A few years ago I found out I was breathing “wrong.” Huh? I had decades of life behind me to point to the contrary that actually, I, had been breathing just right.
But my body said otherwise.
One day in a conversation with a friend we started talking about our general and recurring aches and pains. She said casually, “Oh maybe you’re breathing wrong,” as if she had seen this aliment a thousand times.
Breathing wrong? I almost laughed.
When I asked that she elaborate, she did one better and invited me to a Breathwork workshop. It sounded weird. It sounded so weird that I knew I had to check it out and see for myself. What I left with was a newfound appreciation for the act we do so much each day, with such little regard for the effect and technique of it. What I left with were the tools I needed to breathe “right” again.
Breathwork is a deeply healing and sometimes sacred practice. The name says it all; focus surrounding various breathing techniques. What I also discovered was that Breathwork is not “trendy”. For more than five thousand years, yogis have understood through direct experience that expanding the breath would be beneficial to life. That’s why in today’s world, pranayama (expansion of the life force and expansion of the breath) helps to establish regular breathing patterns to reverse the negative effects of modern life.
If you’ve ever done any yoga or meditation, you’ve probably been instructed to be more conscious of your breathing, this is just the tip of the iceberg that is Breathwork.
The purposeful breathing patterns used during Breathwork can actually help control the inner workings of your body, from heart rate variability to calming anxiety. Without realizing it many of us are at the mercy of our fast paced lives and the world around us (social media addictions, overstimulation, instant gratification, etc) and we’re struggling to keep up. We spend a lot of time in our heads playing out scenarios, planning conversations we hope to have, and even trapped in a negative self talk cycle. It can be an overwhelming place!
This is why I think everyone should try Breathwork at least once. It’s free, easy, has minimal risks (see below), and has no real downside if it’s not for you. However, if you do enjoy it, there could be noticable benefits for you that could even lead you to developing a meditation practice that suits your lifestyle and personal growth goals.
The risky business of breathing
Before I share how to practice Breathwork and the benefits you could reap. There are certain risks to the technique of which you should be aware. Always consult your primary doctor before beginning any Breathwork therapy, especially if you have a medical condition or take medications that may be affected by deep breathing practices. This includes if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
It’s recommended that you avoid Breathwork if you have even just one of the following: breathing or vision issues, cardiovascular problems or high blood pressure, severe psychiatric symptoms, general breathing issues, or are recovering from an injury or surgery. A major concern of Breathwork is that you can induce hyperventilation if done improperly, so be careful with the deep breathing and stop if you feel light-headed.
How does conscious breathing work?
Remember when I said I thought I had breathing down? Turns out I was wrong. Outside of my yoga and meditation classes I found I have a tendency to take shallow breaths in mildly stressful situations, when anxious, and sometimes even hold my breath completely.
When we are stressed our brains don’t prioritize breathing because it’s an unconscious act. That’s where Breathwork comes to the rescue.
I believe that deep breaths tend to shift us because when we finally get to a place where we can focus on the breath and breathe in deep enough and slow enough, there is a vulnerability. It’s a sense of deeper connection and understanding that occurs, that just doesn’t happen in our day to day hustle and bustle.
By managing our breathing, we can manage our stress. We all breathe and so, we all hold the power to become more aware of the awesome tool that purposeful and controlled breathing presents.
If possible, the best place to try Breathwork would be with someone who has experience with it as a guide but it’s not necessary. You can still enjoy all the benefits of Breathwork on your own in the comfort of your home, I’ve even found some great lessons on YouTube.
The simplest beginning point can be done with a method called, Coherent Breathing which goes as so:
First find a comfortable quiet place to sit and set a timer for five minutes (I suggest vibrate not sound). Next relax your jaw, you want your be able to open your mouth wide and without friction so really wiggle your jaw until it feels loose. Now, listen to your own current breathing and note how it sounds and feels to you, make a mental note of this for your comparison afterward and get ready to begin.
- Focus on changing your breathing pattern by inhaling through your nose for five seconds into the belly and chest
- Exhale out of your mouth and relax for five seconds, let it all fall out
- Consciously connect your breathing, so there are no pauses between your inhale and exhale
- Take deep purposeful breaths and do this for five minutes
When the timer goes off bring your awareness back to your whole body. What are you feeling? How did the breathing make your body or mind feel? Where there any emotions you felt bubbling up?
Even more benefits to “breathing”
As with most exercises and techniques, everyone’s experiences vary. Some people may feel an intense shift of their state of being. Others laugh or cry during or after Breathwork. I personally feel “floaty” and refreshed after doing Breathwork, like I’ve just woken up from a nice long nap.
You may notice all sorts of sensations, ranging from cold, heat, tingling and itching to ticks, trembling, pain or surges of energy and waves of ecstasy. These are all natural bodily impulses which we tend to suppress. That’s why it’s important to create a safe space to allow these movements come. Don’t put expectations on how you should or are feeling.
On a physical level, consciously breathing will bring more oxygen to your cells, stimulate the vagus nerve connecting many body parts and more.
The entire point of Breathwork is to get you out of your mind so that you can start focusing within. Our mental blocks are usually what’s keeping us from the solace we seek just on the other side thus rendering us “stuck”. Breathwork has been used by many different types of people such as high-powered executives, professional athletes, Navy SEALS, and more. Breathing seems to be the key to giving some people the edge they are looking for.
If you practice Breathwork for just five short minutes you can lower your cortisol (the yucky stress hormone) levels by nearly 20 percent. You can also lower your heart rate and blood pressure. One recent Danish study found that Breathwork can cause noticeable positive temperament changes, while another study published in Scientific American pointed to stress reduction, insomnia prevention, emotion control, improved attention — citing certain breathing techniques can make life better. You could be one breathe away from bliss…
Are you ready to take a deep breath and breathe?