There are many reasons to consider adding breathwork to your self-care routine. Not only has it been proven to relieve stress, reduce anxiety, calm the mind and nervous system, and improve mental clarity and focus, but it can also help with things like emotional trauma, high blood pressure, and insomnia.
What is breathwork?
Breathwork—or pranayama, as it’s known in yoga—refers to a controlled pattern of breathing. Compared with our normal breath, which occurs without much thought, breathwork is focused and deliberate. Breathing with intention can positively influence our bodies and minds, helping us to move past emotional and energetic blocks and become more self-aware.
What are the benefits associated with breathwork?
Breathwork is often used to help manage stress, lower blood pressure, and calm the nerves, but it can also be used to break up stagnant energy in the body and release it. It can be used to ground and calm yourself, but it can also be much more active, invigorating, cathartic, and cleansing, depending on the technique. Certain vigorous techniques stimulate and create heat in the body, and involve taking rapid, forceful inhalations and exhalations, which oxygenate the blood and make you feel energized.
The beauty of breathwork is that you feel the effects right away. With regular practice, you’ll build up the stamina required to increase the duration, however, total time spent is less important than engaging in the work properly, so let’s take a look at a few exercises.
3 Breathing Exercises to Try
4-7-8 breathing is perfect for beginners and has been known to ease anxiety and overwhelming feelings by slowing down the heart rate and nervous system and helping to achieve a sense of inner peace.
- Empty the lungs of air completely.
- Breathe in through the nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and breathe out through the mouth for 8 seconds.
- Repeat at least 4 times.
4-4-4-4 breathing has an energizing effect on the body. Try it first thing in the morning for a natural boost or during that mid-afternoon slump. This technique slows the heart rate, improves concentration, efficiency, and performance, and provides stress relief.
- Release all of the air from your lungs, and hold your breath for 4 seconds.
- Inhale through the nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, then exhale out of the nose for 4 seconds.
- Repeat this cycle for 5 minutes.
Alternate nostril breathing works to create a balance between the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. This technique can help to quiet the mind, providing relaxation and clarity, while also promoting heart and lung health.
- Bring the middle and pointer fingers on your right hand to rest of the bridge of your nose.
- Gently apply pressure to your right nostril using your thumb until it’s closed. Inhale slowly through the left nostril for 3 counts.
- Release the right nostril and gently apply pressure to your left nostril using your ring finger. Exhale slowly through the now-open right nostril for 3 counts. Then, inhale through the right nostril for 3 counts.
- Release the left nostril, and gently apply pressure to the right nostril again. Exhale through the left nostril for 3 counts.
- This concludes one sequence. (It always starts and finishes on the left side).
- Repeat for at least 5 minutes.
Note: You can increase the length of inhales and exhales beyond 3 seconds—just make sure they are consistent.