benefits of breathwork

We spend every second of our lives breathing and usually pay very little attention to it. Since our breath is controlled by our brain and happens whether we think about it or not, it seems strange to dedicate an entire practice to consciously deciding how and when to breathe. 

But that is precisely what breathwork entails, and the benefits of a regular breathwork practice can be life-changing. 

It may seem strange that altering our current breathing pattern can influence our lives and health, but people have been reaping the benefits of breathwork and Pranayama for centuries.

While these ancient traditions are becoming more commonplace today, many people have yet to tap into this almost miracle elixir.

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Breathwork can help improve your mental, physical, and emotional health, and that’s just the beginning.

Dedicating time each day to a breathwork meditation practice can be life-altering in the best ways.

What is Breathwork

While yoga and meditation have gained a solid foothold in the West, breathwork is less mainstream. You may be wondering, “What exactly is breathwork?”

Breathwork refers to intentionally manipulating breathing patterns to achieve a desired outcome. Breathwork techniques range from slow to deep and include belly breathing, holotropic breathwork, breath focus, abdominal breathing, pursed lip breathing, and many others.

Breathwork stems from the ancient practice of Pranayama, one of the eight limbs of yoga. Pranayama focuses on “prana,” which means breath. Practising Pranayama is thought to help relax and calm the practitioner’s body and mind.  

In almost every yoga class, your yoga teacher may ask you to pay attention to your breath. When we focus on our yogic breathing techniques, we can influence our mind and body.

Depending on which type of yogic breathing technique we are using, we can achieve many different outcomes, ranging from general de-stressing and relaxation to improved cardiovascular health and lower blood pressure.

Can Anyone Practice Breathwork?

Benefits of Breathwork

Since breathwork uses something we all need to do to survive, almost everyone can practice safely. While breathwork does help with conditions like asthma and COPD, it is recommended that you speak to a doctor before beginning a breathwork regimen if you suffer from these or other conditions that impair your breathing.

Pregnant or newly postpartum women should also check with their healthcare professionals before beginning. Pregnant women may find that a breathwork routine can help ease labour pains and may help reduce feelings of depression and anxiety postpartum.

When you want to begin a breathwork routine, choose one that fits your current lifestyle. If you need more cardiovascular health, begin slow.

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Do just what is necessary. Like any new exercise regimen, you want to ease into it. Starting slow can help ensure that you’ll stick to a plan.

A simple way to start breathwork meditation is to choose one or two techniques and do them daily. Alternate nostril and box breathing are great exercises for beginners that help slow the sympathetic nervous system and may produce benefits with as little as 5 minutes a day.

Scientific Background and Mechanisms

Today, many individuals are suffering from health problems from chronic stress, which can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression, general low moods, weight gain from gut inflammation, high blood pressure, and a slew of other health ailments.

But what if adding a 15-minute breathwork routine could help manage all those symptoms and more?

According to research, a regular breathwork session has been able to:

  • Help lower blood pressure
  • Reduce feelings of chronic pain
  • Increase feelings of happiness and contentment
  • Improve focus
  • Improve blood circulation
  • Reduce anxiety and depression levels
  • Reduce symptoms associated with PTSD and other traumas
  • Improve the quality of sleep
  • Alkalize blood pH
  • Reduce cortisol in your body (the stress hormones)
  • Improve respiratory function
  • Reduce inflammation in the body 
  • Improve immune system responses
  • Improve mental health

While the benefits of controlled breathing practices are extended, they are partial. Cultures have been tapping into the immense power of breathwork practices for generations and enjoying the advantages. But how can intentional breathing be so effective?

Numerous studies have been done on breathwork benefits and practices over the years, and while none have been definitive, there are many scientific theories as to why breathwork is so transformative. 

Practising breathwork is a direct way to create a mental and physical break in the body. It allows the central nervous system to calm itself and go from fight or flight mode to rest and digest. Reducing cortisol and other stresses in the body significantly reduces the mental anguish a person may suffer.

