The practice of breathwork originated thousands of years ago in Eastern cultures. In modern times, however, it has gained popularity among Westerners because of its effectiveness in reducing stress and improving overall wellness.
In addition to being effective, breathwork is relatively easy to learn. There are no special breathing techniques involved; rather, it’s about learning how to control your breathing naturally while relaxing, focusing, and calming down. You can use it on your own to help manage stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, chronic pain, and many other conditions.
How breathing affects the brain and the body
The human brain comprises just 2% of our total body weight, yet it uses up 20% of the air we breathe. In fact, the average adult breathes out nearly five liters of air every hour. This constant stream of air keeps us alive, but it also affects how well our brains function.
When you’re stressed, anxious, or under duress, you tend to hold your breath. But when you do that, you deprive yourself of essential oxygen. As a result, your body reacts by sending signals to your brain to prepare for action. Your heart pumps harder, your muscles tense, and your brain begins producing chemicals called neurotransmitters that help you cope with whatever situation you find yourself in.
But when you’re calm, relaxed, and happy, you don’t hold your breath. Instead, you breathe deeply and slowly, allowing your lungs to fill with oxygen. And because you’re taking in plenty of air, your body doesn’t feel threatened. In fact, you might even start thinking creatively and positively.
What Are the Benefits of Practicing Breathwork?
Practicing breath work can bring physical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual benefits to our daily lives. Breathing exercises can improve your overall functioning and help you achieve greater well-being. Because your breath directly affects the way your nervous system operates, learning to control how often and deeply you inhale and exhale can help you experience greater peace, happiness, and vitality.
Your breath is connected to nearly everything else about your health and wellness, including your mental state, body temperature, immune system, blood pressure, hormone levels, energy level, and even your sexual function. So there are plenty of reasons why practicing breathing techniques can benefit you in many ways.
Physical Benefits of Breathwork
When you practice slow, deep breaths, you improve the way the body functions on many levels. Intentional breathing has many physical benefits such as:
- Allows the body to use oxygen more effectively
- Boosts cardiovascular and respiratory function
- Enhances hormone and neurotransmitter functioning
- Promotes healthy gut functioning
- Stimulates motor control
- Induces theta waves in the brain
Mental Benefits of Breathwork
A study of 40 participants randomly assigned to either a breathing intervention group or to a control group that did not engage in breathing exercises. Participants completed questionnaires measuring self-esteem, stress levels, and general well-being before and after the experiment. They also took tests assessing cognitive abilities such as working memory, reasoning, and decision making. The researchers found that those who participated in the breathing exercise improved their scores on the tests compared to the controls. The researchers concluded that breathing interventions are effective in improving emotional state, cognitive performance, and overall subjective well-being.
Exploration of your inner world
Breathwork is a type of experiential therapy used to explore one’s inner world. In contrast to traditional psychotherapy, which focuses on the external world, breathwork aims to bring about change by accessing the unconscious mind. Breathwork uses rapid, rhythmic breathing patterns to produce a meditative state.
Participants are encouraged to focus inwardly during this process. The goal is to achieve a state of self-awareness where the individual can gain insight into his or her subconscious thoughts and feelings. The practitioner helps clients identify what he or she needs to work on.
What conditions does breathwork treat?
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) reports that breathwork therapies are used to treat:
- Chronic pain
- And many other conditions
While there is no one size fits all approach, most practitioners use a combination of different approaches and add a personal touch to it. Check out the offerings of Brian Kelly, founder of the Breath Masters certified breathwork facilitator training.