With all the chaos in our daily lives, we sometimes forget to take a moment for ourselves. This leads to us living in a constant state of stress. Now more than ever, physical and mental self-care is important for our wellness.
Breathwork is a quick and easy practice that can be incorporated into our daily routines for this purpose, and we can even expand upon it as we progress on our individual wellness journeys. If you aren’t familiar with breathwork, this guide will help you get started with the following:
If you’d like to learn more about how breathwork can help improve your wellness, keep reading. You can also focus on techniques for help with insomnia by checking out our guide to breathwork for sleep.
Breathwork refers to a variety of breathing techniques and exercises that can help with mental, physical, and spiritual health. It involves changing your breathing patterns for healing and self-care purposes. Using breathwork has been proven to help people reduce their stress and anxiety levels.
There is actually a lot of science that shows the amount of good that breathwork can do for our bodies. Here are some of the benefits of breathwork:
There is a large number of breathwork techniques and exercises available to try. Here are some breathwork techniques that anyone can do:
Once you’ve tried the beginner forms of breathwork, you might want to explore an advanced type of breathwork to aid with spiritual growth and healing by attending a workshop or under the guidance of a certified professional. This includes holotropic, shamanic, rebirthing, pranayama, SOMA, neurodynamic, somatic, transformational, and vivation breathwork. We'll get into each type of breathwork in the sections below.
If you’re ready to add breathwork to your wellness routine, there are lots of easy breathwork exercises you can squeeze into your schedule to start. Here are the best techniques you can start doing today.
Box breathing, also known as square breathing or 4-4-4-4 breathing, is a technique that helps to focus on taking slow, deep breaths. It’s used by a wide variety of professionals and athletes for stress reduction and improved performance. Here’s how to do it:
Box breathing was developed by Mark Divine, a former Navy SEAL commander, who has been using the technique since 1987. It’s regularly used by people in high-stress environments due to its ability to turn off a person’s fight-or-flight mode. Using this exercise is seen as a great method of relaxation, since it distracts your mind from the stresses around you as you focus specifically on your breathwork. Popular meditation app Headspace lists it as one of several techniques that have been proven to help reduce stress.
Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing or abdominal breathing, is breathwork that utilizes the stomach, abdomen, and diaphragm. It works by using your muscles to force your diaphragm to move as you breathe, allowing your lungs to fill with more air. Here’s how to do it:
When we breathe, the muscles around our lungs tend to contract in order to allow room for our lungs to expand with air. Diaphragmatic breathing aids in these contractions in order to help improve the amount of air that can enter your lungs at a given time. We’re all born knowing how to properly breathe, but life experiences can result in us changing the way we do so. Consciously practicing diaphragmatic breathing can help us correct these learned patterns, providing us with many improved health benefits. A 2017 study by Frontiers even showed how diaphragmatic breathing leads to increased focus and a decrease in negative emotions.
Pursed lip breathing involves slowly breathing in and out through pursed lips. This is a technique used to give you more control over your breath and ultimately make your breaths more impactful. Here’s how to do it:
Pursed lip breathing has shown to strengthen your lungs with regular practice. This technique focuses on slowing your breaths and emptying stale air from your lungs, which is beneficial for those struggling with chronic lung disease and other conditions. A 2018 study exploring the effects of pursed lip breathing showed improvements among patients with COPD. It’s also an effective aid when accomplishing difficult physical tasks, such as climbing the stairs. It should be noted that this technique works best when you’re already relaxed.
4-7-8 breathing is a technique based on pranayama breathwork (we’ll discuss this more in the next section). It allows users to gain control of their breath and can even work as a sleep aid. Here’s how to do it:
The 4-7-8 breathing technique is another technique that promotes relaxation. As a result, it has been successful in regulating the fight-or-flight response and helping to combat stress and anxiety. By forcing you to focus on your breaths rather than your worries, it helps you achieve a state of calm and more easily fall asleep. An article from The Sustainable Training Method even claims it can also help soothe your heart rate.
Alternate nostril breathing is an exercise that allows you to practice breath control. It is often done during yoga or meditation, and it can also be practiced as part of pranayama breathwork. Here’s how to do it:
Alternate nostril breathing works under the knowledge that the left nostril increases activity in the right side of your brain, while breathing through the right nostril increases activity in the left. While the right side of our brains is responsible for emotions and creativity, the left side is responsible for logic and language. By breathing through both sides equally, you help to stimulate both parts of your brain. A study by the International Journal of Yoga found that alternate nostril breathing is effective in lowering stress levels.
Breath focus, also known as mindful breathing, is a technique that has practitioners focus on imagery, words, or phrases. These images or words will often be ones that contribute to feelings of happiness, relaxation, or neutrality. Here’s how to do it:
The breath focus technique is common to yoga, meditation, and various therapies for its ability to help with stress reduction. It’s believed that focusing on our breath can lead to positive physical and mental changes. A study by the Journal of Neurophysiology recently showed that the regions of our brain linked to emotions, attention, and body awareness actually light up when we engage in focused breathing. Additional studies showed that it can be used for stress reduction based on the areas of the brain that lit up during rapid breathing and focused breathing.