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Breathwork also floods the body with oxygen-rich air while moving large amounts of carbon dioxide and other waste gases from the body.

This sudden increase in air helps pump the cells with more oxygen-rich blood and can increase vasodilation in the body, creating more efficient blood flow.

Health Benefits

Having a calm and clear head is vital in almost any situation. Today, the world throws so many stimuli at us every second of the day that it can be hard to let go and relax. Constantly being “on” will take its toll on us, making us sick, depressed, or chronically overstressed. 

Luckily, breathing exercises can help us manage these symptoms. Breathwork has been shown to improve practitioners’ mental and physical health. 

Chronic stress has been linked to many diseases, including hypertension, obesity, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, mood disorders, and anxiety. It has also been shown to increase risks like addictions to alcohol or drugs. 

Utilizing breathwork for heart health is a simple and effective way to help reduce blood pressure while increasing cardiovascular function. 

Reducing stress with breathing exercises is also a great way to improve sleep quality. Getting a good night’s sleep allows the brain and body to heal and regenerate each night, which is vital for overall health and well-being.

Breathwork and Stress

Stress hormones significantly affect our mental, emotional, and physical health. These pesky chemicals can disrupt our other hormones and body functions. Everything from trouble falling asleep to appetite and mood can all be affected by the stress of daily life.

Some jobs, like the police force, firefighters, nurses, air traffic controllers, and military personnel, are easy to consider high-stress. However, even people without typical “high-stakes” jobs may experience levels of stress that are detrimental to their health.

Stay-at-home moms are often excluded when thinking of high-stress jobs, but studies show that many moms are experiencing feelings of depression and may benefit from a breathwork routine. Daily life has become a never-ending cycle of stress and can easily lead to burnout if we don’t take action.

Sitting in breathwork meditation can help decrease stress hormones, silence our racing brains, and help us live our best lives.

Emotional and Psychological Benefits

In addition to the physical ailments that chronic stress can cause, it is impossible to ignore the mental ones. With over 301 million people experiencing anxiety in America, a solution as accessible as breathwork would be life-changing for hundreds of millions of people. 

As a whole, our mental health is suffering.

Breathwork techniques that help calm your parasympathetic nervous system, such as alternate nostril breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, slow breathing, and box breathing, can help you stay in the present moment.

Mindfulness practices, including breathwork, help the sympathetic nervous system relax and reduce stress and anxiety.

Breath control and other deep meditation practices help draw attention inward into ourselves.

These relaxation techniques help reduce stress and elicit a relaxation response, allowing our bodies to release toxins and negative emotions and improve emotional wellbeing.

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Self-awareness is vital to helping reduce stress levels and improve our overall wellbeing.

Breathwork has been proven in numerous studies to help lower stress and cortisol in the body, thus reducing feelings of mental health conditions, addictions, and PTSD while improving mental clarity, boosting creativity, and enhancing emotional regulation. 

Lowering cortisol levels is just one way that breathing practices controlled breathing can help you mentally and physically.

By improving sleep quality, reducing physical symptoms like hypertension, and increasing overall feelings of peace, breathwork is a simple yet effective way to supercharge your health. 

Physical Benefits of Breathwork

Benefits of Breathwork

Stress plays a significant role in our mental health, but it can also negatively impact our physical health. Ailments like high blood pressure, heart disease, chronic illnesses, and even pain can be managed or reduced by including breathwork in your routine.

Breathwork floods the body with oxygen-rich blood. When cells have the right nutrition, they can better perform their jobs, aiding in the speed of cell turnover and healing.

Increased blood flow can also cause vasodilation, which can increase blood circulation throughout the body.

Improving blood circulation is great for moving lymph around the body, helping prevent swelling or oedema in the ankles or lower extremities. Swelling or oedema can create problems for the individual and may even cause issues with mobility.

Cardiovascular health is essential for everyone. Nearly half of the American population is affected by cardiovascular disease.

Breathwork can help improve heart health. Controlled breathing can help slow down our heart rates, increase the amount of blood ejected from the heart, and lower blood pressure.

