Breathwork: the art of conscious breathing
Have you ever tried the conscious breathing technique known as breathwork?
Posted on Thu 29 Sep 2022 · by Jennifer Robson
The average adult breathes around 12 to 20 times a minute; equating to around 17,000 to 30,000 times a day, according to Asthma + Lung UK.
By the age of 30, you’ll have inhaled and exhaled around 250 million times.
And most of the time this happens without even thinking about it.
While you may be aware about your breathing when exercising, meditating, or feeling anxious the ancient practice of breathwork is all about using your diaphragm, rather than your chest, to fill your lungs with air while consciously slowing the pace of your breathing from your resting average.
It works by altering the way we think and feel. It helps shift moods from feeling anxious to calm, exhausted to energised, and scattered to focused.
Inspired by the teachings of ancient texts, notably Vedic and Hindu scriptures, the importance of breathwork has long been praised and recognised. It’s often used through practices like yoga and recommended by medical practitioners.
Celebrities including Fearne Cotton, Selena Gomez, and Gwyneth Paltrow swear by it. Billie Eilish even her 100,000-strong audience at Glastonbury to try breathwork alongside her, while advocating its stress relieving properties.
Breathwork offers many benefits and can help mental health issues like anxiety, stress, and depression, and improve energy, mood, focus, and asthma.
Breathwork lowers stress and anxiety
Many studies have been conducted over the years to determine how breathwork can affect the body’s stress response.
Stress is caused by the mental and emotional toll of excessively demanding or difficult circumstances. It triggers the fight-or-flight response, which often results in a series of unpleasant physiological responses, including shortness of breath or rapid breathing, an elevated heart rate, and raised blood pressure; all of these can negatively impact our overall health over time.
Breathwork can override, or even deactivate, the vicious cycle of adrenaline and cortisol, which contribute to stress levels. This reduces the risk of panic attacks and anxiety. By breathing from the diaphragm, your heart rate slows, the blood pressure and respiratory rate lowers, and the blood supply diverts towards the digestive and reproductive systems.
As you feel calmer, safe, and tranquil your breathing deepens and slows down; this means you’ve slipped under the influence of the parasympathetic nervous system, which has a relaxing effect.
This also helps us become more present, and this can help us feel more in control.
Lowers blood pressure and improves circulation
Similarly, breathwork has been proven to greatly improve blood pressure and blood circulation and is a natural method to help prevent heart disease.
One study of 20,000 Japanese individuals with hypertension and normal blood pressure, showed people can reduce blood pressure greatly by taking six deep breaths within a 30 second period.
Other research, including a study by the American Journal of Cardiology, link breathing exercises to reduced heart rates and blood pressure in cardiovascular disease patients.
Slow, deep breathing exercises helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system and this helps decrease the heart rate and dilate blood vessels. In turn, this helps to reduce blood pressure, as your body will know it can relax.
Breathwork helps manage pain
Deep breathing has long been credited as a popular method of pain management. It has significant influence on relaxing the muscles that tense up because of pain. As we tend to breathe shallowly when tense or in pain, breathwork can reverse this by encouraging and inducing a relaxed frame of mind.
Deep breathing can also distract from pain and other stress due to the concentration around the breathing process. makes you concentrate hard on the breathing process.
Because slow and deep breathing improves circulation, it can reverse physical symptoms of anxiety such as blurred vision, pins and needles, chest pain or dizziness.
Breathwork can improve lung health and strength
Breathwork is helpful for those wanting to improve their lung health, because deep breathing and using the diaphragm increases lung capacity while strengthening respiratory muscles.
Those with chronic lung conditions, like COPD and asthma, are likely to greatly benefit from practicing breathwork.
There is good-quality evidence that suggests breathing exercises can help those with asthma.
A trial published in 2017 found quality of life ratings were higher in UK asthma patients who trained in deep, slow, nasal and diaphragm breathing.
Another study showed elderly smokers found regular breathing exercises helped improve their lung capacity. Those with a reduced chest diameter were able to strengthen their respiratory muscles and improve oxygen intake. This suggests breathing exercises, especially those focusing on the diaphragm, can rebuild strength lost due to health conditions and other factors.
Guidelines used by doctors also say breathing exercises help reduce asthma.
Breathwork releases toxins
This is a major health benefit of breathwork.
As we breathe, we can inhale dust, bacteria, and various pollutants, so breathwork helps new toxins leave, while alkalizing the blood pH level and helping us steer clear of a variety of health problems.
Because around 50 percent of the toxins we inhale are supposed to be released when we exhale, deep breathing improves this process. It also helps improve the lymphatic system, generates more oxygen-rich blood, which assist in the body’s circulation.
Breathwork boosts immunity and increases energy
The immune system is critical to maintain good overall health, and energy levels. It’s thought that around 70 percent of toxins are released from our body through breath and practicing breathwork allows our bodies to take in more oxygen, which fuels the cells that keep us healthy and energised.
Dr Jeremy Montrose explores how improper breathing leads to a weakened immune system and how shallow breathing can result in higher stress levels. He also explains that poor breathing will send unfiltered air directly into our throat and lungs, increasing the risk of dust, bacteria, and other foreign substances making us ill.
Breathwork boosts self-esteem and mood
Because controlled breathing helps us focus on being in the present moment, it can alter the way we think and feel.
The relaxing sensations as improved breathing reduces cortisol levels and help us feel better, build a sense of peace, and can induce feelings of joy, gratitude, and happiness – all while helping us feel better about the way we see ourselves.
Communication expert, Russell Rowe, described how breathing exercises help people build confidence before public speaking. He explains that while under stress, our bodies release higher cortisol levels, which contributes to poor mood and anxiety. Breathwork brings in more oxygen, reduces these cortisol levels, and help us feel better.
- Breathwork refers to any type of breathing exercises or techniques.
- During breathwork you intentionally change your breathing pattern.
- Breathwork differs from mindfulness. Mindfulness tends to involve passive observation, such as watching the breath, while breathwork requires you to actively change the way you breathe.
- Everyone’s experience with breathwork is unique.
- Talk to a healthcare provider before doing any breathwork therapies. This is especially important if you have any medical conditions or take medications.
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