We all know that breathing is our most important biological function, and that we won’t last long without it. But how often do you consider your breath in your daily life, its role in your health, and its effect on your state of being? Breathing and its impact on your physical, mental, and emotional state can be easy to overlook as breathing happens whether we are conscious of it or not. This is where the practice of breathwork comes in.
Breathwork involves manipulating your breath in a controlled manner, in order to create desired and beneficial states in the body. There are a variety of breathwork techniques and modalities to choose from and most, if not all, breathwork modalities are rooted in the ancient, holistic practice of yoga - the branches of pranayama and kriya yoga specifically.
Breathwork can allow you greater control of both your physiology and psychology, and is quite empowering as you incorporate it into your daily routine. A breathwork practice essentially puts YOU in control of your nervous system and helps keep it healthy. You will struggle to be in a healthy physical, mental or emotional state with dysfunctional breathing and an overburdened nervous system. Poor breathing and poor nervous system health feed into each other and can trap you in a perpetual cycle of stress.
A breathwork practice can lead to improvements in all areas of your life, and will improve how your physical, mental and emotional bodies all function. Also, once you have learned it, it's totally free and can be used anywhere, anytime.
Our modern westernized lifestyles do a number on our ability to breathe in a functional and efficient way. Factors such as over consuming acidic, mineral void, ultra-processed foods, tight restricted muscle function from a lack of movement, exercise and mobility, poor posture from slouching over electronic devices, and all the various mental and emotional stress inputs we all deal with on a daily basis all impact our ability to take a healthy breath.
Poor breathing leads to poor oxygen utilization, which then can contribute to poor sleep quality (and the cascade of issues resulting from that), feelings of lethargy and fatigue, anxiety, depression and respiratory conditions, as well as contributing to excess inflammation and oxidative stress (and all the disease states those play a role in). Poor breathing can even contribute to weight gain and obesity, as it can affect your satiety and hunger.
Dysfunctional breathing generally results in taking in excess oxygen and offloading excess carbon dioxide, or what is called overbreathing. People whose breathing is compromised are often unconscious of their breath. They might take shallow breaths, originating from the chest with excessive use of the neck muscles, often from the mouth. Someone with dysfunctional breathing may chronically mouth breathe (especially while sleeping), sigh, and snore. They might have chronic nasal congestion, tightened airways, experience frequent anxiety, fatigue, dizziness, and lightheadedness.
If you suffer from low energy and motivation, anxiety, depression, nasal congestion and respiratory issues, excess stress, exaggerated stress responses, blood sugar issues, high blood pressure, difficulty losing weight, you find meditation difficult, or have issues with concentration and focus, or trouble sleeping, a breathwork practice can be of great benefit to you.
If you experience regular bouts of anxiety or any of the other symptoms listed above, you almost certainly have some degree of dysfunctional breathing. When you are in the midst of experiencing those symptoms, the first thing you should do is check in with your breathing as quickly as possible. Getting your breathing in check in those states more often than not can take you out of them within a few minutes; and although it might not fully resolve the issue in all situations, it will at the very least be a crucial first step.
There is no one right way to breathe all the time, and we can breathe in a multitude of ways and positions, and many factors can influence the breath. However, in general a healthy resting breath has the following qualities:
Originating from horizontal expansion of ribcage (lower ribs specifically)
Healthy engagement of diaphragm (horizontal breathing)
Rib cage and belly should expand (⅔ ribs/belly, ⅓ chest, 360 degrees)
Little to no upper chest engagement
Little to no neck muscle engagement
Not much noticeable movement
Light, soft, effortless, rhythmic and silent, with a natural pause at the bottom
Around 5-6 breaths per minute (5-5, 6-6, or 4-6)
And most importantly, through the nose at all times
Below are a few breathwork techniques you can try out and utilize as needed.
Box breathing is a breathwork technique often utilized by high performers such as elite athletes, US navy seals, and anyone looking for a simple, free and effective method to mitigate stress and improve their health and well-being.
It can be helpful for stress reduction, improving your mood, lung disorders, anxiety and panic disorders, depression, PTSD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and as an active form of meditation if you have trouble implementing personal mindfulness practices.
Box breathing involves a 4 part breath where you breathe in, hold at the top of the breath, then breathe out, and hold at the bottom of the breath for equal amounts of time.
I’ve also created my own method of box breathing that I find more engaging and an enjoyable personal challenge! I call it Expanded Box Breathing.
This uses the same technique as regular box breathing, but you begin at a 2 count for the in-hold-out-hold and continue increasing your count until you reach the point that you can no longer perform the breath in a smooth controlled rhythm.
How high of a count you can reach can be an indicative of your tolerance to carbon dioxide and how well you are breathing and utilizing oxygen in your body.
Two Fold Breathing is another technique I created. Give this technique a try the next time your are feeling stressed out, wound up, anxious, about to sit down to a meal, or any time you need to get into a more relaxed state of being!
This breathwork technique should be performed as a flow, in a smooth, controlled rhythm, with no pauses between the breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth.
Simply begin with a 2 count in - 4 count out , followed by a 3 count in - 6 count out, followed by a 4 count in - 8 count out, followed by a 5 count in - 10 count out, and lastly a 6 count in - 12 count out.
Repeat each count 4 times before increasing the length of your breaths. You can also perform it in reverse once you get to the top. Click HERE for a guided practice.
These and other breathwork exercises can also be used as a kind of active form of meditation. Especially if you have had trouble implementing traditional ‘sit and do nothing’ meditation techniques in the past. I promise you will also have the best meditations of your life immediately after a solid breathwork session!
I am an Oxygen Advantage® Advanced Instructor, where I focus on fixing dysfunctional breathing patterns and improving day to day breathing efficiency. I am also trained in the Soma Breathwork modality, which is a holistic yogic breathwork system based around some of the core pranayama (controlled breathing) techniques with the most scientific evidence supporting their function, alongside full length, consciousness altering, guided breathwork journeys.
Between the two modalities, I can help you incorporates a variety of breathwork techniques, allowing for a broader application than many other breathwork modalities on their own, and many of the techniques I teach can be utilized by virtually anybody, and catered to anyone's unique needs.
I am now offering breathwork consultations, where you can learn how to develop healthier breathing, and how to utilize your breath to optimize your health and your life!
Head over to our breathwork page for more information, sign up for our newsletter, and keep your eyes peeled for upcoming classes and events!