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Trend Time: What is Breathwork? (Hint: It will lower your stress)

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Author name: Gloria Reilly, Health Services Coordinator, 282-hr Cert. Yoga Teacher, Lee Health


Quick, stop what you are doing, wherever you are, and take a deep breath.

You probably feel better already. The power of a deep, cleansing breath is well known – it powers down our automatic stress responses and helps us feel more grounded.

What you may not know? A new trend is making the wellness rounds this year, and that’s something called breathwork. In fact, a quick Google search shows articles and experts describing its benefits, how it may rival meditation in the peace-of-mind department, and how it helps your mind, body, and spirit.

So if breathwork sounds tempting, here’s what you need to know:

What is breathwork?

Breathwork encompasses various techniques that incorporate intentional use of the breath. Basically, you can learn to regulate the flow of breath to balance the body and mind.

We study the effects today – but the power of breathing has long been revered in many cultures.  Practices range from simple deep breathing to more advanced methods.

Breathwork is an all-natural, at-your-fingertips way to enhance your wellbeing!

How does it work?

When we breathe consciously, the mind slows down and hones into the present moment. That causes a sense of relief, allowing us to go back to our day-to-day activities feeling clear and focused.

Even the smallest break can go a long way in boosting concentration and calmness. Breathwork gives new meaning to the term: “Take a Breather!”

What are the top health benefits of breathwork?

  • Breathwork helps put the brakes on an acute stress response and diverts the health problems associated with chronic stress.
  • By eliciting the body’s relaxation response, deep abdominal breathing helps reduce blood pressure.
  • More complex methods, such as Holotropic breathwork with a trained instructor, have been linked to enhancing addiction recovery as well as supporting cathartic release of stress and trauma.

Where did the practice originate?

Conscious breathing practices for the purpose of physical, psychological, emotional, and even spiritual healing can be found in many places and time periods across the globe.

Most notably, breathwork has been continually practiced in China, India, Japan, and Tibet for healing and maintaining good health. Evidence of breathwork dates back to 2700 B.C.E. in China and 3000 B.C.E. in India. The practices have since been refined for modern use and supported by evidence-based results.

What are some of the different types of breathwork?

Deep Abdominal Breathing: This long, deep breath starts by filling the body with air like a balloon – from the belly expanding to the chest rising for a full breath in. As the breath is released on the exhale, the chest falls, ribs pull in, and navel pulls in. By engaging the abdomen, you experience the full capacity of breath and stimulate the Vagus nerve, sending a message to the entire body/mind to relax.

4-7-8 Breath: This breathing practice uses the technique of holding the breath to “press pause” on the busy mind. The sequence is: inhale 4 counts, hold 7 counts, exhale 8 counts. The prolonged exhale encourages the nervous system/whole body to let go of stress and emerge feeling renewed.

Alternate Nostril Breathing: To start, place the right thumb pad gently onto the right nostril (just enough pressure to block the air). Inhale in this position, through the left nostril. Then, hold the breath as you switch, placing the right index finger on the left nostril. Once in place, exhale through the right nostril. Inhale here, and then continue switching nostrils before exhaling. This has a balancing effect on the body/mind.

Breath of Fire: In this more advanced method, an instructor will guide participants to create a breath pattern that utilizes the muscles of the core on the exhale. Exhaling through the nose, you engage your abdominal muscles to send the breath out. A passive inhale through the nose follows, as the abdominal muscles relax and expand. This breath rejuvenates to the body and helps create steadiness in the mind.

Holotropic Breathwork: This highly advanced breathing method requires the guidance of an experienced instructor. The breathing pattern is, essentially, a continuous inhale and exhale, with no pause in between. This breath sends an increased amount of oxygen throughout the body, renewing cells from within.

How does someone get started?

Participants should find a well-trained, certified instructor to help you become familiar with various breathing methods before attempting them by yourself.

It is important to know the proper positioning, the desired effect, and have an awareness of any indicators to discontinue practice. In some cases, it is not advisable to practice on one’s own even after learning from an instructor. Consult your healthcare provider, as well as your fitness/breathing instructor to find out how to incorporate breathwork into your life.

Take a deep breath, relax, and discover the benefits that breathwork has in store for you!

Want to reach out and learn more?

Contact one of our Healthy Life Centers near you.

Gloria Reilly is a Health Services Coordinator and Certified Yoga Teacher at Lee Health. Her joy is found in sharing yoga and meditation to help people find peace of mind, piece by piece.

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