Equal breathing, also known as circular breathing or sama vritti, is an exercise that focuses on making your inhales and exhales the same length. This is done to make your breaths smooth and steady and to help you achieve a sense of balance and equanimity. Here’s how to do it:
Equal breathing engages your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you to achieve relaxation. It works well for those looking to ease their stress and anxiety quickly, which was documented in a 2017 study. It’s also recommended as an exercise prior to going to bed since it works similarly to counting sheep. This is because it helps you to focus on measuring your breaths instead of any of the racing thoughts in your head.
Resonant breathing, also known as coherent breathing, is when one breathes at a rate of 5 breaths per minute. This is one of the simplest exercises that can be done anywhere at any time. Here’s how to do it:
A 2017 study determined that resonant breathing improves heart rate and mood. Since resonant breathing is designed to help you breathe at 5 breaths per minute, this allows you to maximize your heart rate variability (HRV). Since your heart rate is linked to your nervous system, you can easily improve your HRV with breathwork and also calm your nerves. This helps relieve stress and, when combined with Iyengar yoga, can help reduce symptoms of depression.
When you’re ready to explore an advanced breathwork practice, there are a variety of options available. These are some of the more advanced categories of breathwork available.
Holotropic breathwork is a New Age practice used to assist in self-healing and achieving a sense of wholeness. Developed in the 1970s by Stanislav and Christina Grof, it was intended to help practitioners achieve an alternate state of consciousness for therapeutic purposes. It’s primarily used as a worldwide spiritual practice that allows people to access a higher consciousness and release negative emotions. Holotropic breathwork sessions will often be held in groups and guided by a trained facilitator to help participants achieve relaxation, stress relief, personal growth, and self-awareness.
Shamanic Breathwork is a spiritual technique that provides an intense method of healing. Based on the traditions of the Shamans, breathing is used to help practitioners enter a new state of consciousness while helping to calm the body and quiet the mind. Sometimes it is combined with music and movement. Those who are interested can attend workshops where they will be guided through the experience.
Rebirthing Breathwork, also known as Clarity Breathwork, is another spiritually therapeutic technique that promotes joy and peace. It’s often used to access the unconscious mind to access people’s deepest thoughts and desires, help them heal from traumatic experiences, or help uncover unconscious negative memories. The goal of a Rebirthing Breathwork session is to help you build emotional strength and move forward with your life. Many courses and private, in-person sessions are available.
Pranayama breathwork, also known as yoga breathing, refers to a variety of techniques that help clear the body of physical and mental blockages. It is often combined with yoga to allow for proper breath control with each movement. It can be traced back to the ancient yogis of the Himalayas and is seen as a spiritual method of cleansing the energy in your body. Pranayama can be used to relieve stress and anxiety, increase focus, increase energy, and boost the immune system.
SOMA Breath refers to a holistic approach to pranayama breathwork techniques that has been promoted by Niraj Naik. The main goal is to help practitioners correct their breathing. As a result, they’re able to experience a variety of other benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, a balanced nervous system, better resilience, stress management, increased confidence, and released negative emotions. Classes can be found around the world.
Neurodynamic Breathwork is an extension of holotropic breathwork that allows people to connect with their higher self. It was created by Michael Stone in an attempt to help provide easier access to breathwork workshops. This type of breathwork has been said to help practitioners gain more control over their emotions and increase their creativity.
Somatic Breath Therapy, sometimes referred to as Somatic breathwork, is a form of therapeutic breathing focused on helping you breathe more oxygen into your body. It’s designed to help increase your awareness of your body, promote positive perceptions of life, and recover from trauma. The main benefits include reducing stress and anxiety, relaxation, better sleep, better focus, and reduced pain. Those who are interested can learn about Somatic breathwork in private sessions, groups sessions, and workshops.
Transformational Breath, sometimes referred to as Transformational breathwork, is spiritual breathing that expands upon holotropic and rebirthing breathwork. It was created by Dr. Judith Kravitz as a form of self-healing using one’s spiritual consciousness. Benefits to practicing this type of breathwork include increased energy levels, improved circulation, stress and anxiety reduction, improved self-esteem, and released negativity. It should be experienced through a private session, workshop, or training seminar before attempting it on your own.
Vivation is a breathwork technique that allows you to feel pleasure as you work to rid yourself of negative thoughts. Created in 1979 by Jim Leonard, this technique combines yoga, tantra, and meditation to create a deep healing experience. The main benefits resulting from Vivation are the abilities to reduce stress, release negative thoughts, process grief, improve your meditation, improve your relationships, manage addictions, and increase creativity. Workshops teaching Vivation breathwork are currently available online.
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