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Last Updated on June 24, 2022

What is Breathwork And How Does It Work (A Beginner’s Guide)

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What is Breathwork And How Does It Work (A Beginner’s Guide)

Did you know that your body came equipped with a powerful tool that allows you to reduce your stress, anxiety, and even depression within minutes? This same tool can also help you snap your brain to focus your attention on command.

What is this magical tool? Your breath!

The ancient practice of breathwork has been steadily gaining popularity in recent years, and that comes as no surprise when you discover its many health benefits.

What is breathwork, and how can it work for you? Let’s dive in.

What Is Breathwork?

Breathwork is an umbrella term that relates to the practice of consciously manipulating the depth and rate of breathing to achieve a specific outcome.[1][2]

Breathwork is considered an active form of meditation, the outcome of which will depend on the type of breathing techniques that you use.

How Does Breathwork Work?

Our breath is intimately connected to both our body and mind. By simply changing how you breathe (either the depth of your breath, the rate, or both), you can create an immediate response in both the body and mind.

Breathing quickly causes the body to activate the sympathetic nervous system (our fight-or-flight system) and can bring on a feeling of stress, agitation, and even anxiety. If you want to raise your energy levels, you may choose this breathing technique to assist with that.

Breathing slower, however, tends to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (our rest-and-digest system) to bring about a feeling of relaxation in the body.

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Dr. Andrew Huberman from Stanford University shares on his podcast, Huberman Lab, that exhale-emphasized breathing, especially where you breathe in through the nose, pause, breath in again, and then exhale fully through the mouth, promotes feelings of relaxation in both the mind and the body.

However, inhale-emphasized breathing, where the inhale is longer than the exhale, can agitate the body enough to pay attention. This can be used to “wake up” the mind and body anytime you need to pay attention to something (i.e. driving or studying).[3]

Our bodies also use the breath, specifically the exhale, to release toxins and metabolic waste from the body. This can lead to an incredible number of health benefits I will discuss later.

Why Choose Breathwork?

With a vast number of mindfulness and stress management techniques available, why should you consider using breathwork?

Breathwork works quickly, and you can experience the impact on both the body and the mind in a matter of minutes.

Within the first couple of rounds of breathing, there is already a noticeable change within the body. This is beneficial for people who already feel short on time or stressed about adding additional tasks to their day.

Most forms of breathwork can be done anywhere. Some techniques can be practiced while riding the elevator, sitting at your desk, or watching TV.

Please note: Some forms of breathwork may lead to feelings of dizziness or altered states of consciousness. As a result, it’s best to avoid using these techniques while driving. It’s also recommended that you practice the techniques in a safe environment, especially in the beginning, so you can understand how your body responds to the technique.

If you have any of the following conditions, do not practice breathwork without first consulting a physician:[4]

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  • Breathing issues
  • Cardiovascular conditions
  • High blood pressure
  • History or risk of aneurysms
  • Osteoporosis
  • If you’ve recently been injured
  • If you’ve recently had surgery
  • Severe psychiatric symptoms or conditions
  • Vision issues

The Benefits of Breathwork

The physical, spiritual, and psychological benefits of breathwork are numerous. Depending on the technique you’re using, breathwork can be used to:[5][6]

  • Decrease stress levels (includes mentally releasing the feelings of stress and turning off the stress response in the body)
  • Oxygenating the body, which promotes cell growth and function
  • Alkalizing your blood pH to decrease the risk of disease
  • Improve mental focus
  • Improve mental clarity
  • Process and release blocked emotion or trauma from the body and mind
  • Nervous system regulation by stimulating the vagus nerve
  • A sense of deep relaxation (mentally and physically)
  • Boost the immune system
  • Relieve feelings of anger, anxiety, depression, and grief
  • Help treat PTSD and c-PTSD
  • Help treat chronic pain
  • Decrease inflammation in the body

6 Types of Breathwork

Numerous forms of breathwork can be used to create transformation and change within the body. Some techniques are more advanced and require a certified practitioner to take you through them, while others are simple to learn and can be done safely on your own at home.

Here are some of the most popular breathwork techniques.

1. Holotropic Breathwork

This breathwork technique is typically done in a group setting under the guidance of a certified practitioner. The goal of this technique is to create change in your psychological, spiritual, and physical well-being.[7] It also fills the body with fresh oxygen and renews the body cells.[8]

While lying down, you’ll be guided to breathe at a faster rate for a specific time frame, allowing you to achieve an altered state of consciousness. After the technique is completed, you will be guided to draw a mandala and discuss your experience with the group.

