Breathwork Might Be Exactly What You Never Knew You Needed
Breath is what we have had with us in every moment since birth and will have with us as long as we are still alive. Despite this, most of us are never taught how to breathe properly. In fact, most of us go through our busy lives without being consciously aware of our breath. Even more are unaware that poor breathing habits are often associated with poor focus, high blood pressure, and inadequate sleeping.
Yet changing your breath is one of the quickest ways to reprogram our nervous system. Learning proper breathing habits can help reduce stress, heighten your mental state, and even increase energy levels.
In order to gain control of one’s breath, it is necessary to learn and practice a concept called breathwork. This article will therefore explore this practice and cover some ways it can be implemented in your own life.
What Is Breathwork?
Each day we as humans are doing breathwork roughly 25,000 times. Do not confuse breathing for breathwork. Engaging in breathwork practice entails having conscious awareness of the breath. For only when we gain awareness of our breathing patterns can we have conscious control over our parasympathetic nervous system.
If you’ve ever taken a moment take note of your breath, you will see that you suddenly have momentary control over your mood, stress level, and attention. The challenge therefore comes in maintaining this focus and preventing one’s attention from shifting to something else.
However, just two minutes of breathwork can affect your physiological state. This includes your heart rate levels, immune system, emotional state, digestion, oxygen absorption, and circulation. And all within just a moment’s notice.
Ways Breathwork Can Improve Your Overall Wellbeing
- Expanding Consciousness
Engaging in breathwork also allows us to shift our conscious state. This is seen in holotropic breathwork, which combines rapid breathing with sensory music. Dr. Stanislav Grof, who founded this technique, has said that as oxygen delivery is slowed to the brain, distress signals are sent to the limbic system. This can result in an altered perception of time and self by inducing a psychedelic-like state. In some cases holotropic breathwork has been shown to help reduce past trauma.
- Regulating Emotions
Intentional breathwork can also help recenter your emotional states when they start to overtake your mind. The best way to do so is to interchange holding your breath and exhaling for slow and controlled intervals.
One way to do this is to try a method known as box breathing. To practice box breathing, inhale for five seconds and hold followed by a five second exhale and hold. Each hold should also last for five seconds. With more practice you can try to breathe and hold for longer intervals in each section.
Practicing this type of breathwork can lower your blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels. This allows you to bring forth a more relaxed emotional and physical state that will help you regulate your emotions when you feel overwhelmed.
Incorporating breathwork can help you naturally fall asleep faster. When using breathwork to sleep, focus on slower breathing with exaggerated exhales. Long exhales help take control over your nervous system by increasing your vagal tone, thereby shifting your brain into a state where deep, healthy REM sleep can occur.
The goal here is to build up a CO2 tolerance as carbon dioxide helps mobilize oxygen in the body. This can be achieved by practicing longer exhales and breath holds. Slowing the breath rate will help increase that carbon dioxide tolerance and longevity which helps maximize performance before, during, and after intense physical activity.
When you breathe at a more frequent pace with quicker exhales, your sympathetic nervous system is activated. The activation acts to increase the brain’s release of norepinephrine, allowing you to be in a more focused and alert state of consciousness. A great way to get your day going would be to incorporate this practice in the morning.
- Managing Pain
Next time you stub your toe on the coffee table leg, start taking faster breaths followed by deep breath holds.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an acidic molecule, so taking faster breaths depletes you of CO2, making your blood levels less acidic. Moreover, taking deep breaths allows for the release of endorphins. It is this release of endorphins in the more alkaline-high blood that acts to reduce levels of pain. Try this next time before getting into a cold shower.
Breathwork techniques can do wonders for calming anxiety, having the power to make instant change in stress levels.
Breathing techniques that trigger your parasympathetic nervous system can be used to counteract the “fight or flight” symptoms during times of stress. A slow breathing pace with long, slow exhales create a relaxing effect on both your mind and body. It has been shown that slow breathing that aligns with heart rate patterns can also increase heart rate variability.
A breathwork technique known as alternative breathing can help with anxiety. It consists of breathing through one nostril while the other is blocked. Breathing through the left nostril activates the parasympathetic nervous system while breathing out the right activates the sympathetic. Hence, next time you feel angry try breathing from your left nostril to help calm yourself down.
Knowing and incorporating breathwork is one of the most powerful and healthy ways to biohack your body and response system. The beauty of breathwork practice is that it truly can be practiced anywhere at any time during the day. The important part is to stay disciplined and remember to practice consistently.