In addition to these benefits, breathwork helps calm us down and gives us a level head. We make better decisions when we can make decisions with a clear and calm mindset.

These decisions can range from not giving in to bad cravings to going for a walk. When we take the time to actively choose our health, we will see the benefits.

Breathwork Meditation for Athletes

Whether you are a professional athlete, a CrossFit fan, an avid triathlete, or a weekend runner, breathwork meditation can help you achieve your next fitness goal.

Incorporating a breathwork meditation routine into your current training regime will help you in a few ways. The first is mental. When you sit in meditation, you improve focus.

Breathwork meditation may increase your mental stamina, allowing you to push yourself further.

Speaking of pushing yourself further, breathwork may also reduce feelings of physical pain, allowing you to power through more intense workouts, manage injuries, and aid recovery.

Practising breathwork helps improve overall cardiovascular health, a huge perk for anyone, especially athletes.

A healthy heart and adequate oxygen-rich blood will help increase physical performance and help you crush your next match, race, or event.

Breathing Exercises for Older Adults

As you age, your body changes. Keeping yourself in good health is vital; starting these changes now is best. While regular exercise and eating a balanced diet are essential to ageing healthily, adding breathwork can help.

Breathwork helps improve focus, and studies have shown that it can also improve memory and reduce brain fog.

Regular breathwork may also reduce blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health, and improve mood and outlook on life, all of which benefit the ageing population.

Today, many nursing homes are offering breathwork classes as part of their fitness classes to improve the health and lifestyle of their residents.

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Other places, including gyms and yoga studios, may offer breathing classes targeted to elderly people, but almost any breathwork class can be adjusted to be suitable for this population group.

Breathwork Meditation For Addiction Recovery

Stress can lead to anxiety and depression, which causes some individuals to seek out substances to cope. While every addiction and every person struggling with addiction is different, almost anyone struggling would benefit from a breathwork meditation routine.

Breathwork techniques like alternate nostril breathing, box breathing, and diaphragmatic breathing can all help decrease stress and slow the autonomic nervous system.

These breathing exercises are great tools for those in addiction recovery, as they are often dealing with other emotional or mental health conditions.

Another breathing technique that is often used in addiction recovery is called holotropic breathwork. This breathwork technique uses short, rapid breaths over a long period to produce a “psychedelic-like” effect.

Giving people struggling with addiction tools like breathing exercises can help them cope and has even been proven to help reduce relapses when used in a treatment plan.

Breathwork techniques

Since breathwork utilizes something that we already do every day, almost anyone can begin a breathwork practice. However, if you suffer from asthma or COPD, it is a good idea to check with a qualified healthcare professional to ensure you are healthy enough to manipulate your breathing patterns during a breathing practice.

Adverse effects of breathing exercises include shortness of breath, dizziness, and lightheadedness. If you experience these symptoms, begin slow breathing and use controlled breathing until you feel normal again.

To begin seeing the benefits of breathwork, you must be persistent in your practice.

Breathwork meditation has been part of the yoga community since its inception. Here are some simple deep breathing exercises and techniques that will get you started in your breathwork journey.

Remaining in the present moment and practising deep breathing exercises with simple breathing techniques will help you improve your physical and mental health.

Deep belly breathing and exercises are great ways to improve mental health, reduce fight-or-flight feelings, and reduce stress and anxiety. Always be sure that you are seated upright with a straight spine.

Next, draw in a few deep breaths through your nose while exhaling through your mouth. You want to ensure that you are abdominal breathing, fully expanding your stomach with each inhale.

Alternate nostril breathing

Alternate nostril breathing is a technique that may help reduce high blood pressure, improve physical health, calm the nervous system, and reduce stress and anxiety. Commonly taught in yoga classes, this breathing technique is simple and can be done almost anywhere.

Have five minutes between calls at work or sit in your car to decompress before heading home. Alternate nostril breathing allows you to unwind anywhere.

Begin by placing the middle finger of your right hand between your eyebrows. Use your thumb to close your proper nostril, breathing in through your open nostril.

