor you are learning from or contact an expert online or at a nearby Vaidya or Ayurvedic clinic. If you have trouble breathing or any other concern arises, stop your practice, and talk to your doctor. People who have the following conditions should inform the instructor or teacher before starting the breathwork meditation:
• Breathing problems
• Cardiovascular ailments
• High blood pressure
• History of aneurysms
- Experiment with different techniques till you find the right practice for you
Just as with the perfect pair of jeans, finding the right breathwork practice may also take some time. It is important to have an open mind and try different techniques to find a suitable breathwork practice. A breathwork practice that resonates with you can easily activate the PNS so that your body enters and remains in a state of calm.
Breathwork Meditation FAQs:
What happens during breathwork?
While practising breathwork, you breathe in a conscious and systematic manner. This compels you to focus on the mindful activity of conscious breathing and helps you isolate yourself from the repetitive thinking cycle going on in your mind. Many instructors encourage you to envision positive energy as you inhale and imagine releasing toxins as you exhale.
Why is breathwork so powerful?
The simple act of focusing on your breathing pattern is meditative in nature and helps you relax instantly. By controlling your breath, you can easily control your mind as well. Practising breathwork helps you focus on the present moment, and regular practice cultivates this skill, which then slowly ripples to other aspects of your life.
What breathwork does to your body?
When you are dealing with frustrating circumstances or escaping a potentially harmful situation, your sympathetic nervous system, which governs the fight-flight-or-freeze response, turns on. This leads to shallow breathing, tense muscles, increased blood pressure, or even an upset stomach, while your PNS, which governs the rest-and-digest response, is turned off.
Deep breathing during breathwork may act as a trigger that switches your system from the SNS to the PNS and calms your mind and body.
Is breathwork scientifically proven?
Yes, there are numerous studies that support the benefits of breathwork with research-based evidence. Breathwork has been practised for more than a millennium, and it is still being practised today after passing the test of time.