17 Breathwork Techniques to Improve Your Physical & Mental Health

breathwork Jul 20, 2021

 

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:

  • What is Breathwork?
  • 8 Breathwork Techniques for Beginners
  • 9 Breathwork Styles for Advanced Practitioners

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.

 

What is Breathwork?

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. 

 

Benefits of breathwork

There is actually a lot of science that shows the amount good that breathwork can do for our bodies. Here are some of the benefits of breathwork:

  • Reduces stress & anxiety: Calms your body and reverses stress response.
  • Enhances physical health: Increases oxygen levels, boosts your immunity, and releases toxins.
  • Improves digestion: Increases blood flow to the digestive tract, improving digestion.
  • Increases happiness and self-love: Promotes awareness of the present moment, which causes a shift in perspective.
  • Improves sleep: Calms the nervous system and quiets the mind.
  • Helps with pain management: Allows your body to release endorphins, reducing sensitivity and increasing pleasure.

 

Types of breathwork

There is a large number of breathwork techniques and exercises available to try. Here are some breathwork techniques that anyone can do:

  • Box breathing
  • Diaphragmatic breathing
  • Pursed lip breathing
  • 4-7-8 breathing
  • Alternate nostril breathing
  • Breath focus technique
  • Equal breathing
  • Resonant breathing

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.

 

Tips to incorporate breathing exercises into your day 

Forming new habits can be intimidating, but there are ways to help you easily build a lasting breathwork practice:

  • Start with 5 minutes a day and gradually increase the length as you practice more.
  • Schedule your daily sessions in your calendar so you can commit to practicing.
  • When you’re ready, plan to practice multiple times a day, such as when you wake up and before you go to bed.
  • Set up a visual reminder to practice breathwork, whether that’s a meditation pillow next to your bed or a reminder on your phone.

 

8 Breathwork Techniques for Beginners

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.

 

1. Box Breathing

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:

  1. To prepare for this exercise, sit up straight and attempt to push the oxygen out of your lungs by breathing slowly out your mouth.
  2. Slowly breathe in through your nose for a count of 4. Focus on the air filling your lungs.
  3. Hold your breath for another count of 4.
  4. Breathe out through your mouth for a third count of 4. Pay attention to the sensation of the air leaving your body.
  5. Hold your breath again for a final count of 4. 
  6. Continue to repeat these steps as much as desired.

The Science

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.

Benefits

  • Allows you to feel calm and regulate your autonomic nervous system.
  • Can help to regulate body temperature.
  • Can help lower blood pressure.
  • Reduces stress and improves mood, and can even assist in treating anxiety, panic disorder, PTSD, and depression.
  • Can help treat insomnia when practiced before bed.
  • Can help with pain management.

 

2. Diaphragmatic Breathing

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:

  1. Sit in a comfortable position or lie down on a flat surface. You can sit on a pillow or place them under your head and knees to keep you comfortable.
  2. Relax your shoulders.
  3. Place one hand on your upper chest.
  4. Place the other hand on your stomach between the rib cage and diaphragm.
  5. Slowly breathe in through your nose. Focus on drawing the air down towards your stomach as you push it against your hand. Try to keep your chest still.
  6. Tighten your abdominal muscles and let your stomach fall while pressing downward as you breathe out through your lips. Continue to try to keep your chest still.
  7. Continue to inhale and exhale as desired.

The Science

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.

Benefits

  • Helps to correct your breathing patterns.
  • Improves your ability to tolerate intense exercise.
  • Lowers chances of injuring or wearing out your muscles.
  • Creates a sense of relaxation and lowers stress levels.
  • Improves concentration levels.
  • Strengthens your diaphragm and improves core muscle stability.
  • Reduces oxygen demand by lowering heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Assists with anxiety, depression, PTSD, COPD, IBS, sleeplessness, and asthma.

 

3. Pursed Lip Breathing

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:

  1. Sit up straight or lie down with your shoulders relaxed.
  2. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 2. Try to feel the air moving into your abdomen, not just your lungs.
  3. Purse your lips and breathe out slowly for a count of 4. For this step, you should always breathe out for twice the length that you breathed in.
  4. Repeat as desired.

The Science

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.