Then, do a 3-second breath-hold while you place your ring finger over the right nostril, keeping your thumb in place.

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Remove your thumb and exhale through your right nostril. After you exhale entirely, hold your breath again for three counts while placing your thumb back.

Remove your ring finger and inhale.

Repeat by inhaling, holding, and exhaling, switching your fingers with each motion.

Holotropic breathwork

While slow breathing exercises are common breathing techniques, some breathwork techniques, like holotropic breathwork, use fast, rapid breathing to reduce stress.

During this breathwork practice, you breathe in and out very rapidly for an extended period to achieve a state of mind similar to one achieved on LSD, which is thought to allow for more profound healing.

Rapid breathing for an extended period can cause lightheadedness. It is best to only practice this type of breathwork under the direct supervision of a breathwork or psychiatric professional.

Holotropic breathwork helps those struggling with addiction and is commonly used in rehab centres.

Pursed lip breathing

Breathing exercises can get a little noisy.

Pursed lip breathing is a breathwork technique used to help calm the nervous system and reduce stress.

This technique is often accompanied by slow and deep breathing, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, with the lips pursed together to make almost a hissing sound as the air escapes.

Sometimes, people need more than just the feeling of breath to focus on. Pursing the lips creates a “hissing” sound as we exhale, allowing the practitioner an auditory experience. The lip position also requires more force to exhale.

Instead of all the air escaping quickly through an open mouth, you have to force the air through the small opening of your lips. This creates a longer exhale and gives the practitioner more control.

Lion’s Breath

The lion’s breath is the breathing technique that makes the practitioner feel the most powerful.

This technique is similar to pursed lip breathing because it makes a noise when exhaled. Commonly used in yoga classes, lions breathe in a breathwork meditation that involves a deep inhale through the mouth.

On the exhale, the practitioner opens their mouths, sticks their tongues out as far as they can, and forces all the air out of their lungs as quickly as possible. This creates a “roaring” sound like a lion.

Lion’s breath is thought to reduce feelings of anger and help release negative emotions.

Box Breathing

Box breathing is one of the most straightforward breathing exercises in breathwork. This breathwork technique involves deep diaphragmatic breathing.

Are you looking for a simple breathwork meditation to add to your busy day or a quick way to unwind at night?

Box breathing allows you to reset and calm your autonomic nervous system quickly and easily. It can even be used once you climb into bed at night to help set you up for a great night’s sleep.

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Begin by getting comfortable. Whether seated in a chair or lying in bed, make sure your spine is straight and you can freely breathe.

Start inhaling deeply through your nose, holding your breath for 5 seconds.

Next, exhale fully through your mouth before holding your breath again for 5 seconds.

Breathe in again and repeat this cycle 3-5 times for the full effect. However, box breathing can be repeated until the desired outcome is achieved. Listen to your body and stop if you feel lightheaded or dizzy.

Bhramari Pranayama (Bumblebee Breath)

Another breathwork meditation that uses sound during practice is bhramari or bumblebee breath. As the name would suggest, during this technique, the practitioner creates a sound similar to the buzz of a bumblebee.

Bumblebee breath is great for a variety of things, and the tingling sensation from the humming can help the practitioner feel alive and buzzing.

Depending on the tone of the hum, the breath can be directed at different chakras, or energy channels, in the body. Lower or deeper tones help activate the lower chakras, while higher-pitched tones activate the higher chakras.

Bumblebee breath brings focus into your body with the addition of vibrations. During Bhramari breathing exercises, you can activate the vagus nerve and calm the autonomic nervous system.

To try bumblebee breathing for yourself, begin seated like a lotus, half lotus, or hero pose. Ensure your spine is straight to allow adequate airflow during the practice.

Next, inhale deeply through your nose.

Hold your breath for a few seconds once you reach capacity.

Keep your mouth closed as you exhale, allowing the air to flow out as a humming sound. Breathe out slowly and controllably until your lungs are empty. Repeat the process 3-5 times for the full effect.

