Stop what you’re doing — wherever you are, no matter what you’re up to — and take a deep breath. You’re probably feeling better already. Breathing hasn’t always gotten the respect it deserves. But a deep, cleansing breath is well known for its powers of relaxation and relief.
Living during a time when a respiratory virus is our biggest enemy, breath has never felt more important (sacred, even). Accordingly, breathwork has started gaining mainstream traction this year.
Breathwork is the active form of consciously using your breath to ease your mind and enter a different state of awareness. Similar to meditation, breathwork gives your brain something to focus on, letting go of all the worries that are running freely in your head and dropping into a deeper state of consciousness, where healing, spirit, and love reside.
If breathwork sounds tempting, here’s what you need to know:
How does breathwork work?
When we breathe consciously, we become more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and memories. Our mind slows down and focuses on the present moment, which causes a sense of relaxation and relief. Breathwork offers an opportunity to release bottled up energy forces that have been unconsciously residing in our body. Breathwork is a way of releasing those energies, clearing our mind and allowing us to feel more focused.
What are the top health benefits of breathwork?
Breathwork is hardly new. The idea of focusing on breath and seeing it as an energy and a life force goes back thousands of years in spiritual traditions and Eastern practices. People have been practicing breathwork for a variety of reasons. In general, it’s believed to have a transformational potential on one’s mental state. It’s thought to bring mental improvements such as decreasing stress levels, overcoming depression, managing addiction, and/or having a more compassionate self-view.
People have practiced breathwork to for many other reasons such as:
- Processing emotions, healing emotional pain and trauma
- Developing life skills
- Increasing self-awareness
- Enriching creativity
- Reducing stress and anxiety levels
- Releasing negative thoughts and bad energy forces
- Helping overcome addictions
- Increasing happiness
- Increasing self-confidence, self-image, and self-esteem
- Improving professional and personal relationships
Breathwork is not only good for personal development but also for improving a wide range of mental and physical issues including but not limited to:
- Anger issues
- Anxiety and depression
- Chronic pain and emotional effects of illness
- Grief, trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
What are some of the different types of breathwork?
For when you feel overwhelmed: the 4-7-8 breath
This breath is ideal for times you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, angry, triggered, or having trouble sleeping. This practice uses the technique of holding the breath to “press pause” on the busy mind. The sequence is: inhale 4 counts, hold 7 counts, exhale 8 counts. The prolonged exhale encourages the nervous system/whole body to let go of stress and emerge feeling renewed.
For when you need to relax: deep abdominal breathing
This long, deep breath starts by filling the body with air like a balloon – from the belly expanding to the chest. As the breath is released on the exhale, the chest falls, ribs pull in, and navel pulls in. You’ll experience the full capacity of the breath by engaging the abdomen. This breath will stimulate the Vagus nerve, relaxing your body and mind.
For when you are out of balance: alternate nostril breathing
To start, place the right thumb gently onto the right nostril and block the air. Inhale in this position, through the left nostril. Then, hold the breath as you switch, placing the right index finger on the left nostril. Once in place, exhale through the right nostril. Inhale here, then continue switching nostrils. This has a balancing effect on your body and mind.
For when you need to rejuvenate your body: breath of fire
This is a more advanced method that an instructor will guide participants to create a breath pattern that utilizes the core muscles on the exhale. Exhaling through the nose, you engage your abdominal muscles to send the breath out. A passive inhale through the nose follows, as the abdominal muscles relax and expand. This breath rejuvenates your body and steadies in the mind.
For when you want to feel refreshed: holotropic breathwork
This highly advanced breathing method requires the guidance of an experienced instructor. The breathing pattern is a continuous inhale and exhale, with no pause in between. This breath sends an increased amount of oxygen throughout the body, renewing cells from within.
How to get started in breathwork
1. First step is deciding you want to focus on breathwork. Then you can find a breathwork session or practice on your own. (If you’re healthy and do not have a history of severe psychiatric illness or seizures, you can practice on your own). You can also use online apps such as Headspace and Calm to start your breathwork journey.
2. Experiment and figure out the best duration for you. How often and for how long you attend breathwork sessions is dependent on you. Usually sessions can run anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.
3. Educate yourself about the different types of breathwork therapy. Unlike some other disciplines, breathwork doesn’t have a main organization that oversees the certifications and training requirements of breathwork clinicians and practitioners. Because many individuals can get their certifications through independent organizations, it’s always a good idea to ask your practitioner for his/her qualifications and research the organization where they received them.
4. Lastly, locate a breathwork class near you and start your breathwork journey!
Ultimately, breathwork is about your relationship with your body. Listening to what our body needs at any given moment helps us through life, and breathwork gives you the tools to better equip your spiritual, emotional, and mental toolbox.