If you've ever been stressed, freaked out, or overwhelmed, you probably already know how good a deep breath followed by a long, slow sigh can feel. And there's a lot of science behind why this process works.Studies prove that breathwork, the simple act of breathing deeply and exhaling completely, can improve your mood, lower your blood pressure and even boost the immune system.
For the uninitiated, breathwork is a form of meditation where you focus on your breath as it moves in and out of your body. It can be done either lying down or sitting up straight (with eyes closed). The goal of breathwork is not necessarily to control or regulate you breathing, but rather to simply notice how it feels as it flows through the body. However, there's really no right way or wrong way, just what feels best for you at any given moment in time!
The History of Breathwork
Breathwork is a practice that's been around for thousands of years. Its origins can be traced back to the ancient civilizations of Egypt, China and India. Breathwork has evolved over time, with key figures such as yoga master Bikram Choudhury bringing it into mainstream culture through his Hot Yoga classes in the 1970s; Wim Hof (aka "The Iceman") who conducted experiments on himself using breathwork techniques to withstand extreme temperatures; and Larry Schultz who developed Pranayama breathing exercises that helped him overcome depression and anxiety disorders.
The Science Behind Breathwork
Breathwork can be a powerful tool you can use to help reduce stress and improve your overall health. It's been shown to have a physiological effect on the body, which can translate into positive changes in your mood and energy levels.
The following are some of the ways that breathwork affects your nervous system:
It increases oxygen levels in the bloodstream
It stimulates parasympathetic activity (the "rest-and-digest" response)
There are a number of breathwork techniques you can use to improve your health. Here are some of the most popular:
Alternate nostril breathing: This is a simple exercise that involves alternating between inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through the other, without letting air pass through both at once. For example, you would breathe in through your left nostril, then close it off with your left index finger (this will prevent any air from escaping) as you then exhale out of your right nostril. Once all the air has been expelled you would switching to inhale again through your right nostril and exhale through your left. You'd repeat until you've gone through all four steps of this cycle.
Box breathing: This technique involves taking deep breaths while counting each inhalation and exhalation cycle as if they were separate boxes on a grid. For example; if I were doing box breathing right now I'd be counting one, two, three, and four as I inhaled. Then I would hold my breath for another four count before exhaling slowly counting one, two, three, and four followed by another four count pause before repeating the cycle with another bout of inhaling. I would do this until I reached ten total breaths per session which usually lasts anywhere between 5-10 minutes depending on how much time I have available (or am willing to devote).
The Benefits of Breathwork
Breathwork is a simple practice that can help you to reduce stress and anxiety, improve mental clarity and focus, increase energy levels and boost your overall health.
Here are some of the benefits of breathwork:
Stress reduction - Breathing deeply helps us relax by lowering our heart rate and blood pressure. It also reduces cortisol levels in our bodies which means less stress on our organs as well as helping us feel less anxious overall!
Improved sleep quality - Deep breathing has been shown to improve sleep quality by reducing insomnia symptoms such as racing thoughts or an overactive brain. This is because deep breathing stimulates a part of your brain called "the parasympathetic nervous system" which regulates relaxation responses through the release of serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and slowing down your heart rate. When this happens regularly over time it can lead to better restful nights so you wake up feeling refreshed instead of groggy!
Preparing for Breathwork
Before you start your breathwork session, it's important to create a safe and comfortable environment. This can be done by lighting candles, playing soothing music and burning incense or essential oils that are known for their calming effects. Doing this will help create an atmosphere that feels sacred and special.
Another good idea would be to set an intention prior to beginning your breathwork session to help focus your mind on what you want out of this experience. Some people choose specific goals like feeling more relaxed or sleeping better; others simply ask their bodies what they need from this exercise in order to feel good again (i.e., "I'm ready for some physical or emotional healing").
How to Get Started with Breathwork
Breathwork can be a powerful tool for self-care, but it can be particularly beneficial to find a qualified practitioner and attend group sessions before trying it on your own (although not necessary).
If you're interested in learning more about breathwork and want to get started right away, here are some options:
Find a qualified breathwork practitioner in your area. If you don't know where to begin looking for one, try searching online or asking friends who may have already tried this type of therapy. Breathwork is growing in popularity so there may be several practitioners within driving distance from where you live!
Attend a group session at an established center that offers this service. This will give you an idea of what the experience is like while also providing support from others who have been through similar experiences as yours -- you'll see how easy it is for everyone involved!
Practice at home using guided audio tracks created specifically for this purpose; these are available online as well as through iTunes and Google Play.
Tips for Successful Breathwork
Breathwork is a powerful tool for self-healing and transformation. It can help you to release stress, anxiety and other negative emotions that may be holding you back from living the life you want to live.
But it's important to remember that breathwork is not a quick fix or an instant solution -- it's an ongoing practice that requires patience, kindness and commitment from you, the practitioner.
To ensure your success with deep breathing exercises:
Make sure that you are comfortable before starting your breathwork session (e.g., sitting on the floor with legs crossed).
Close your eyes and begin to breathe slowly through your nose while counting "one" with each inhale, then "two" with each exhale until reaching 10 repetitions of this pattern without rushing yourself or holding onto any thoughts that come up during this process; once finished continue counting up from zero again until reaching 10 repetitions again before repeating this process as many times as needed until feeling calm enough for whatever task lies ahead in one's day (i..e., going into work).
Be patient with yourself! Breathwork takes time; don't expect immediate results or give up if it doesn't feel right at first (or second...or third). Your body will adjust as it becomes accustomed to this new way of processing stress and anxiety -- so keep practicing!
Listen carefully when your body speaks up during practice -- this might mean adjusting how deeply or quickly you inhale/exhale; changing positions so that gravity supports more weight on one side than another; resting between rounds if needed; etcetera... Do whatever helps make things more comfortable for YOU!
Breathwork is a powerful tool for self-awareness, stress reduction and healing. It can be used as a regular practice to help you feel more grounded, clear headed and emotionally centered throughout your day-to-day life.
The next time you're feeling stressed out or anxious, try taking some deep breaths -- you may be surprised at how much it helps!