Benefits

  • Relieves shortness of breath.
  • Reduces the work required to breathe.
  • Removes carbon dioxide trapped in your lungs and brings in more fresh air.
  • Assists with conditions that make it difficult to breathe, including asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, and COPD.

 

4. 4-7-8 Breathing

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:

  1. As you part your lips, breathe out through your mouth while making a whooshing sound.
  2. Close your mouth and inhale through your nose to the count of 4.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  4. Make another whooshing sound as you breathe out your mouth for a count of 8.
  5. Repeat these steps as much as desired.

The Science

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.

Benefits

  • Helps control mood and improves stress and anxiety levels.
  • Assists in falling asleep and decreases fatigue.
  • Reduces cravings.
  • Reduces asthma symptoms.
  • Reduces hypertension.
  • Improves migraine symptoms.

 

5. Alternate Nostril Breathing

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:

  1. Sit down with your legs crossed.
  2. Place your left hand on your left knee and lift your right hand up to your nose.
  3. Breathe out, then close your right nostril with your right thumb.
  4. Breathe in through your left nostril, then use your fingers to close it.
  5. Release your thumb from your right nostril and breathe out through this side.
  6. Breathe in through your right nostril, then close it again with your thumb.
  7. Release your fingers from your left nostril and breathe out through this side. You’ve now completed a full cycle.
  8. Repeat as much as desired, being sure to end on a completed cycle.

The Science

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.

Benefits

  • Allows for relaxation.
  • Reduces stress and anxiety.
  • Improves cardiovascular health, including heart rate.
  • Improves lung function and respiratory endurance.
  • Enhances overall physical and mental health.

 

6. Breath Focus Technique

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:

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
  2. Pay attention to the way you’re breathing. Try not to change the way you breathe prior to this technique.
  3. Switch between normal breathing and deep breathing a few times, paying attention to how they differ from each other and how your abdomen moves.
  4. Take a few shallow breaths, noticing how they differ from your deep breaths.
  5. Continue to deep breathe for a few more minutes.
  6. Place a hand below your belly button as you relax your stomach. Pay attention to how it rises and falls as you continue to breathe.
  7. Every time you breathe out, let out a loud sigh.
  8. As you continue to breathe deeply, begin to focus on a relaxing image, word, or phrase of your choice.
  9. Imagine the air you breathe in is a wave bringing peace and calm into your body. You can mentally say “inhaling peace and calm” as you do this.
  10. As you breathe out, picture any negativity you’re feeling being washed away. You can mentally say “exhaling tension and anxiety” as you do this.
  11. You have now completed a breath focus session.

The Science

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.

Benefits

  • Reduces stress and anxiety.
  • Increases alertness and improves concentration.
  • Boosts your immune system.
  • Increases vitality.

 

7. Equal 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:

  1. Sit down in a comfortable position.
  2. Breathe in and out through your nose.
  3. Count your inhales and exhales to make sure that they are the same length. If this is uneasy, select a word or phrase to mentally say with every inhale and exhale.
  4. You can also take a short pause between each inhale and exhale if this is helpful.
  5. Continue this exercise for as long as desired.

The Science

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.

Benefits

  • Calms your nerves.
  • Improves your focus and concentration.
  • Helps to quiet the mind.
  • Allows you to access your full breathing capacity.

 

8. Resonant Breathing

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:

  1. Get into a comfortable position of your choice.
  2. Breathe in for a count of 5.
  3. Breathe out for a count of 5.
  4. Continue these steps as desired.

The Science

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.

Benefits

  • Regulates the autonomic nervous system.
  • Reduces stress and anxiety and can relieve depression symptoms.
  • Helps control blood pressure.
  • Relieves symptoms related to asthma, COPD, fibromyalgia, and IBS.
  • Can help treat insomnia.

 

9 breathwork styles for advanced practitioners

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.

 

1. Holotropic Breathwork

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.

 

2. Shamanic Breathwork

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.

 

3. Rebirthing Breathwork

 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.

 

4. Pranayama Breathwork

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.

 

5. SOMA Breathwork

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.

 

6. Neurodynamic Breathwork

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.

 

7. Somatic Breathwork

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.

 

8. Transformational Breathwork

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.

 

9. Vivation

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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