What is Breathwork, and How Does It Promote Healing?

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When stressed or frustrated, one of the first things we do is pause for a moment and take a deep breath. Deep breathing helps us calm down and get our bearings when stressed so that we can think more clearly.

But what is breathwork, and how can it improve your mental health and well-being?

What is Breathwork?

The term breathwork refers to a variety of breathing techniques that center on deep, diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing. When you belly-breathe, you use your stomach, diaphragm, and abdominal muscles instead of just your lungs. By breathing this way, you allow your lungs to get more oxygen.

These breathing exercises involve a mindful awareness of each breath. For example, when you deep breathe, you pay attention to each inhale and exhale. This helps you control the flow of your breath, which assists you in relaxing and calming your mind and body.

Studies show that breathwork has many emotional, physical, and spiritual benefits. For example, while focusing on your breathing, you distract your mind from upsetting thoughts. However, you are also learning to observe your thoughts as they come to you, without judgment or self-blame.

While some of the breathing exercises are pretty simple and can be done in a few minutes, any time during the day, others can be more intense or advanced. As a part of therapy or spiritual practice, they are often used with meditation and yoga.

The following are some of the most commonly used breathwork practices:

  • Shamanic breathwork
  • Holotropic breathwork
  • Transformational breath
  • Vivation Clarity breathwork
  • Intention setting breathwork
  • Chakra aligning breathwork

These more complex breathing practices require the guidance of a trained instructor.

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How Does Breathwork Work?

Breathwork involves changing the way you breathe consciously for a certain amount of time. Most of the time, our breathing is shallow, so we may not be inhaling as much oxygen as we can.

Furthermore, your breathing may become even faster if you are having a panic attack. Excessive breathing causes you to expel too much air, lowering the amount of carbon dioxide in your blood. This results in some panic attack symptoms known as hyperventilating (shortness of breath, a dry mouth, weakness, numbness in your arms, etc.)

Deep, conscious belly breathing can help you balance the gases in your body (oxygen and carbon dioxide), which can have a calming effect. Also, when you breathe with awareness, your mind stays in the present and slows down, which lowers the amount of cortisol in your blood.

What are the Healing Benefits of Breathwork?

Deep breathing exercises can help you balance your breathing, decrease stress levels, and relieve anxiety symptoms. Breathwork practice can also be an excellent strategy to:

  • Improve focus 
  • Let go of negative thoughts
  • Process your emotions
  • Improve self-control 
  • Boost self-esteem
  • Heal emotional pain

Breathwork can be used on its own or in combination with psychotherapy to improve mental health and help with a wide range of problems, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Grief
  • Stress and burnout
  • Anger issues
  • Chronic
  • pain
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Addiction

So, here are four healing benefits of breathwork.

Improved Awareness

Breathwork practices help you focus on the moment and become more aware of your negative thinking patterns and limiting beliefs that trigger stress and anxiety. Focusing on yourself may help you identify your triggers and develop resilience. In addition, it can make you more aware of your emotions, needs, and expectations, helping you understand yourself better.

Self-awareness can also help you figure out your strengths and weaknesses and use your strengths to boost your self-esteem, learn how to deal with your feelings, and set healthy boundaries.

Increased Relaxation

Deep breathing exercises have been shown to promote relaxation by stopping your acute stress response. Deep breathing reduces blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol levels, and other bodily stress-response indicators, helping you feel calm and relaxed.

Increased Focus

Deep diaphragmatic breathing improves your mindfulness experience by allowing you to concentrate on yourself in the here and now. Breathwork practices will enable you to let go of your expectations, desires, and anxieties by bringing you into the present moment. While focusing on your breathing, you let your subconscious take over and let the experience come to you.

Reduced Stress and Anxiety

Increased focus achieved through breathwork can help reduce anxiety and depression symptoms by decreasing the amygdala activity in your brain. The amygdala is in charge of emotional responses in stressful situations. Therefore, deep breathing exercises indirectly reduce stress and anxiety by decreasing amygdala activity.

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How to Get Started with Breathwork Training

You can practice breathwork through various exercises, such as:

  • Diaphragmatic breathing 
  • Mindful breathing
  • Box breathing 
  • Alternate nostril breaths
  • Pursed lip breathing
  • 4-7-8 breathing 
  • Breath of fire

To get started with breathwork training on your own, try deep belly breathing.

  • Find a quiet location free of distractions.
  • Sit or lie comfortably
  • Place the hands on your stomach
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose until you feel your belly rising
  • Let your breath fill the belly and lungs
  • Slowly and softly exhale twice as long through your mouth
  • Focus on your breathing: feel and listen to your body inhale and exhale
  • Observe the thoughts that come to you without judging or reacting to them.

However, if you want to try more advanced breathwork practices, you should find a certified and trained instructor. While practicing breathwork with the instructor, you will learn how to safely incorporate breathwork into your daily life and improve your well-being.

You can then include breathwork into your morning routine to help you start your day feeling grounded and composed. Or you can do it in the evening to relax and calm your mind and body before bed.

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Kamini Wood

Kamini Wood

Kamini Wood is a Certified Life Coach, and best-selling author. Her mission is to empower high-performing adults and teens to become resilient self-leaders by reducing stress and anxiety, overcoming imposter syndrome, working through trauma, and re-discovering their AuthenticMe®.

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