Breathwork can have incredible benefits for our mental, physical and spiritual health. It is the practice of following prescribed breath patterns, or breathing techniques, usually to calm the body by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, or energising the body by oxygenating our bloodstream.
However, let’s first explore the five breath work techniques we recommend and why, and provide you with short breath patterns you can try at home.
Controlled breathing is often used to calm us when our breath becomes ‘shorter’, usually at times of anxiety or stress. When we say ‘shorter’, we refer to short, sharp breaths that fail to use the full capacity of the lungs. This reduces oxygen available within our body which our organs are dependant on.
Paradoxically, shortness of breath can occur during times of panic or anxiety, yet shortness of breath can compound panic and anxiety and potentially lead to hyperventilation.
Short, sharp breaths can also activate the sympathetic nervous system, or our ‘fight or flight’ response, and flood the body with stress hormones like adrenaline. This may increase feelings of alertness, agitation or anxiety.
To use controlled breathing and calm the body, we recommend sitting upright to maximise the lung capacity available, breath in through the nose for a count of 3 or 4, and exhale through pursed lips on a count of 4 or 5.
Should you become light-headed, return to a few normal breaths, before attempting more controlled breaths. Repeat this for a few minutes, or until you feel your lungs filling to greater capacity and your heart rate slowing.
Diaphragmatic breathing, or deep relaxation breathwork, is used to achieve a state of deep relaxation, and to increase lung capacity to your full range. The breath is slow and deep, and the focus is on letting go of any tension in the body.
Diaphragmatic breathing is said to have many physical and mental health benefits, including reducing stress levels, improving sleep quality, relieving anxiety and depression, and reducing blood pressure.
When doing diaphragmatic breathing, start with lying down, placing one hand on your diaphragm (just below the rib cage) and the other along your chest. Breathe in deeply through the nose, aiming to fill the lungs to the very base and so the hand on your diaphragm elevates. Exhale through the mouth in a controlled way, trying to release all oxygen from the base of your lungs. The same hand should descend.
Repeat the process for a few minutes, aiming to maximise and release the full lung capacity as you progress through the breathing cycles.
Pranayama breathing is a type of breathwork that originates from yogic practices. Pranayama breathwork is a way of consciously controlling the breath, and it is said to have many physical and mental health benefits.
Some benefits of pranayama breathwork include improved respiratory function, increased oxygen uptake, improved brain function, decreased stress levels, and a calm mind.
An example breath pattern for pranayama breathwork is to breath in for four counts, hold for four counts, breath out for four counts, and hold for four counts. Repeat this pattern for a few minutes.
Other types of breath practised in yoga are:
Circular breathing can be used by singers and musicians to improve their technique and vocal range.
It is also used in meditation as a way to release trapped emotions or negative energy. When practicing, it’s important to continue with the breath pattern until you feel the energy is fully released, otherwise it can bring to the surface feelings that manifest and may affect our emotional state.
Circular breathing is achieved by inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth in a continuous cycle. It takes some practice to get used to circular breathing, but once you master it, you can use it to calm your body and mind in any situation.
Try doing it to a count of 4 on each breath, remembering to keep the cycle continuous, ie no pausing between breaths.
Conscious connected breathing is something we’re still exploring and learning about at Wellness HQ. We’re informed its potential to tap into our deep subconscious is limitless, and it can significantly aid sleep, relieve anxiety and depression, and reduce blood pressure.
Because it’s recommended to be done under the guidance of a trained practitioner, we’re not going to share too much here while we continue our own personal practice with the breathwork and can learn the limitations of safe practice at home.
Although an ancient practice, breathwork is a continually evolving space while science continues to prove the countless benefits it has on both body and mind.
In particular, we’re excited by the research proving the direct link between breathwork and its activation and deactivation of brainwaves in the mind. These waves are key proponents to our cognitive performance, and which can result in physical effects across the body.
This is hugely beneficial for people who experience anxiety and are said to be dominant in high beta waves – the brainwave known for causation of anxiety, agitation and a relentless frantic mind. Evidence is showing that we can activate alpha and delta waves to calm these often turbulent beta brainwaves.
Breathwork can be done anywhere, anytime, which is why we think everyone should have it in their toolkit to support a calm body and mind.
I often practice controlled breathing throughout the day when I may feel spikes in anxiety or worry. I recommend you do too.
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