Most of us are familiar with the many ways our breath affects us. People are instructed to take deep slow breaths when feeling anxious, women use breathing techniques when delivering babies, and an array of breathing methods are used during yoga, Tai Chi, and meditation. Here, we’d like to discuss breathwork, the benefits it offers, and how to practice it.
What Is Breathwork?
Using methods of controlled breathing to positively impact your emotional, mental, and, physical state is considered therapeutic breathwork. The type referred to here is deep diaphragmatic breathing used to control our emotions and bring us to a state of meditation more effectively.
As you focus on slowing down your breathing in any situation, you are also working to center your focus and regroup your thoughts. This allows a person in a panic situation to keep control of their body and mind. Even in an everyday situation where you are facing stress, these breathing techniques will prove beneficial in a similar way.
Why You Should Practice It
Throughout history, we’ve been encouraged to be mindful of breathing. The Buddhist monks and Yogi masters have practiced ancient breathing methods for centuries, with the conviction that it improved brain health and the ability to focus. And, according to Science News, a recent study conducted at Trinity College Dublin concluded through scientific research the “neurophysiological link between breathing and attention.”
We all have noticed that when anxious about something our breathing rate increases which then primes the body via the sympathetic nervous system to increase our heart rates, release cortisol and keep us in a state of fight or flight. A quick and easy way to counteract the fight or flight response is simply to slow down your breathing.
Breathwork has been shown to offer an array of benefits. When practicing breathing techniques, you can improve your immune system, reduce inflammation and also lower the risk of chronic disease and other health disorders such as cardiovascular issues, anxiety, asthma, high blood pressure, and anger problems.
Benefits of Breathwork
Breathwork isn’t just about helping yourself return to a sense of calm. There are many valid reasons why people choose to practice breathwork on a daily basis.
I use an app that uses a reward system where I can earn belts like in karate for completing breathing for a specified number of consecutive days. I am currently a purple belt, which means I have worked on my breathing for 60 days consecutively. When I was a blue belt, one belt below, I accidentally missed one day and was reset back to 30 days. Then it happened again, so you can believe I now make it a priority every day to breathe for 5 minutes. From here on out it gets substantially more difficult with the next belt increasing to 90 consecutive days of breathing, 180 days after that, following with the black belt at 365 days and finally the master level at a whopping 1000 consecutive days. What motivates me to get to that next belt? Obviously that next glorious colorful belt, but also the noticeable increase in my lung capacity, the ability to control my heart rate and the discipline I am learning by making it a practice.
There are many things that will likely motivate you to continue working on your breathwork. First, learning the techniques in and of itself will help you call to mind an instant way to calm yourself if you do ever find yourself in a stressful situation. Secondly, learning the techniques and implementing them daily will mean you get to enjoy these benefits:
- Expands Lung Capacity: Daily practice of controlled breathing increases lung capacity.
- Increases Longevity: Konstantin Buteyko used breathing techniques to successfully treat patients suffering from asthma and other illnesses. During this time he also verified that deeper breathing methods increase longevity, and even cures some diseases.
- Alkalizes Blood pH: When blood pH is too acidic, the body is susceptible to disease and an array of health issues including osteoporosis, fatigue, and weight gain. Deep breathing techniques alter the pH in the blood to a higher alkaline state by shifting the body into “respiratory alkalosis.”
- Increases Muscle Tone: The alkalized blood reduces the calcium levels, which in turn enhances the production of neurons and muscle contractions and tones the muscles.
Furthermore, science has found that “in general, slow breathing techniques enhance interactions between autonomic, cerebral and psychological flexibility, linking parasympathetic and CNS activities related to both emotional control and well-being.”
So, not only does learning how to control our breath help us control our emotions but it also leads to better overall wellbeing. Additionally, the work of Konstantin Buteyko has found that not taking as many breaths per minute helps with longevity and even cures some diseases.
These things alone should be enough to convince the average person of the value of breathwork. It’s something most people take for granted because we all do it all the time. But, learning how to focus on and truly control your breath can have an incredible impact on your life—likely in ways you didn’t think possible.
When used correctly, breathwork will have a major impact on your overall physical and mental capacity. In fact, controlled breathing is used during Navy SEAL training because it is that effective in high-stress situations for re-centering your mind and keeping you on your feet.
With it, service members are able to get through some incredibly daunting scenarios that would shut the average person down, putting them into a panic mode and rendering them basically inoperable.
How to Practice Breathwork Techniques
Deep Belly was founded on the concept of deep diaphragmatic breathing to control our emotions and bring us in to a state of meditation more effectively. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, says it best: “To master our breath is to be in control of our bodies and minds.”
Mark Divine, a retired Navy SEAL Commander, wrote about it in his book, Unbeatable Mind. This technique uses equal breaths and holds to expand lung capacity and help a person control their thoughts and nerves.
Note: Box breathing involves a range of breath holds starting at Level 1-3x3x3x3:10 (which I’d recommend for beginners because I’m at Level 5-7x7x7x7:10 and that is still hard for me after 4 months plus of daily practice.) The levels go all the way up to Level 20 – 22x22x22x22:10. To try out box breathing begin with a 3-second inhale followed by a 3-second hold, then completed with a 3-second exhale and another 3-second hold. Repeating this at least ten times (3x3x3x3:10) is ideal. You can also work up to longer holds and, if needed, start with shorter holds.
I share this box breathing technique because nobody knows more about training for panic than Navy SEALS. I use this technique whenever I feel a little anxious about something, and it really does work.
So, all in all learning breath control is important because it helps with the quality of our lives—from improving emotional control to helping with diseases and ultimately longevity. And all of this is an easily accessible built in system we already have, it’s just a matter of learning how to control it.