Breathing Techniques: The Importance Of The Breath
Have you paid attention to your breath recently?
We all do it, but most of us are not paying attention to our breath and actually missing out on real physical and mental benefits.
The practice of breathing intentionally is known as Prayanama in Ayurvedic tradition and commonly practiced alongside yoga and meditation.
Breathwork emerged from Eastern practices thousands of years ago however breathwork therapy re-emerged in Western society in the 1960's (1).
Our breath is fundamental to life, delivering oxygen into our cells and expelling carbon dioxide from the bloodstream, and it can be used as a therapeutic tool to benefit the whole mind and body.
How can such a simple act such as breathing change our health?
Though we are constantly breathing, most of us are holding our breath the majority of the time and not tapping into its full potential. Thankfully breathing happens automatically as it is regulated by our autonomous nervous system however this also means we can easily forget about it.
When we are inhaling and exhaling fully and to our greatest capacity we can deliver maximum energy to our cells and get rid of waste accumulating in the body. This maximizes energy, focus, digestion, cognitive function, immunity, and creativity. On the contrary, when we are taking in shallow breaths we can feel tired, lethargic, and apathetic. This mindless form of breathing can promote a state of stress in the body and increasing the risk of illness over time.
Deep belly breathing allows us to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the rest and digest state of the body. Breathwork is one of the easiest and quickest ways to decrease stress levels and achieve this state of calm.
When we are activating this parasympathetic system, the body can work on repairing and regenerating tissues and focus on healing instead of fighting.
Breathwork has been shown to improve many functions in the body and provide many benefits:
- decrease anxiety and stress (2)
- boost immunity
- improve physical stamina
- improve mood and cognition (3)
- reduce negative thinking
- reduce inflammation (4)
- stimulate creativity
- decrease pain (5)
- process and release emotional trauma
Breathwork is an amazing tool that can help enhance and transform your own mental, emotional, spiritual,, and physical well being, and the best part? It's absolutely free!
Did you know there are different ways to breathe?
Also recently known as the Wim Hof breathing technique, holotropic breathing is gaining popularity within the wellness community.
This breathing method is said to promote not only spiritual growth by entering an altered state of consciousness, but also physical healing (6). Holotropic breathing was developed by psychiatrists Stanislav and Christina Grofin in the 1970s.
Holotropic breathing involves taking repeated deep belly breaths and breath holds for a specific period of time, altering the ratio of oxygen to carbon dioxide and thus increasing alkalinity in the body. As a result, it is common to feel a tingling sensation in your extremities when you practice this breathing technique.
It is recommended to practice this breathing method under the guidance of a trained professional.
This pranayama technique is usually practiced in a seated yoga pose called the Lion pose involving "a forceful exhalation from the back of the throat, whilst extending the tongue from the mouth and rolling the eyes upwards (7)."
Lion's breath has the potential to relieve tension in the facial and neck muscles while also easing the mind. This warming breath can also help you feel more awake and energized by improving circulation.
The stimulating breath
Also known as Bellows Breathing, this traditional yogic breathing technique can help to energize the body and invigorate the mind.
How to practice the stimulating breath:
- Inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose keeping your breaths as short as possible.
- Try for three in-and-out breath cycles per second. This produces a quick movement of the diaphragm, suggesting a bellows. Breathe normally after each cycle.
- Do not do for more than 15 seconds on your first try. Each time you practice the Stimulating Breath, you can increase your time by five seconds or so, until you reach a full minute.
Click here for a visual on how to practice the stimulating breath.
Alternate nostril breathing
Alternate nostril breathing involves inhaling and exhaling through one nostril at a time.
Also known as Nadi Shodhana, this Sanskrit word translates into the purification or clearing of energy channels in the body. This practice can help to revitalize and energize the body, enhance cognitive function, and calm the nervous system.
This is a simple yet powerful way to reduce stress levels and reconnect to the physical body that you can practice anywhere.
Learn more about the specifics of alternate nostril breathing.
This type of breathing technique focuses on using the muscles of the diaphragm, which is located just below the lungs, to move air in and out of the lungs. Many of us miss out on using the full capacity of the lungs by practicing shallow breathing and not engaging the diaphragm while breathing.
Diaphragmatic breathing can be used as a daily practice to strengthen the diaphragm, increase efficiency of the breath, and improve oxygenation.
A deep breathing technique that can quickly help to regulate the body and return it to a relaxed state. Box breathing can be especially effective if you are feeling stressed and want to find some relief (8).
The box breathing method involves 4 simple steps:
1. Inhale through the nose for a count of 4
2. Hold your breath for a count of 4
3. Exhale for a count of 4
4. Repeat the above steps at least 3 times
This breathing technique is fairly easy to do and can be practiced by anyone and is encouraged on a regular basis to promote feelings of wellbeing and health.
About the Author
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.