Breathwork is a powerful way to access your body’s innate intelligence to heal itself. Breathwork, the conscious awareness of your breath, is a practice that is thousands of years old, and while there are many variations, styles and names, all types of breathwork offer the chance for personal transformation through improved mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. Our breath, or prana, is literally what keeps us alive, and yet, so often, we go through the day chronically shallow breathing, denying ourselves our full life force which often keeping us in a state of anxiety, or fight or flight. Breathwork, or the process of deep rhythmic breathing, moves us out of fight or flight and into the parasympathetic nervous system.
So, take a deep breath and …
1. REDUCES STRESS, ANXIETY AND GRIEF, DEPRESSION AND ANGER
In today’s modern world, there are few of us who haven’t struggled with anxiety or depression. Breathwork offers a very safe way to address stress, anxiety, grief, depression, and anger head on so that our moods don’t start to take over our personal and professional lives. How we breathe often indicates how we feel. In the way shallow rapid breaths make us anxious and tired, long deep breaths that originate in the abdomen can help us feel calm, centered, grounded, and energized. The reason for this is because deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which takes us out of fight or flight (the sympathetic nervous system). By activating your parasympathetic nervous system, which slows down your heart rate and lowers your blood pressure, you’re creating a deep feeling of calm and reducing your overall stress and anxiety.
So, we now know that breath positively affects the nervous system, but it goes beyond the nervous system. Changing your breath literally changes your brainwaves! Neuroscientists have made a direct correlation between an increase of alpha brain waves and reduced symptoms of depression. There are five types of brainwaves that we move through during a given day. Breathwork is an effective way to shift your brainwaves from beta to alpha and even theta, thereby decreasing negative thought patterns, stress, and depression levels.
Gamma Waves: Heightened perception and consciousness
Beta Waves: Most of us are spend our walking days in beta, where we’re attentive, thinking, making decisions, problem solving. But in beta we can also feel agitated, stressed, tense, hyper alert, afraid or obsessive.
Alpha Waves: This is when we are relaxed, reflective, and aware and in the present moment.
Theta Waves: This is an even more relaxed state where we are open, intuitive, and receptive and can have deep insights or aha movements beyond our normal conscious awareness. This can occur in breathwork, deep meditation or in sleep.
Delta Waves: Our slowest brain waves which occur mostly in deep dreamless sleep where we lose awareness of our body.
2. INCREASE YOUR ENERGY LEVELS AND BOOST YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
Breathwork improves oxygen capacity in the blood which leads to overall improved energy levels and stronger stamina. The amount of oxygen that we inhale through our breathing directly influences the amount of energy that is released into our cells. The body can use this extra energy to boost your immunity or give you needed energy if you didn’t get a good night’s sleep or are having a day full with worry or anxiety (which also drains your energy). It also affords you the ability to push your physical workout to a new level because you’re flooding your body with oxygen. With a daily breathwork practice you can begin to learn to consciously control your energy levels and your immune system.
3. INCREASE SELF-AWARENESS, PRESENCE, HAPPINESS AND JOY
In breathwork, we’re breathing through our mouth, which creates an experience of deep presence and self-awareness by giving yourself the space to go within, where time almost ceases to exist. In this expanded space and state, our brainwaves have a chance to slow down from the thinking and doing state of Beta and Alpha to a more dreamlike state of being, the Theta brainwave. In this state of being in the present moment, in the now, no longer bound by the past or the future, people often describe feelings of happiness and joy wash over them, as they experience a shift in consciousness.
4. INCREASE SELF-LOVE
So many of us struggle to fully love ourselves. We often get stuck in our head with feelings of unworthiness or not being enough. What breathwork does so beautifully and effortlessly is allow us to shift out of our mind and intellect and into our body, by switching from nostril breathing to mouth breathing. And while increased self-love is hard to measure scientifically, it is one of the most direct felt experiences of breathwork. When your body is vibrating during breathwork and you are fully in the experience, it is hard not to feel that deeper connection with yourself. And simply by fostering a deeper relationship with yourself, you are beginning the process of self-love.
5. IMPROVE SLEEP
Between our phone and social media overuse, the coffee we drink and the sugar in our food (all of which act as stimulants), as well as the low-grade stress and anxiety we carry with us each day, there are many stimulating factors negatively impacting our sleep. Thankfully, the deep breathing we practice in breathwork helps to calm the nervous system, which in turn reduces the effects of stimulants and calms the stress, allowing you to get a better night’s sleep. Additionally, quieting the mind, which breathwork does so well, allows you to fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply.
6. RELEASE TRAUMA AND FEAR STUCK IN THE BODY
Unprocessed negative emotions, fear and trauma can get trapped and stored in the body and become energetic blocks that often take a physical toll on the body. Talk therapy often helps us to identify these fears and traumas but isn’t always able to dislodge them from the body. These traumas and blocks can stay in the body since childhood and hold us back from leading the life we want to live. Breathwork is an incredibly powerful tool to help unblock, unravel, and release fear, traumas, limiting beliefs and negative emotions.
