I know, it sounds pretty new-age.
I swear it isn’t pseudo-science. I don’t blame you for thinking that. Even a few years ago, breathwork to me was downright embarrassing. Just breathe like everyone else! We all need to do it to survive, anyway.
Oddly enough, there has been an uprise in this “breathing” trend since COVID made its’ debut, seeing as it’s a virus that affects the respiratory system. I’m not here to convince you that breathwork is for you or that you need to do it to save your life. I’m here to tell you a story about how I came about breathwork, how I incorporate it into my practice and in my yoga classes, and some of the science behind breathing intentionally. Take from it what you’d like!
Breathwork is simply the practice of directing the breath (also known as Pranayama), and it teaches you to breathe consciously, with awareness and intent. The physiological effects of this Yogic breathing have been shown to help immensely in many areas of health, including reducing cardiovascular disease, respiratory disorders, balancing out diabetic symptoms, and reducing the ratings of pain intensity and unpleasantness. Although I was aware of these benefits, I wanted to focus on something different.
Having suffered from bouts of depression and anxiety, I know that my breath becomes shallow and rapid in times of panic, anger, unease, and fear.
I decided to look into natural methods of activating the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) to decrease my anxiety. The parasympathetic nervous system—the system that produces a calm and relaxed state—is underactive. By stimulating the PNS, we can restore the balance. With that balance restored, we naturally slow down our pace of life. Breath is not meant to replace medication for those that need it. It is meant to ease symptoms in a natural way.
What many don’t realize is that this needs to become a daily, consistent practice.
Breathing mindfully is something you need to practice when things are going well so that when things start to pile up and you feel stress coming on, your brain has already created those neural circuit connections.
So, I decided to make intentional breathing a part of my daily meditation practice. Every morning, I set aside 15 minutes to do my intentional deep abdominal breathing from the diaphragm. Diaphragmatic breathing (aka low breathing), is when you breathe into your stomach as you suck air through your nose. Your stomach will compress first on your exhale, following the breath up. Your chest and shoulder blades will not move much – only your stomach. This type of breathing has been shown to increase blood flow to and from the heart, maximizing Heartrate Variability (HRV) and preserving autonomic function, all of which lead to longevity in the general population!
It’s beneficial for us to slow down our breath, and this seems to be slowing down our rate of mortality.
Other breathing techniques you can try include:
The One-minute Breath
- Breathe into the diaphragm for 20 seconds.
- Hold for 20 seconds
- Exhale for 20 seconds
- Breathe into the diaphragm through the back of the throat for 4 seconds
- Hold for 4 seconds
- Breathe out slowly through the back of the throat for 6 seconds
- Hold the empty breath for 2 or more seconds
- Change the inhale, hold, or exhale if you’d like!
- Inhale deeply through your nose and open your eyes wide.
- At the same time, open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue, bringing the tip down toward your chin.
- Contract the muscles at the front of your throat as you exhale out through your mouth by making a long “ha” sound.
- Do this breath 2 to 3 times.
These are not your only options for breathing – these are simply some of the more popular ones. There are hundreds of other methods you can try.
Believe it or not, breathing can be tough. Challenge yourself to try one of these methods and see if any of them stick. If they do not, question why this may be tough for you, and try, try, try again! Remember, starting with something short like 2 minutes, is a great start. No need to jump into long seated meditations.