Breathwork has become quite the rage in the past few years – and for good reason. I first discovered breathwork during my yoga teacher training, when our instructor guided us through a breathing meditation. Afterwards, I felt like I was on a high and I knew that for the better part of my life, I definitely wasn’t breathing properly. In fact, compared to breathwork, it felt like I had been holding my breath my whole life!
So, I dived deeper into this magical world and discovered that breathwork boasts an array of benefits – from physical, to mental, to emotional. If you’re ready to discover what breathwork can do for you, keep reading.
Physical Benefits of Breathwork
Physical health refers to your physical wellbeing and breath work is can have a profound effect over the physical neurophysiology. It involves the function of your bodily systems, the health of your organs, and the manifestation of physical symptoms – whether good or bad.
We typically think of physical health when thinking about health and wellness, since it directly relates to the body and is what we immediately see and sense when our health is not up to scratch.
1. It Oxygenates Your Blood
As a professional health and nutrition educator, I know that our cardiovascular systems depend on one main nutrient – oxygen. Without oxygen, your red blood cells can’t transport the nutrients from food you consume to all the cells that need it.
You can think of oxygen as RedBull for your blood cells – it certainly gives them wings! When your blood is properly oxygenated, your blood moves through your blood vessels at a rapid speed, while being able to send blood to areas that need to grow or heal – such as muscles, wounds, or scar tissue.
The best way to oxygenate your blood is through exercise (or so I thought, until I discovered breathwork). If you’re feeling lazy and don’t want to exercise, then simply do some breathing exercises while watching your favourite shows. Who knew being healthy could be so easy!
2. It reduces Stress
Your nervous system controls your stress response. By incorporating breathwork, you calm down your nervous system, which results in a decreased stressed state. You’ll find that, after a breathing session, your heartrate decreases and you feel somewhat “soothed”.
I’ve found breathing exercises to be particularly helpful for anxiety and feelings of overwhelm. If you want to test this, simply pay attention to your breathing the next time you feel stressed. You’ll see that your breathing is shallow or non-existent. So, if stress causes you to hold your breath, then deep breathing will help you to release stress.
3. Improved Digestion
Your body has 2 states of nervous system regulation – calm AF or stressed AF (just kidding – it’s called sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system). Your parasympathetic nervous system is known as rest and digest – and for good reason. When you’re stressed, your body takes blood away from your digestive system, which makes it very difficult to digest food. Whereas when you’re relaxed, your body prioritises digestion.
Understanding this concept has been a true game changer for me. I used to be stressed ALL THE TIME. It’s no surprise that I struggled with multiple digestive issues. I used food to cope with stress, yet my body didn’t have the resources to digest the food I was eating. So, I developed chronic conditions, which has taken many years to improve.
Take a few deep breaths before eating or drinking anything. If you’re stressed, avoid food and beverages all-together because ultimately, you’re just doing more harm than good.
4. Increased Energy Levels
The only way to understand this is to just do a breathwork session. Afterwards, you’ll feel like you just had 10 cups of coffee without any of the anxiousness or jitters.
When I’m feeling tired or like I can’t focus, I do a simple 10-minute breathwork session, which makes me feel like a 5-year old girl that’s high on a sugar-rush. Replace your cup of coffee with some breathing exercises and you’ll never look back!
Mental Benefits of Breathwork
Mental wellbeing refers to how you cope with your thoughts or the types of thoughts that dominate your everyday life. We live in a society where mental health is gradually declining.
Anxiety and depression are 2 mental health conditions that are affecting a large portion of the world’s population and it seems to be increasing every day. So, now more than ever, we need to incorporate techniques such as breathwork in order to cope more efficiently with our lack of mental health.
Improved Cognitive Functioning
Because breathwork puts your nervous system in a relaxed state, it allows your body to heal itself – and this includes your brain cells and neurons. With the exception of a few types of cells, the body replaces itself every 7-10 years.
That means, every 10 years, you’re a whole new person! Breathwork can speed up this process, meaning that you could be aging in reverse with minimal effort and no invasive surgeries. I’ve noticed that when I incorporate breathing exercises, my skin is radiant and glowing. I can’t quite say what’s happening inside my body, but if my skin is a reflection of my inner world, I’d say it’s the fountain of youth!
One study from Trinity College Dublin, on the effects of controlled breathing concluded that:
“More ‘youthful’ brains have a reduced risk of dementia and mindfulness meditation techniques actually strengthen brain networks. Our research offers one possible reason for this – using our breath to control one of the brain’s natural chemical messengers, noradrenaline, which in the right ‘dose’ helps the brain grow new connections between cells. This study provides one more reason for everyone to boost the health of their brain using a whole range of activities ranging from aerobic exercise to mindfulness meditation.” (source)
Greater Clarity and Focus
Breathwork gives you a head-rush (depending on the type of breathing you do). This allows you to get rid of any unwanted thoughts or the typical “scatter brain” that many of us struggle with. I’ve found that a few rounds of breathing in the middle of the day gives me a new sense of clarity and focus that allows me to work for many more hours.
Breathwork has existed for a much longer time than any medications. In fact, we come into the world and leave the world with a breath. So, maybe, the solution to our lack of focus and tendencies toward ADHD and procrastination lies in going back to what we do so naturally.
Emotional Benefits of Breathwork
Emotional wellbeing refers to how well you cope with your own emotions as well as those of others.
Most of us are often overwhelmed by our emotions because we’re not taught how to deal with them. Breathwork is a great way to tap into emotions that you might otherwise be unaware of.
Release Emotional Blockages
Breathwork is notoriously well-known for releasing emotions and stored trauma. You might not realise it, but your body holds on to any emotions that you don’t release. And over time, this manifests as pain, disease, and mental health issues. In most cases, it manifests as emotional numbness.
For a long time I felt numb towards life. Nothing excited me and nothing upset me. Everything and everyone was just…meh.
This might not sound like a problem, but trust me – it’s not fun. If you feel disconnected or numb to life, it’s a clear sign that you’ve been repressing uncomfortable emotions to the point that your “positive” emotions (joy, happiness, enthusiasm, love, etc.) has also disappeared. For me, doing deep belly breathing and pressing on points on my abdomen on an exhale has released a lot of anger, sadness, and grief that I never knew was there. Try it out – you’ll feel much lighter.
Improved Relationships with Others
In order to have deep and meaningful connections, we must allow ourselves to feel. This is only possible if we’re connected to our emotions. Additionally, we can often overreact or take our frustration out on our loved ones.
This can be mitigated when you simply take a breath before you respond or speak. This has made a big difference in my personal relationships and has resulted in a lot more love, understanding, and compassion.
Tips for Incorporating Breathwork into Daily Life
Doing breathwork does not have to be complicated. Do some breathing exercises while sitting at your desk, driving in your car, or while watching your favourite show. Set out 10-minutes in the evening before bed to connect to your breath. Or make it a fun activity by soliciting friends or family to do it with you. Be creative and just start where you’re at.
There are hundreds of thousands of different breathing exercises. Find what resonates with you and then commit to incorporating that into your life. I’d recommend not trying too many new exercises at once, so that you can see what does and doesn’t work for you.
Wrapping Up (one breath at a time)
Breathwork has the potential to radically shift your wellbeing on many levels. Unlike other healing modalities, you don’t need any equipment or fancy techniques to do this. Just take a deep breath – anywhere, anytime. The simplicity of this technique, in my opinion, is the biggest selling point. Happy breathing!