To calm nerves and create a moment of peace, there’s nothing quite like a deep breath. Manipulating and slowing down your breathing to unlock that feeling of calm is known as breathwork--a new-age name for an old-school mindfulness practice.
Deliberate breathing is at the root of yoga and many other forms of meditation. With your breath you can build heat, focus attention, slow down your thoughts and nerves and heart rate, or prepare for action. The first step to any successful meditation is mastering your breath.
Since the rise of breathwork in wellness circles, scientific research has investigated the impact of measured breathing on the body--and the effect is measurable! By making changes in the autonomic and central nervous systems, breathwork significantly increases feelings of comfort, relaxation, alertness, and vigor in test subjects. Meanwhile, those subjects also experience a decrease in negative emotions.
Because of the proven benefits, medical professionals use breathwork in clinical settings as part of their arsenal against depression and anxiety.
So how can you bring this simple and beneficial practice into your own life?
There are many benefits to guided breathwork sessions: setting aside a specific time for your practice protects you from ending early due to distractions or boredom, and your guide will help you to focus your attention.
Whether you seek out a certified guide, a local yoga class or a meditation app like Headspace or Calm, your guide will bring you through your breathwork exercise along a carefully crafted path.
If you are seeking treatment for psychiatric disorders, high blood pressure, or other physical maladies that breathwork has the potential to help, discuss your options with your healthcare practitioner. They will refer you to a breathwork program suitable for your specific goals and risks.
Practice at Home
No matter what other breathwork you do, practicing at home will introduce balance and consistency to your daily life. Cultivate this tool at home so that it is ready when and where you need it.
Practicing breathwork in your own space also gives you the flexibility to experiment. A regular breathwork practice is daily, but does it do the most for you in the morning or evening? Both? What if you combine your breathwork with sauna bathing or aromatherapy, or practice outside? Because it’s such a simple thing--breathing is central to life, after all--there are many opportunities to make your breathwork practice your own.
Start with one of these breathing exercises and see how it makes you feel. To start, find a comfortable seat and close your eyes or soften your gaze. Purse your lips so that you’re breathing through your nose. Breathe in, pause, and exhale completely--empty your lungs. Then begin the exercise.
5-5 Pattern Breathing
I find this the easiest exercise, in two senses: it’s the easiest for those new to breathwork, and it’s also the easiest to pull out in a frustrating or teary situation when I need control of my breath right away.
From your complete exhale, breathe in for 5 seconds, expanding your belly to fill completely with air, then exhale for 5 seconds, completely emptying again. Continue this slow, complete breathing for at least 1 full minute and up to 20.
Adjust the length of the breath as you see fit. If 5 seconds is difficult for you, try 4 and build up from there. You can also start with 5 seconds for your first minute, then add another second for each additional minute--but don’t go beyond 10 seconds per inhale or exhale. If you feel lightheaded, return to 4 or 5 seconds.
I find this pattern difficult because of the held breaths, but the pauses also add stillness and precision to your practice. Navy SEALs use this technique to calm their nerves and stay sharp.
In your complete exhale, pause for 4 seconds. Then inhale for 4, pause for 4 at the top of the inhale, then exhale for 4. Continue this “box” of 4 in, 4 held, 4 out, 4 held, for 1-20 minutes.
This technique does the most to cultivate self-control and inner tranquility due to the uneven ratio between inhales and exhales.
From your complete exhale, inhale for 4 seconds. Hold your breath in for 7 seconds, then exhale over 8 seconds. Once you’ve completely emptied your lungs, immediately begin your next 4-second inhale.
As you master these techniques and achieve more mindfulness in your daily life you will be surprised at the benefits to your mental state, physical symptoms and more. So take a deep breath and start your journey to new levels of wellness!