As most of you are aware, I need my woo-woo with a heavy seasoning of science to back it up.
I have NO doubt that different holistic and less mainstream modalities can help us with a ton of different health issues or improve our well-being. Acupuncture, Thai abdominal massages, and naturopathy in conjunction with 3 rounds of antibiotics helped to treat notoriously hard to get rid of Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth when I came down with it 5 years ago.
Even though I’ve experienced the healing hands of holistic treatments I’m still not just going to take someone’s word that it works and I don’t expect you to either!
I went into my first experience with breathwork completely blind. Breathwork is one of the many tools Jacq Gould uses during her Signature Group Coaching called Reconnected and after trying it for the first time I was blown away.
Once the group was over I ran to the computer to do some digging Scooby-Doo style on what the heck just happened to me and texted her later to find out where she got certified because I knew I HAD to continue this journey.
I ended up getting certified as a breathwork facilitator through XPT and never looked back!
Want to learn all about the scientific benefits of breathwork? Ya girls got your back!
If your new to breathwork check out my Intro to Breathwork post to get some background.
*This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.*
What is the difference between deep breathing and a breathwork practice?
Deep breathing is when you are making a conscious effort to inhale large amounts of oxygen by letting the diaphragm expand. Deep breathing or diaphragmatic breathing is a type of breathwork.
A breathwork practice is a group of breathing exercises used to manipulate your breathing rate with a specific goal in mind. As a facilitator, I will choose different breathing exercises or patterns depending on the issues my participants want to address or the feelings they want to tap into.
How Does Breathwork Effect the Body?
Every day, there’s near-constant bids for our attention from other people that keep us in a fight, flight, or freeze mode (sympathetic state): Beeps from our phones, social media, emails, cars whizzing by and much, much more. Our bodies are almost always on alert ready for the next thing you have to switch your attention to.
When our sympathetic state is activated our heart rate accelerates, our stomach puts digestion on pause, and our blood pressure starts to rise. All to prepare us in case we need to defend ourselves or run away like the kids in Stranger Things from the Mind Flayer.
Most of the time fighting or running away isn’t necessary, but our bodies don’t know that! Your sympathetic system can be like your neighbor’s overly sensitive car alarm. Come anywhere near it and off it goes!
This near-constant state of alertness makes it hard for some people to be able to wind down. Their bodies stay stuck in this highly alert state and they don’t get nearly enough time in the rest and digest mode (parasympathetic state).
The parasympathetic state helps to not only undo the effects of being in a sympathetic mode after a stressful event but to heal the body, lower inflammation, increase digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Being stuck in a sympathetic state too often or not spending enough time in a parasympathetic state can lead to anxiety, burnout, stress, insomnia or poor quality of sleep, concentration issues, weight gain, decreased memory function, increased inflammation, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Although, it’s been linked to autoimmune diseases and chronic pain there’s still a lot of preliminary research being done on it.
There are tools to help you learn to calm the sympathetic nervous system and give the parasympathetic nervous system a chance to do its thang.
And, you guessed it, breathwork is one of those tools and my favorite!
Basically breathwork is like taking a chill pill. If we change the rate of our breathing can we lower our heart rate. Then, once we’ve lowered our heart rate enough it signals to our body that we’re safe and it can take a well-deserved siesta.
Breathwork Can Help Lower Anxiety and Stress
If you have anxiety I’m 99% certain someone has told you some form of “just breathe”. There’s a reason that’s usually the first suggestion that pops into people’s brains. It works!
When we get anxious and stressed our breathing becomes quick and shallow or we pause our breathing without even realizing it.
Breathwork can help improve anxiety by moving you out of that shallow, chest breathing and into deep and long diaphragmatic breaths.
You can help your body go into rest and digest mode (parasympathetic state) when you are practicing a slow breathing technique of fewer than 10 breaths per minute. The average of breaths per minute is between 12 to 20.
Personally, breathwork has been the most helpful tool for dealing with my anxiety and stress. If I feel a panic attack creeping up I practice a breathwork pattern to help calm my body or, if I’m in public, I’ll just focus on my breath and making my exhales longer than my inhales.
It helps me much more quickly than meditation does. When doing meditation for anxiety I find that the first 10-to-15 minutes can be super difficult and then I can feel my body and mind relax into it. With breathwork, relaxation is almost immediate for me.
- The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention. Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults
- Neuroscience Just Explained Why This Simple Technique for Calm and Mental Focus Works So Well
- The Effectiveness of Diaphragmatic Breathing Relaxation Training for Reducing Anxiety
Try a breathwork practice for greater focus and memory
If you have issues with focus or attention a breathwork practice may be just the tool for you.
