Breathwork, while ancient, is a term that first originated in the 1970’s and refers to the practice of consciously directing the breath. There has been a huge rise of interest in Breathwork over the last few years, at least in the western wellness world. Yet spiritual practices such as Buddhism and Hinduism have known about the benefits of working with our precious breath for thousands and thousands of years.
We often take our breath for granted – even though we are doing it every minute of every day of our lives. Breathing is possibly the most automatic thing that you do, and because of that it is often overlooked as a powerful medicine, that can greatly impact our wellbeing. Your breath is linked to everything from your joint health and posture, to your pain sensitivity, to your stress levels and even to the way that you approach mindfulness. In other words it’s a big deal.
Breathwork is more than an exercise of breathing correctly or with intent – the practice itself encompasses a range of therapeutic exercises and tools for major healing and transformation. The way you breathe affects your whole body. Correct habits of breathing are essential for our vitality, immunity to disease and overall ease in navigating life. But how many of us are in-tune with our breath, and truly use it to it’s fullest potential?
Before diving deeper, it needs to be mentioned that breathwork, for some, particularly those with pre-existing heart problems, can be dangerous. If your health is fragile, it’s best to speak with a qualified medical practitioner before attempting any form of breathwork – particularly if you’re pregnant or suffer from heart-related conditions. If you feel intense discomfort during a breathwork practice, stop immediately. The beauty of breathwork is that you can stop at any time, if at any point it becomes too much for you.
That said, breathwork has a smorgasbord of health benefits – here are just some of the ways that a regular practice can positively influence our body, mind, heart and spirit.
Do you ever feel the need to take some deep and mindful breaths when you’re feeling stressed or anxious? Stress and fear triggers our sympathetic nervous system causing adrenaline and cortisol to spike which leaves us wanting to ‘fight or flight’. By taking controlled and deep breaths, we take in plenty of oxygen and this turns on our parasympathetic nervous system or our ‘rest and digest’ response, allowing our entire system to relax.
Breathwork is a direct route to being mindful. Focusing on our breathing helps us stay in the present moment – it allows us to draw our attention inward and drop into a felt state of being. It’s perfect for reducing stress, calming your nerves and increasing focus, and can be done literally anywhere.
Taking in more oxygen enables the heart and other vital organs to function more efficiently. When there is an increase of oxygen, circulation improves, common ailments are weakened, and we have an increase of energy leaving us feeling more awake and alive.
Breathwork has profound benefits for our body to naturally detox. When we shallow breathe, we’re not ridding the body of as much carbon-dioxide (the waste product of gas exchange- as we can. If we don’t breathe out the CO2 efficiently, other organs need to take up the task of cleansing and this can lead to lower energy and build up of toxins that can make the body feel sluggish, stressed and increases our risk of illness.
Breathing full, deeply and smoothly can bring a person into the present moment before bedtime leading to letting go of what stresses happened the day before and this could help you experience a sense of relaxation and calm which may help you drift off.
This is a very medicated time in human history since there is a pill for almost everything. We forget we always have our own natural ability to give ourselves relief from aches and pain. Deep breathing can aid in letting go of physical, mental and emotional pains. When we focus on allowing our breaths to be deeper, the brain rewards us with endorphins that takes away stress and uplifts our moods and naturally kills pain. Bringing in more oxygen will boost our blood flow with nutrients and detoxes the toxic build-up. This naturally increases our energy to give us even more ability to manage pain and allows us to be more physically engaged.
Most of all, your breath is always there for you, 24/7, until the day you die. It is there not only to help enliven your body, but also to help it heal, purge old energy and toxins, and invite in whatever is new and invigorating. Whenever you need a burst of fresh energy, breathe. Whenever you need to process heavy emotions, breathe. Whenever you need to calm down, breathe.
Here is a simple breathing exercise you can try anytime you need to relax or relieve stress. Belly breathing is easy to do and very relaxing.