Breathwork: The Secret to Inner Calm and Wellness?

We all breathe, around 22,000 times a day. Yet research is increasingly showing that intentionally managing our breath can bring physical and mental health benefits.

Breathwork refers to deep, diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing. According to a 2017 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, breathwork can trigger relaxation responses in the body.

A further systematic review published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in 2018 found that breathwork reduces anxiety, sharpens memory, treats symptoms of depression, promotes more restful sleep, and even improves heart health.

The science behind breathwork

While it might seem “alternative”, breathwork is rooted in science. Our breath is directly linked to our autonomic nervous system, which controls our body’s involuntary functions such as heart rate and blood pressure. By manipulating our breath, we can influence our physical and mental states.

Research has shown that conscious control of the breath can trigger the relaxation response. Think of it as your body’s natural chill pill. When you engage in deep diaphragmatic breathing, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing stress hormones, lowering heart rate, and relaxing muscles.

Moreover, breathwork can improve oxygen uptake, which benefits every cell in your body. Proper oxygenation enhances energy levels, boosts mental clarity, and supports the body’s natural healing processes. It is like a reset button for your entire system.

The proven benefits of breathwork

1. Stress reduction: As mentioned earlier, breathwork can help lower stress levels by reducing cortisol production. Practising deep, deliberate breaths can be a lifesaver during high-pressure situations.

2. Enhanced mental clarity: When you oxygenate your brain, it functions better. You will experience improved focus, creativity, and mental sharpness.

3. Emotional regulation: Breathwork can help you respond more calmly to challenging situations and reduce anxiety.

4. Better sleep: Deep breathing exercises before bedtime can relax your body and mind, making it easier to fall asleep and enjoy more restorative sleep.

5. Physical wellness: Breathwork can improve cardiovascular health, strengthen the immune system, and aid in digestion. It is a natural way to boost your overall well-being.

How to do it

Here is a simple method to get you started:

1. Relax: Get comfortable, whether sitting or lying. Close your eyes and take a moment to let go of tension in your body.

2. Begin with deep breaths: Take a deep breath in through your nose, expanding your belly. Then exhale slowly through your mouth, releasing all the air. This helps you to get in tune with your breath.

3. Count your breaths: Once you are comfortable, start counting your breaths. Inhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, and hold for a count of four. This pattern is known as the “4-4-4” technique.

4. Repeat: Continue this cycle for a couple of minutes, gradually extending your practice as you become more comfortable with the technique.

5. Observe: Throughout your breathwork session, pay attention to the sensations in your body and the calming effects on your mind.

As you become more experienced with breathwork, you can explore other techniques like the Wim Hof Method, box breathing, or alternate nostril breathing. The key is to find a method that resonates with you and complements your goals, whether it is relaxation, increased focus, or emotional balance.