Words: Niraj Naik
Learning how to control your breath comes with endless benefits. Whether you are looking for ways to lower stress in your day-today life, practise mindfulness, or increase stamina as an athlete, breathwork can help. Breathwork is the term used to describe any intentional manipulation of your breathing pattern. Generally, breathwork calls you to focus significantly on your breathing and follows one of many guided exercises to produce the intended result. Breath-holding is a major part of almost all breathwork exercises.
Like all exercises, breathwork needs to be practised to be effective, and the more you do it, the better you become. Breathwork uses muscles that become stronger the longer you practise. Your body also must adjust to the change in the oxygen amount it receives and the carbon dioxide it releases. As you go further into your breathwork journey, your body can more easily engage the diaphragm and lungs. You will also notice an increased ability of breath control and longer breath-hold times. In addition to strengthening our diaphragm, lungs, and core muscles, consciously controlling our breathing patterns has been linked to increased relaxation levels and has even shown beneficial symptom reduction for those suffering from various mental or physical ailments, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, or chronic pain. Breathwork increases the amount of oxygen that enters our lungs, which then enters our bloodstream, where the cells take it to all the areas within our bodies. When oxygen or carbon dioxide is imbalanced, we can face medical problems.
Hypoxia is the medical term for when our bodies are not getting enough oxygen to reach the tissues. While there are several reasons our tissues may be oxygen deprived, lack of oxygen from our breath is a common cause. Our body can experience severe problems if it goes for extended periods without adequate oxygen, including seizures, coma, or death. Generally, the brain, heart, and lungs are the most heavily affected.
Similar to how our bodies cannot function when they have too little oxygen, an abundance of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream can also cause serious health concerns. When the body has too much carbon dioxide, it experiences hypercapnia. An individual may develop hypercapnia for many reasons, including sleep apnea or other breathing disorders, poor liver function, kidney failure, or severe asthma attacks.
BENEFITS OF BREATH-HOLDING EXERCISES
Understanding the harmful effects of too much carbon dioxide or inadequate oxygen levels in our bloodstream puts the importance of breathwork at centre stage. Breathing deeply allows you to bring more oxygen into your body while exhaling fully removes carbon dioxide efficiently and effectively.
Breathwork involves many aspects, including breath-holding. Increasing your breath hold time can help in a variety of ways, including:
➢ Regenerate damaged brain tissue
➢ Improve mood
➢ Increase energy levels
➢ Lower inflammation within the body
➢ Help foster feelings of relaxation
➢ Lower anxiety and stress
➢ Improve the cardiovascular system
➢ Help relieve COPD symptoms and other diseases affecting the lungs
Almost all types of breathwork include breath holds. These sessions are becoming increasingly popular not only for yoga enthusiasts and athletes, but also for people of various professions and backgrounds. With yoga’s body-positive movement creating more accessible yoga classes, breathwork can be done by anyone and everyone, regardless of age, physical ability, or location. Many yoga and breathwork students today practise in online studios with remote instructors. The ease of accessing high quality sessions online makes your breathwork journey possible and sustainable. In addition, existing instructors can become certified breathwork facilitators to enhance their skills, attract more clients and improve their results.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT FROM A BREATHWORK SESSION?
Breathwork really can be as simple as breathing. Generally, guided breathwork sessions will also have mantras, visualisations, and cues to help create an entire experience. Guided sessions also help those beginning to learn how to keep their thoughts from wandering during practice.
Some of the most simple breathwork techniques are the most effective. These also can become a part of our lives. We often take deep breaths during stress, tiredness, or irritation. Our bodies can learn to do breathwork reflexively the more we practise.
Breathwork is like all other types of exercise or workouts. It’s important to be ready and have the right equipment and mindset to get the most from your breathwork session.
WHAT TO WEAR DURING A BREATHWORK SESSION
During a breathwork session, the focus is meant to be entirely on your breath. Avoid itchy, ill-fitting, or otherwise uncomfortable clothes to prevent your mind from wandering to your outfit instead of your breath. You will also want to ensure that the clothes you choose allow enough stretch or give to expand your lungs and diaphragm completely. Take a few test breaths before you begin your session and feel for limitations. Generally, stretchy or elastic band pants or even a dress provide the most comfort.
WHAT EQUIPMENT DO I NEED FOR A BREATHWORK SESSION
Choosing the right equipment is entirely up to you. To practise breathwork, you need a place to sit comfortably and that’s about it!
Some people prefer to do their sessions seated on the floor. They may choose to sit on a yoga mat or meditation cushion. However, propping yourself up with any type of pillow works. Others do their breathwork sessions seated in chairs or on couches. As long as you can sit up straight and are comfortable, you have everything you need.
You can also place a glass or bottle of water within reach, especially as you begin your breathwork journey. Interfering with your body’s natural breathing pattern can sometimes cause you to become light headed or dizzy. If this happens to you, stay seated and breathe normally until the feeling passes.
CAN ANYONE PRACTISE BREATHWORK?
Breathwork is truly accessible because almost anyone can practise and benefit from it. Like all new workouts, checking with your doctor before beginning is important, especially if you have other medical conditions. Breathwork is generally safe and even recommended by some doctors to help with various ailments.
WHAT ARE SOME BREATHWORK TECHNIQUES?
While guided breathwork sessions will walk you through how to do each type of breathing exercise, knowing different breathwork techniques can help reduce anxiety and get you prepped for your class.
Deep breathing is perhaps the simplest breathwork technique. It’s a slight modification from a typical breathing pattern and focuses on exaggerating the natural breath cycle.
To begin, place one hand on your sternum in the centre of your chest. Your other hand will sit on your stomach. Breathe deeply through your nose. As you do, you will feel your belly expand. Once you’ve reached your lung capacity, exhale out your mouth slowly and with control until all the air has exited your lungs. Repeat this cycle three to five times for the full effect.
5 5 5 Breathing
Similar to deep breathing, the 5 5 5 technique requires you to count as you breathe. This technique is often used to help people calm down at the night’s end and prepare for sleep since the approach resembles counting sheep.
To do the 5 5 5 technique, breathe in deeply through your nose and count slowly to 5. Then, hold your breath for 5 seconds before exhaling out of your mouth for another 5 seconds. Repeat this cycle three to five times.
If 5 seconds feels too long for the breathhold, you can begin with 3 seconds and work your way up. This technique also works with other time periods as well. The more you practise, the longer you can hold your breath.
Lion’s breath is often seen in yoga classes and is great at decreasing stress and anger. This technique can get loud, so it’s best to perform it at home.
To begin, take a deep breath through your nose until your lungs are filled. Instead of a normal, silent exhale, open your mouth as wide as you can and force the air from your lungs. You will make a roaring sound similar to that of a lion.
This technique also helps stretch and strengthen your jaw and neck muscles.
Breathwork isn’t just a trend or fad. It’s been an integral part of some cultures since ancient times. Now, it’s making its way around the world, increasing people’s focus, improving their mood, and helping those suffering from physical, mental and emotional ailments.
Imagine how breathwork can help you achieve better health. You can incorporate this with your current exercises for a more balanced fitness routine. Sometimes you do cardio and sweat out. Sometimes, you sit still and breathe. So start learning breathwork, gradually increase your breath-hold time and reap the benefits of a clearer mind and a stronger body.