7. HELP REDUCE PAIN
If you have chronic pain, you likely have tried to distance yourself from your body to ignore your pain. But by distancing yourself from your body, you’re distancing yourself from your body’s innate ability to heal itself. What breathwork does so effortlessly is to reconnect you with your body, which helps you jumpstart the healing process. Additionally breathing deeply causes the body to release endorphins, which reduces sensitivity to pain and boosts pleasure, resulting in a feeling of well-being. It also helps reduce pain because deep breathing changes the acidity level of the body, making it more alkaline. Breathwork also reduces cortisol, which reduces stress, which reduces the feeling of pain. Deep belly breathing has a very therapeutic effect on chronic pain because it relaxes the muscles which otherwise tense up because of pain and in turn further aggravate the pain itself.
8. RELEASE TOXINS FROM THE BODY
Deep breathing helps detoxify your body, boosts your lung efficiency, and promotes a healthy heart. Over 50% of the toxins your body stores are meant to expelled through breathing. The main toxin that’s being expelled through the breath is carbon dioxide. Through the practice of deep rhythmic breathing, you’re expanding your diaphragm which relaxes the body and massages your lymphatic system which helps the elimination of toxins. You are also strengthening your lungs, which directly affects your toxin release. Additionally, by breathing deeply more often, you’re able to expel the toxins more effectively. This allows the cells to take in more oxygen-rich blood. Lastly, because breathwork improves your oxygen capacity, it means your physical workout routine will benefit, which also helps to expel toxins. Deep breathing also assists the circulatory system, improving blood circulation, another major channel of elimination and detoxification.
9. IMPROVE DIGESTION
Breathwork can help the digestive process by stimulating and increasing blood flow throughout the digestive track and improving intestinal activity. Breathwork also reduces the uncomfortable symptoms of bloating and gas. Additionally, breathwork creates a positive feedback loop by reducing stress, which reduces cortisol, which reduces gut inflammation. Lastly, on an emotional level, because you’re reducing your overall stress and anxiety levels when you practice breathwork, you set yourself up to make better food choices, and thus are less likely to overeat and/or eat the wrong foods that trigger digestion issues in the first place!
10. EXPLORE ALTERED STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS, CONSCIOUSLY
Breathwork creates a powerful space for self-exploration, spiritual awakening and a deeper connection to yourself, others, and the universe. Like plant medicine, a breathwork experience can even be psychedelic, and can help you connect to your spirit (otherwise known as your higher self or source) in a completely safe and legal way. It is not uncommon to experience a deep sense of oneness, bliss, a connection with the divine and a feeling of deep safety and surrender. Breathwork also impacts the way our consciousness and subconscious minds interact, allowing our creativity to be accessed in new and deeper ways, providing greater insights and inspiration which give us more direct access to the present movement from which we can create a new reality.
Here are a couple of examples of Breathwork for you to try:
When you need an energy boost: The 4-4-4-4 breath.
Box Breathing comes through the Navy SEAL lineage and is also known as Square breathing, or 4-4-4-4 breath. This breathwork technique slows the heart rate and deepens concentration. It heightens efficiency and performance, as well as provides stress relief. It's best to use in the morning to wake up, in the middle of the day if sleepy, or before a big project or meeting that requires your focus.
To practice this technique, start by releasing all of the air from your chest, and hold your breath for 4 seconds, then breathe through the nose for 4 seconds, then hold your breath for 4 seconds, then exhale out of the nose for 4 seconds. Repeat this cycle for 5 minutes to feel the effects.
As you are inhaling, imagine the earth element of the north rising up and nourishing the physical body. As you hold your breath, imagine the breath swooping through the mind like the wind element of the east, clearing out any thoughts that do not serve and keeping the thoughts that do serve you. As you exhale out of the mouth, imagine the fire element of the south that resides in the center and heart of our body, burning any thoughts and feelings in our emotional heart and belly to release through the mouth (traditional box breath exhales out of the nose, but I like to exhale out of the mouth to incorporate the heart energy).
As you hold your breath for the last 4 seconds, ask the loving higher self, the gentle feminine water element of the west, to come into your presence and be with and guide you through the waves of your life.
When you feel yourself getting worked up: The 5-5 breath.
While our natural tendency is to breathe at a rate of two or three seconds per minute, Coherent Breathing, or the 5-5 breath, is a controlled and conscious breathing practice that slows down our breathing to 4 seconds and then 5 seconds. The 5-5 breath is ideal for an overall sense of calm and can be practiced throughout the day.
To start, focus on the natural rhythm of your breath to obtain a baseline length of each inhale and exhale. Then for 1 minute, breathe in for 4 seconds, and exhale for 4 seconds. Then repeat for 5 seconds, then repeat for 6 seconds, and if you want to, gradually expand to 10 seconds. Start with 5 minutes total and work your way up over time to 20 minutes. Imagine the earth energy rising into the body, and then the thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations in the body that you no longer want to hold on to, releasing out of the body through the exhale.
The best way to know which technique is right for you is to first identify what you are struggling with and what you are seeking. These are suggestions, but as with any healing modality, it is best to experiment with each form to see which one feels most aligned with where you are. Remember, your breath is your inherent healer and guide inside of you.