What is breathwork?
You’ve probably heard this phrase being thrown around lately by your favourite health and fitness influencer. But what is it? Breathwork refers to a range of breathing techniques and exercises aimed at improving mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. This ancient practice has roots in Eastern medicine similar to things like yoga and meditation, which also involve consciously changing your breathing pattern. The goal is to be able to influence your mental, emotional and physical state, promoting relaxation, reducing stress and enhancing your overall health.
Why should you do it?
Not only can incorporating breathwork into your daily routine have profound effects on your health and wellbeing, it’s simple, easily accessible and FREE.
Unlike other things that get promoted in the health and wellness space, this requires no special equipment and can be done anywhere, anytime. So whether you’re trying to reduce stress, improve concentration, or boost your energy levels – breathwork is an easy place to get started.
What are the benefits?
We’ve already alluded to a few of the benefits you’re likely to experience when you incorporate breathwork into your routine on a regular basis, but let’s share a few bits of scientific evidence that support it.
Here are some of the health benefits currently supported by research:
ANXIETY & MENTAL HEALTH:
Anxiety disorders are the most common group of mental disorders but they’re often under recognised and under treated in primary care. A lot of people with anxiety don’t want to get on the merry-go-round of doctors, pills and side-effects so an easily accessible and FREE treatment option is beneficial.
The link between altered breathing (hyperventilating / shortness of breath) and anxiety disorders has been well established for decades. Despite this, breathing practices are not targeted in gold-standard treatment for anxiety. (Banushi et al., 2023) looked at the success of breathwork on people with clinically diagnosed anxiety. All the studies including a wide range of different breathing techniques showed significant improvements in anxiety symptoms. The most common link between breathing styles used slow, diaphragmatic or belly breathing while mentally focusing on your breath.
Another study from (Malviya, Meredith, Zupan, & Kerley, 2022) found pretty strong evidence that a combination of chanting and breathwork was effective for mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, stress and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
I prefer to just call learning or cognition “brainpower”, because it’s easier to understand. So when we’re talking about this, we’re talking about your ability to learn, work or focus throughout the day.
This study by (Mitsea, Drigas, & Skianis, 2022) showed a close relationship between breathing problems and learning or behavioural issues. They found that breath-control training can help people with various disorders boost their brain power and better-manage any emotional symptoms to help them focus and learn better.
They went so far as to say that breathing training should be an essential practice in school, home and work for the prevention of future cognition problems in future.
Running is one of the most popular sporting hobbies for active people. Another widely-available, minimal-equipment option. But ~40% of runners experience exercise-induced shortness of breath and this might wind up being a barrier for them to continue ie. it feels really hard, uncomfortable and they don’t want to do it anymore!
(Harbour, Stöggl, Schwameder, & Finkenzeller, 2022) wanted to see if breathing exercises that we know work really well when we’re at rest, could also be beneficial if we applied them to something active like running. Now whilst they did find that practising some breathing techniques only increased performance by 1-5%, that’s not nothing. They also mentioned that a lot of the benefits will mostly be psychological, and there is something to that. Developing a level of comfort with the sensation of being short of breath means you’re less likely to feel anxious, which just further promotes the sense of panic you feel when you feel breathless.
5 easy steps to getting started:
(1) FIND A QUIET SPACE:
This might seem obvious, but when you’re trying to create a connection between your mind and your breath, the less distractions the better. I would recommend sitting upright in a comfortable chair or if you’d prefer, lying down on your back with your hands resting on your belly.
(2) CHOOSE YOUR TECHNIQUE:
At the end of this article I’ll include a selection of different apps or programs you can try. You’ll find one that suits you, most will have in-built goal-setting functions and recommend certain breathwork exercises to meet those goals. Getting started is all about practice, so don’t stress too much about all the different options, if in doubt, opt for a simple box breathing activity (4 secs inhale, 4 secs hold, 4 secs exhale, 4 secs hold).
(3) SET A TIMER
Again, if you’re using the below apps, they’ll have in-built timers for you. When you’re first getting started, it’s more about daily efforts than the length of each individual session. Focus on getting 3-5 mins each day and as you improve you can extend these to 10-15mins. Personally I wouldn’t continue to extend these out to 30mins +, simply because I don’t think the goal should be to do this as long as possible. I think it’s more about the ability to “center” yourself with your breath. That being said, I do know people who will do this daily and they swear by it.
(4) FOCUS ON YOUR BREATH
Guided breathwork will talk you through the process. If you opt for a more basic app that just has a timer, my recommendation is to choose a part of your body that allows you to focus on your breath. Whether that’s your nostrils (feeling air come in and out), or your belly (feeling it rise up and down).
It’s completely natural to feel your mind wandering off during these sessions, that’s why it helps to have something to focus on (nose or belly). That’s the skill. The ability to tune out surrounding noise and focus on something.
(5) CONSISTENCY IS KEY
Like with any other skill, it requires practice. Practice makes progress, not perfection. Nobody is expecting you to become an expert within a week. It’s about the commitment to progress.
A few recommended tools for you:
Personally, as I try to incorporate more breathwork and mindfulness into my life I’m not at the point where I can sit in silence for 10-15 minutes without being guided or supported through the process.
So here’s a few apps I would recommend that you can test out and see which resonates with you:
Calm – https://www.calm.com/
Known for its guided meditations, Calm also offers breathing exercises aimed at reducing stress and anxiety.
Breathwrk – https://www.breathwrk.com/
A simple, user-friendly app that provides a variety of breathing exercises designed to alleviate stress, improve sleep, and increase energy levels.
Breethe offers guided meditations and breathing exercises, alone with bedtime stories and music designed to aid relaxation and better sleep.
The Breathing App – https://www.thebreathing.app/
Developed in collaboration with Deepak Chopra, this app offers simple breathing exercises that are easy to integrate into daily life.
A couple of iPhone Apps I found myself that I’ve tested (they’re very basic but get the job done).
Breathly and iBreathe. Both have simple interval timers where you set the duration of your session as well as the inhale, hold and exhale settings. I would recommend starting with guided breathing sessions first and then transferring to these simple timers when you feel like you’re ready.
Meditation and “mindfulness” might not be everybodys cup of tea. But every body needs to breathe. And it’s not up for debate that the power of our breath can unlock some huge benefits for us both physiologically and psychologically. So I would encourage you to give this a go. If you want to have a chat about how breathwork can be fit into your healthy lifestyle – book a free 30min call (link is in the menu).