The Healing Powers of Breathwork
Breathing. We all do it. You’re probably doing it right now.
What you may not realize is that when practiced in mindful, controlled techniques, breathing has the ability to unlock stuck energy, to energize and revitalize you, and to fill your soul with calmness and ease. This my friend, is the power of breathwork.
What is Breathwork?
Breathwork is a broad term for any set of exercises or techniques that involve mindfully changing your breathing pattern for a certain amount of time.
Some of these practices can be more intense, and feel like a total spiritual overhaul in a short session, while others can be done daily for a few minutes at a time, as a way to check in with yourself and hit the reset button.
There are many different breathing techniques out there. Yogic pranayama are often used in combination with movements and mediation, Holotropic breathwork is often used as a spiritual and therapeutic practice, while the Wim Hoff method combines breathing techniques with cold immersions and movement to train the body and mind.
In a society full of people constantly breathing shallow breaths into their chests, instead of their bellies, learning new techniques to engage with and deepen your breath can have profound effects on someone’s overall wellbeing.
Why might someone practice breathwork you ask? The benefits are endless.
All that shallow breathing means you may not be bringing as much oxygen into your body as possible. When the body has a balanced amount of oxygen in its circulatory system and tissues, it helps create an overall calming effect.
Stress is a normal part of life, having the tools to mitigate it and soothe your nervous system is critical to learning to cope with it. Breathwork may help people manage stress by lowering cortisol levels, aka the stress hormone.
While many of the benefits of breathwork come from anecdotal evidence, with little to no risk, it’s worth a shot in helping to heal depression, addiction, and anger. One longitudinal study utilizing yoga-based breathing exercises even found a reduction in symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder amongst U.S. Military veterans.
Have a case of the achy breaky’s? Breathwork may be able to help. One study found that people who practiced slow deep breathing found relief from chronic joint pain and dysfunction.
For many people who practice some form of breathwork, they are able to move their focus from an overactive mind, to feeling more grounded in their body.
If all these reasons weren’t encouraging enough, tapping into your mind-body connection, allows you to feel more present, which can also translate to better sex. You can learn more about yogic sex secrets here.
Do it Yourself
Feeling inspired to start a breathwork practice of your own?
I start every morning by incorporating a few breathing exercises into my AM routine. It wakes me up more than a cup of coffee and helps me move into my day feeling grounded and centered.
Here are a couple quick exercises I do almost daily.
First I warm up my body with some simple stretches to move through any morning achiness. Then I move onto a yogic breathing technique called alternate nostril breathing, or Nadi Shodhana.
- Sit comfortably cross-legged, and rest your left hand on your lap or knee, with the right one near your face.
- Close your eyes and place your right thumb on the outside of your right nostril, and let your index and middle finger rest outside of your left nostril.
- Take a deep inhale through both nostrils, then plug your right one using your thumb and exhale through the left.
- Take an inhale through the left nostril, then plug it to exhale through the right.
- Inhale through the right, plug it, then exhale through the left nostril. Let your breaths be long and deep, keeping the inhale and exhale about the same length.
- Continue to do this for anywhere from one to ten minutes. You can set a timer if that helps you.
- To finish, take a few calming breaths through both nostrils and feel the change in your energy.
After I’m feeling balanced and clear from my alternate nostril practice, I do some breath of fire. This is a rapid, shallow breath that leaves me feeling strong and invigorated.
- You can stay cross-legged, or sit on your heels if that works better for you.
- Let your hands rest in your lap, take a few deep breaths to center yourself.
- Keeping your mouth closed, begin to take rapid breaths in and out through your nose, keeping the inhale and exhale the same length.
- While breathing, you will use your diaphragm to create an exaggerated pump of your navel. Take a break if you get dizzy.
- You can practice this for thirty seconds to five minutes. Again, set a timer if you want to reach a certain time without having to track it.
- Finish by cooling down with a minute of normal breathing.
Just a few minutes a day with this practice, and you may start to notice dramatic changes in your mood, and overall well being. There are endless breathwork exercises out there, we encourage you to different ones, to see what works best for you.
Inhale, exhale, GO!
Natasha (she/her) is a full-spectrum doula and health+wellness copywriter. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, health, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more education and empowerment. You can connect with Natasha on IG @natasha.s.weiss.