In a research study done at Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, they discovered that participants who were focused well while taking a task that demanded a lot of their undivided attention had a greater relationship between their breathing patterns and attention than those who weren’t focused.
They believe that there’s a solid link between our breath and our focus.
Another study showed that 12 relaxation training sessions that included breathwork helped to significantly increase their working memory and performance levels.
Anecdotally, I can attest that breathwork helped me calm down my typical racing thoughts I get when writing and studying so I could focus. I tend to get anxious whenever I have upcoming deadlines and anxiety has been shown to interfere with focus. By being able to calm down my anxiety I was able to improve my ability to focus.
Breathwork can lower blood pressure
Breathwork can work wonders for lowering high blood pressure!
In 2015, a study had patients with hypertension practice slow, deep breathing show a significant drop in blood pressure
Another large study showed that 20,000 Japanese individuals who identified as having high blood pressure were able to reduce their blood pressure by taking six diaphragmatic breaths in 30 seconds.
Breathwork can help lower depression
Although the scientific community isn’t sure of exactly why it’s helpful, much like the mystery surrounding acupuncture, they do know breathwork can help lessen symptoms from depression.
Those who participated in this 2017 study that paired concentrated breathing and yoga showed a lessening of their depressive symptoms.
Another study showed that conscious yogic breathing could help lessen the symptoms of depression.
- A breathing-based meditation intervention for patients with major depressive disorder following inadequate response to antidepressants: a randomized pilot study
Breathwork as a pain management tool
Pain sucks. Especially chronic pain!
Science is learning so much about the causes of pain and how to treat it, but there’s still a ton of people suffering with no explanation for why they’re in so much pain or sometimes even what’s causing it!
You can have pain caused by nerves, muscles, tendons, inflammation, and diseases. The problem is figuring out what’s causing the pain can be difficult to downright impossible since pains feel very similar no matter what’s causing it. The body is still a mysterious place to science despite how much we’ve learned.
If you don’t know what’s causing the pain it can be difficult to treat. If you give a patient a muscle relaxant, but it’s really a nerve issue then their pain will more than likely persist.
As someone who had chronic pain for the last 5 years and doesn’t like being on medications, it was incredibly hard for me to be on so many. I looked for as many natural ways to help my body handle the pain as possible. I was able to use CBD oil, hypnosis, and meditation to take down the intensity of my pain. I still needed opioids but I definitely took a lot less than I would have otherwise.
I wish I had known about breathwork at the time because it’s been a lifesaver for me now as I go through post-surgery pain from my total hip replacement.
The Journal of Pain published a study showing that yogic breathwork could help ease chronic pain. 52 women, half of which suffered from chronic fibromyalgia, were exposed to low and moderate amounts of pain via pulses from a heart probe on their palm. During the first half of the study, they were allowed to breathe normally. During the latter half, the women were instructed to breathe deeply and slowly.
Guess what!? The results showed that deep breathing contributed to lower pain scores!
It’s thought that deep breathing may help the balance between the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system, but they aren’t quite sure yet. Those who do have chronic pain tend to have a highly sensitive sympathetic nervous system so it would make sense if that was the case.
Breathwork is obviously not removing the source of the pain, but it can help change your experience and perception of pain.
- Respiratory effects on experimental heat pain and cardiac activity
- Effect of deep slow breathing on pain-related variables in osteoarthritis
Now you know all about how implementing a breathwork practice can help you with lowering anxiety, stress, chronic pain, and depression. It can also help you improve your focus and memory!
There’s still a lot of research to be done, but what’s out there currently is extremely promising. Plus, you won’t know if it works for you unless you try it!
Like any other tool though, breathwork is not a miracle worker. You have to spend time learning how to breathe correctly and make it a habit you practice regularly.
So, now you know the benefits of a breathwork practice, but how do you start implementing one into your daily routine and which patterns do you use for what?
Stay tuned for next week’s post where I’ll be going over how to incorporate breathwork into your day-to-day routine and what patterns you’ll want to practice for different purposes.
As you move throughout your days this week pay attention to your breath.
How does it sound when you’re stressed vs. when you’re relaxed?
Are you breathing into your chest or your lower abdominals?
Be mindful of the rhythm of your breath and how you’re feeling. Write it down in your free reflection journal and see if you notice any patterns.
When you’re ready to move onto the next post in the series, How to Practice Breathwork for Stress Relief. See you there!
Want to try out a breathwork class? Sign up for my weekly VIP newsletters with class times!
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