2. Rebirthing Breathwork

This technique, called conscious energy breathing, is used to help people release blocked emotions, energy, and even trauma.[9]

Under the guidance of a qualified practitioner, you will be instructed to create a pattern of connected, circular breathing. This means you’ll breathe in a way where there is no space or retention of the breath between the inhale and exhale.

Through this continuous circular breathing, you may experience an emotional release as past traumas and blocked emotions surface. After this release, people tend to feel a state of inner peace and even higher levels of consciousness.

3. Box Breathing

This technique, used by the Navy SEALS to manage their emotions during high-stress situations[10], can be done alone at any time.

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Box breathing is great for people who find themselves highly stressed, experiencing anxiety, overwhelm, or other heightened states of emotions. The goal of this technique is to bring the mind back to the present moment and release emotional tension or stress.

To do this technique, imagine drawing a box with your breath by inhaling for a count of four. Then hold your breath for four counts, exhale for four counts, and hold again for four counts. Complete this process a minimum of four times for optimal results.

4. Diaphragmatic Breathing

Also known as “belly breathing,” this is another technique that can be done alone. Diaphragmatic breathing is used to release tension and stress, become present in the moment, and relax the body. This is a great technique to use at night before you go to sleep or after you lay down to sleep as it promotes full-body relaxation and calm.

To use this technique, sit or lie down, placing one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. Focus on breathing in a way that causes your belly to expand when you inhale and collapses or contract as you exhale.

By having your hands on your stomach and chest, you aim to have the hand on the stomach rise before the hand on your chest. You can complete as many rounds of this technique as you’d like until you achieve your desired state of relaxation.

5. 4-7-8 Breathing

The 4-7-8 Breathing technique uses counting the beats of your breath to promote relaxation, focus, and being present in the moment. With this technique, you’ll breathe in for four counts, hold the breath in for seven counts, and breathe out for eight counts.

In addition to bringing the mind back to the present moment so you can focus on your breath, the longer exhale encourages you to empty your lungs fully.[11]

6. Alternate Nostril Breathing

This form of breathwork is a popular yoga breathing technique. To perform this technique, as the name suggests, you will cover or close one nostril with your thumb or forefinger, then take a nice deep breath in and out through the open nostril.

After each inhale and exhale round, you will switch and close the other nostril and repeat. For optimal benefits, perform this technique for ten minutes.[12]

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This technique is popular because it helps regulate the nervous system by turning off any active stress response in the body and turning on the parasympathetic nervous system (our relaxation system).

Final Thoughts

Your breath is one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal to completely transform your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. Whether you choose to work with a certified practitioner or practice techniques on your own, you can experience the incredible health benefits of this tool at any time.

The only question left to answer is: Which breathwork technique will you start with?

TL;DR

Don't have time for the full article? Read this.

What is Breathwork And How Does It Work (A Beginner’s Guide)

Breathwork is considered an active form of meditation, the outcome of which will depend on the type of breathing techniques that you use.

By simply changing how you breathe (either the depth of your breath, the rate, or both), you can create an immediate response in both the body and mind.

Breathing quickly causes the body to activate the sympathetic nervous system (our fight-or-flight system) and can bring on a feeling of stress, agitation, and even anxiety.

Breathing slower, however, tends to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (our rest-and-digest system) to bring about a feeling of relaxation in the body.

Breathwork works quickly, and you can experience the impact on both the body and the mind in a matter of minutes.

The most popular breathwork techniques are: Holotropic Breathwork, Rebirthing Breathwork, Box Breathing, Diaphragmatic Breathing, 4-7-8 Breathing, Alternate Nostril Breathing

Featured photo credit: Karolina Grabowska via pexels.com

Reference

[1] Healthline: What is Breathwork?
[2] WebMD: What is Breathwork?
[3] Dr Andrew Huberman: Huberman Lab Podcast
[4] Healthline: What is Breathwork?
[5] Healthline: What is Breathwork?
[6] WebMD: What is Breathwork?
[7] Healthline: What is Breathwork?
[8] WebMD: What is Breathwork?
[9] Healthline: What is Breathwork?
[10] MedicineNet: Why Do Navy SEALS Use Box Breathing?
[11] WebMD: What is Breathwork?
[12] WebMD: What to Know About Alternate-Nostril Breathing

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