What if your breath could transform your life? Using intentional breathing techniques to reduce stress and improve mental well-being is the idea of breathwork – and it’s life-changing.
“Breathwork is a form of somatic therapy that uses breathing techniques to promote physical and emotional well-being. The practice involves breathing in a specific way, which can be used to either to calm down our nervous-system, or to create an activating transformational experience that can release stuck emotions, stress or stored trauma from the body,” according to transformational breathwork facilitator Susi Kaeufer.
Research shows that different breathing patterns are associated with different feelings – and when you change the way you breathe, you can also alter your emotional state. That’s powerful when it comes to learning how to regulate your emotions. Additionally, several studies reveal the relationship between mindful breathing and activating the parasympathetic nervous system, a state of calm that is basically the opposite of “fight or flight” mode.
“With breathwork, one can tap into altered states of consciousness, using nothing but the power of breath. This can lead to some of the deepest and most profound healing experiences,” says Christina Jaimes, the Founder of the NYC-based breathwork class, Soul SZN.
Examples Of Breathwork Exercises
Have you ever heard of box breathing, also called square breathing? It’s a popular breathwork technique that involves slowing down your breathing and cultivating mindfulness. You breathe in while slowly counting to four. Then, you hold your breath for four seconds. You slowly exhale for four more seconds and repeat the process.
Other forms of breathwork include:
- Breathing at a rapid rate
- Playing with various tempos and inhale/exhale rhythms
- Consciously engaging your diaphragm
- Controlling how your breathe through your nose and mouth
While some techniques require a learning curve, even the act of closing your eyes and taking a few slow, intentional breaths can help you feel grounded and centered.
The Benefits Of Breathwork
According to Kaeufer, there are several powerful benefits to practicing breathwork, from improved sleep to anxiety management and personal growth.
Reduced stress and anxiety
“Breathwork can help calm the mind and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety by creating relaxation and a sense of calm,” says Kaeufer, whose clients tend to experience huge feelings of relief after guided sessions.
You may just want to ditch that cup of afternoon coffee, which is a natural pick-me-up. “By learning to breathe deeply and efficiently, you can increase the amount of oxygen that reaches your body’s cells, which can help to boost energy levels,” adds Kaeufer.
Plus, since many forms of breathwork have a calming effect on the nervous system, you will most likely also benefit from better sleep through your practice.
Even though breathwork is rooted in the body, there are spiritual and personal growth-related aspects to it. “Breathwork is deeply rooted in yoga and other spiritual practices and can help to feel more connected with our inner wisdom and intuition,” according to Kaeufer. As she puts it, you’ll be tapping into the wisdom of your body to heal and let go of past emotional wounds instead of only trying to process things by thinking about them.
Clarity and focus
Speaking of which, if you have a tendency to overthink, you’ll love the meditative effect of breathing exercises. “During breathwork, we can get the ‘monkey mind’ of our brain to quiet down,” says Kaeufer. If you’ve tried meditation and just can’t quite get into it, breathwork is a great alternative.
Tips For Breathwork Beginners
Ready to begin your breathwork journey? Kaeufer recommends finding a class or trained facilitator for guidance: “You can either do this online, or in person. Start with a shorter session, to get used to the experience, as breathwork can be intense,” she suggests. There are also great apps you can try out. “Smiling Mind” is created by a non-profit and is completely free. Another free iOS app is iBreathe.”
To reap the most benefits from your breathwork practice, consistency is key. Once you get into the habit of performing your breathing exercises and start experiencing positive shifts, you’ll want to continue (and tell everyone about it).