With breathwork getting more and more mainstream attention, you may be curious about the positive effects of breathwork.
In a nutshell, the objective of breathwork is to nourish the mind and body with the inhale, and to release negativity and toxins with the exhale. And while this may seem a new concept, it’s not.
Breathwork has its roots in the yoga practice and has been utilized for thousands of years. So there’s clearly something powerful in it.
What Are the Positive Effects of Breathwork?
You may already know about the relaxing effects of breathwork. When you feel exasperated, a deep breath can sweep through the body and deliver an immediate sense of calm.
But it turns out that breathwork actually addresses a myriad of issues. Some of them may surprise you.
1. Boosting Immunity
When we resort to shallow breathing, it creates stress. This fires the sympathetic nervous system and increases inflammation throughout the body. In addition, poor breathing enables more dust, bacteria, and other foreign substances to enter the throat and lungs. All of this is hard on the immune system.
By contrast, deep and mindful breathing filters (to some extent) the air and brings in more oxygen to feed the cells that keep us healthy.
2. Reducing Stress and Anxiety
In every difficult situation, there is a stress cycle we must go through completely to move out of feeling in danger. Yet for many of us, the stress cycle isn’t completed. As such, the nervous system believes we’re still in danger and we’re left feeling anxious and ungrounded.
Through breathwork, we can complete the stress cycle, cancel out the fight-or-flight response, and ground the nervous system in the present moment.
3. Lowering Blood Pressure
How does breathwork lower blood pressure?
Well, when you engage in slow and deep breathing, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This is often referred to as the “rest and digest” system. It is responsible for decreasing the heart rate and dilating blood vessels. This, in turn, improves circulation and reduces blood pressure.
4. Healing Trauma
Since the onset of COVID, the number of us struggling with PTSD is staggering. But even if the pandemic didn’t plant trauma in your body, you can bet there are areas where you’re holding issues in your tissues.
Using breathwork while attempting to address these past traumas helps to manage PTSD. When practitioners employ deep breathing while triggered, they’re far less likely to escalate a situation and get trapped in bad memories.
Currently, advanced breathwork methods are successfully utilized to lessen the ill effects of PTSD in veterans.
5. Helping Manage Addictions
Just as breathwork is used as a therapeutic tool for veterans, it’s also effective as a component in treating addiction. This is particularly the case when used in tandem with a 12-step program or other therapy.
The peace, calm, and focus that result from breathwork can help addicts stave off cravings and gain a sense of self-awareness and control they didn’t know was available to them.
6. Releasing Toxins
During an exhale, the body is designed to release around half of the toxins it took in on the inhale. But when breathing is shallow, the diaphragm isn’t forced to work and therefore becomes weak. The weaker the diaphragm, the less oxygen we take in and the more carbon dioxide we keep. We’re thus not able to effectively release various pollutants.
Another bonus of getting more oxygen through breathwork is how it assists the lymphatic system in generating more oxygen-rich blood.
Techniques to Get You Started
One of the greatest things about breathwork is that you can do it just about any time and anywhere. And it doesn’t cost a cent! It does take some practice though to get used to it.
We’ll look at four of the more basic breathing exercises (also called pranayama in yoga) to get you started.
Diaphragmatic breath is simply deep abdominal breathing. It is the foundation for the yoga practice.
If you watch an infant breathe, you’ll see their bellies rise and fall. This is the natural way we were meant to breathe. But over time, most of us breathe just from our chest – resulting in a shallow breath.
This breathing technique encourages long deep breaths that fill the body like a pitcher. So with the inhale, the belly expands first. Then the chest fills all the way to the top with air. On the exhale, the breath slowly leaves the chest and then the belly empties and draws in toward the spine. This breath signals the nervous system to relax.
In fact, a 2016 study showed that participants with anxiety who practiced daily diaphragmatic breathing saw a reduction in anxiety scores.
2. Box or Square
This technique is all about controlling the length of your inhales, exhales, and breath retention on both ends. It’s as though you’re drawing a box or a square with your breath.
You merely inhale for a count of four, hold your breath at the top of the inhale for four beats, exhale out for four, then hold out the exhale for a count of four (which can feel weird).
3. Anuloma Viloma or Nadi Shodhana
The more familiar term for this technique is alternate nostril breathing. This technique aims to balance the prana (life force) moving through the chakras in the body. It also encourages a balance of body and mind.
All that it entails is closing off the right nostril with the right thumb and inhaling into the left nostril. Then at the top of the inhale, close off the left nostril with the index or ring finger and exhale out the left. Inhale through the left, then take the thumb back to the right nostril to start the whole process again. Keep alternating back and forth.
This technique is known as the breath of fire.
Relax the abdominal muscles and take a deep inhale. At the top of the inhale, engage the core and begin to push the air out of the body in quick, short exhales. The inhales are tiny swallows of air in between.
This pranayama requires more finesse than the previous three. Once you have a grasp on it though, it can be effective in providing steadiness. Plus, as an added bonus, it strengthens the core.
Want to Incorporate Breathwork Into Your Life?
Learning breathwork requires focus. Just know that it can take some time to adjust to this new practice. And if you’re in an environment that’s noisy or full of distractions, you may be slower to notice the positive effects of breathwork.
You don’t have to go it alone though. We can help.
Contact us today to find out how we can bring breathwork, yoga, meditation, and other mindful practices right to your organization. We offer both onsite and virtual services to fit your needs.