Breathwork Meditation in Spiritual Practices

Breathing techniques have been a part of many spiritual practices since their inception.

The most commonly thought of breathwork meditations in spiritual spaces include qigong, yoga, and shamanic practices. However, many different religious and spiritual journeys rely on breathwork to achieve various levels of consciousness.

Pranayama is one of the eight limbs of yoga. This branch emphasizes the importance of breathing for a long and healthy life.

Prana is commonly thought to translate to “life,” and Yama means control. Learning breath control helps keep you in control of your life.

Breathwork is found in many places worldwide and is deeply imbedded in many cultures’ histories.

Qigong is part of the ancient practice of Chinese medicine. During qigong, the practitioner uses breath and motions to move through a sequence of positions thought to help balance the body.

Some breathing techniques that use rapid breathing help individuals transcend their current level of consciousness and enter other planes.

Those on spiritual journeys often seek after these meditations into themselves.

Shamanic practices also use the breath to enter profound state meditations for similar reasons.

While breathwork is tied to many spiritual or religious practices, it also exists. Breathwork does not need to be practised to achieve these results, and it can be utilized daily to lower stress and improve health.

How Long Should You Practice Breathwork For?

Breathwork offers many benefits, from improving mental and physical health to increasing stamina in athletes and reducing stress and anxiety.

While it may seem like breathwork is a miracle drug that can only work under certain conditions, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Even in as little as 5 minutes per day of breathwork practices, you can reduce stress levels and improve mood after a month of daily sessions.

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The length and frequency of breathwork sessions depend on your goals. A 20-30 minute daily breathing practice will provide more results than a shorter session.

If you are working with a certified breathwork coach, they can help you decide the proper breathing regimen.

Those who are looking for general wellness and to decrease stress would benefit from daily sessions between 10 and 30 minutes. When you first begin to practice, shorter sessions will help build up your stamina and your tolerance to controlled breathing.

How to Incorporate Breathwork Practice Into Your Daily Routine

Having a daily breathing practice is the key to unlocking the incredible benefits that breathwork meditation offers.

Generally, it is best to carve out time in your day to sit with your breath. This is especially important when you are first starting out.

Working one-on-one with a breathwork coach helps you hold yourself accountable and ensures that you are doing the techniques properly and safely.

Creating and sticking to a practice plan is crucial if you use other breathwork resources or choose not to use a coach.

Like any exercise regimen, breathwork will only work if you do. Creating a schedule and choosing an exciting plan is a great way to ensure you’ll stick to it.

Sometimes, people want to jump in with both feet. While this is an excellent mindset, taking on too much can be hard to maintain and may lead to burnout. For example, it is best to ease into breathing exercises like when you start a new hobby or exercise.

Begin by choosing a breathing technique that seems the simplest for you. By starting simple and slow, you will stick to a plan.

For example, starting each morning with a 15-minute morning breathwork routine or simply ending your day with 5 rounds of box breathing to help quiet your mind, decrease stress, and prepare for a restful night’s sleep creates an easy-to-keep habit.

The best part of breathwork is how simple it is to incorporate it into your day. For example, if you’re waiting for your shower to warm to the correct temperature, try three rounds of diaphragmatic breathing.

If you have 20 minutes between work meetings, try a few sets of bumblebee breaths. If you need a quick energy pick-me-up during the day, some lion’s breath can help.

Breathwork doesn’t need to be practised all at once. Different techniques throughout the day can profoundly benefit us by helping us stay cool, calm, and collected.

What Do You Need When Practicing Breathwork

Since breathwork can be practised almost anywhere, you can wear nearly anything. However, there are a few things to consider to get the most out of your practice.

You’ll want to set aside a few minutes daily to perform 2-3 techniques. This is often done in the morning to help set yourself up for a cool, calm, and collected day.

When you set yourself up for your practice, choosing loose-fitting clothing that will allow your abdomen to extend fully without restriction will be the most beneficial.

During breathwork, you often meditate and want your focus to be solely on your breath and how your body is feeling during the motions.

