Breathwork – An Introduction
Breathwork refers to any breathing exercise or technique that is performed to improve mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. Breathwork can encompass anything from simply being conscious and mindful about your breath, to purposefully influencing it through specific steps. People practice breathwork for a variety of reasons. Many people find breathwork promotes deep relaxation or leaves them feeling energised. It can also activate the body’s natural healing processes, promoting greater self-awareness and feelings of wellbeing, through a connection to the present moment.
There are many breathwork techniques. You may want to try out a few different approaches over time to see which type works best for you and brings about the best results.
Some of the most popular techniques, and ones I enjoy using, include:
- Diaphragmatic breathing: Diaphragmatic breathing involves engaging your diaphragm as you breathe. When stressed or rushed we often begin to shorten our breath and breathe only into the top part of our chest. By sitting quietly, we can focus on breathing more deeply down into our abdomen, feeling this expand slightly as we breathe in, then allowing it to contract gently as we exhale. For some people placing one hand on their abdomen helps them to engage with this process, enabling them to feel their stomach’s gentle rise and fall. As you continue with this practice your breath will slowly begin to deepen and flow naturally, bringing greater feelings of relaxation and calm.
- Extended exhalation: Extended exhalation breathing helps reduce anxiety by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for controlling the body’s calming, ‘rest and digest’ impulses. This technique involves inhaling through the nose, taking a slight pause, then allowing a slow exhalation, so that the exhalation is longer than the inhalation. Some people practice this technique by counting their breath, for example breathing in for four, holding for seven then breathing out for eight. However, if this causes tension, then it is preferrable to adjust the length of each inhale, exhale and pause to the timing that feels comfortable for you, just ensuring the out-breath is longer than the in-breath.
- Box breathing: Box breathing typically involves a cycle of slowly inhaling for about four counts, holding your breath for about four counts, exhaling for four counts, and then pausing again for four counts, before repeating the process. Again, it is recommended to make each breath and pause as long or short as is comfortable. This technique is best performed with both inhalations and exhalations done through the nose and is a great tool for regulating the breath and bringing it back to a calm, even rhythm.
Breathing is something we do every day, usually without giving much thought to the process. Through simple breathwork techniques, however, it is possible to harness the energy of the breath to help bring about greater feelings of calm, connection and wellbeing. With each of these techniques, it is recommended to practice them for approximately 2 minutes to gain full benefit, although this can be adjusted as necessary. Some people like to incorporate breathwork into their meditation practice but any time during the day when you have a few moments is great. In fact, more consistent practice will help extend the benefits of breathwork even further.
By Kerrie Clayton
Kerrie has been a member of the AHHCA for over 10 years and is currently part of its Committee of Management. She is a qualified Holistic Health Practitioner and Reiki Master. Kerrie may be contacted via www.wellnesswithkerrie.com