The last thing you want is not to be able to quiet your mind because your clothes are itchy, distracting, or too tight.

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A few other things to consider when starting your breathwork journey are investing in a nice meditation pillow.

These can be helpful for anyone who has tight hips and finds being seated on the floor uncomfortable. However, you can also practice breathwork seated in a chair or lying on your back.

You don’t need much to begin your breathwork journey besides comfortable clothes and a quiet place to sit.

Where Do You Practice Breathwork?

Most people are introduced to breathwork or Pranayama during a yoga session. Yoga relies heavily on breathing exercises and breathwork throughout the class. Each asana, or pose, usually has an inhale and an exhale move, syncing breath to motion.

Certain meditation classes will zone in on breath focus to get centred and prepare for deep meditation within.

While these classes may include breathwork, seeking out a practice or class that is solely breathing exercises is the best way to achieve the results you are searching for,

Like almost everything these days, you can find a breathwork community online. While anyone can post anything on the internet without any prerequisites, searching for a trusted and reputable breathwork facilitator is best.

Ready to start your breathwork journey? SOMA Breath is a leader in the breathwork field and has the answers you are looking for.

Whether you are looking for a simple 15-minute morning breathwork routine or you can start your breathwork coaching journey, SOMA has the means to put you on the correct path.

In addition to online, some breathwork communities spill into the real world with meet-ups, classes, retreats in serene areas, and the opportunity to make lifelong friends.

Conclusion

The benefits of breathwork are too great to be ignored.

Whether your goal is improving your mental health by reducing feelings of fight-or-flight in your parasympathetic nervous system, using breathwork techniques for stress reduction, or managing anxiety and depression, breathing techniques to help stay in the present moment have proven to improve emotional wellbeing.

In addition to mental health improvements, the benefits of breathwork go much further than self-awareness.

Breathwork also tackles a long list of physical health symptoms, including high blood pressure and heart disease, and improves immunity within the lymphatic system.

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Manipulating your breathing pattern through a series of deep breaths, box breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, alternate nostril and breathing patterns, and other techniques during breathwork meditation can help you reset your nervous system, creating a cool, calm, collected, and well-rounded individual ready to take on the day.

Breathwork may improve athletic performance and aid recovery. It has shown promise when used along with other therapies for addiction treatments and to decrease stress levels.

Practising breathwork helps interrupt fight-or-flight mode, calming the parasympathetic nervous system.

With breathwork, you have the power to influence your body and mind. Are you ready to begin reaping all the benefits of breathwork for yourself?

FAQs

Breathwork is a practice involving conscious control of breathing to improve mental, emotional, and physical well-being. It includes various techniques that focus on controlling the breath to enhance relaxation, reduce stress, and promote overall health.

Breathwork offers numerous benefits, including:

  • Stress Reduction: Helps in lowering cortisol levels, thereby reducing stress.
  • Improved Mental Clarity: Enhances focus and cognitive function.
  • Emotional Healing: Facilitates the release of suppressed emotions and trauma.
  • Better Physical Health: Improves lung capacity, reduces blood pressure, and boosts the immune system.
  • Enhanced Spiritual Growth: Promotes a deeper connection with oneself and greater self-awareness.

Breathwork reduces stress by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and reduces the body’s stress response. Techniques like deep breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, and alternate nostril breathing are particularly effective.

Yes, breathwork can improve mental clarity. By increasing oxygen supply to the brain, breathwork enhances cognitive functions, improves concentration, and supports mental clarity and alertness.

Common breathwork techniques include:

  • Pranayama: A series of yogic breathing exercises.
  • Holotropic Breathwork: A powerful technique involving accelerated breathing to access altered states of consciousness.
  • Diaphragmatic Breathing: Deep breathing that engages the diaphragm for maximum oxygen intake.
  • Box Breathing: A method involving equal breaths in, hold, out, and hold intervals.
  • Alternate Nostril Breathing: A balancing technique where you breathe in and out through alternate nostrils.