Take a Deep Breath: Breathe Your Way to Better Health

May 28, 2024 by Jesse Zucker
Take a Deep Breath: Breathe Your Way to Better Health

WASHINGTON — “Calm down, take a deep breath.” If you’ve ever been in a state of panic and heard that advice, it may have seemed unhelpful. However, breathwork has been scientifically shown to help your brain and body relax. Breath control is an ancient practice with origins in yoga and meditation and is now found in many types of therapy for physical and mental health.

We will explain what breathwork is, how it works, and some of the common techniques. Plus, we’ll explore a few of the research-backed benefits of taking a deep breath and how it can help improve your health.

What Is Breathwork?

Breathwork simply means a way of intentionally controlling your breath. There are many different techniques and ways of doing it. While breathwork is often part of meditation and yoga, you can also do it outside of those settings. Breathwork is also part of many types of mental health therapy. 

How Does It Work?

When you experience stress or danger, your sympathetic nervous system activates, sending “fight or flight” signals through your body. You may notice your breathing becoming shallow. 

Research shows that breathwork can help decrease SNS activity and increase parasympathetic nervous system activity. The PNS sends “rest and digest” signals to tell your body that you are not in danger and helps you to relax.

In other words, slowing down your breath can physically shift your brain and body from a state of panic to a state of safety and relaxation.

Breathwork Techniques

When you hear the term “breathwork,” it can mean many different things. Here are a few techniques. 

  • Diaphragmatic Breathing: Diaphragmatic breathing refers to taking deep breaths into your stomach. Many people naturally breathe from their chest, especially in a state of stress. Place your hands on your stomach as you inhale, and try to expand your stomach into your hands.
  • Pranayama: Pranayama means breath control; this is the type of breathing you’ll find in a yoga class. There are eight types of pranayama; here are two common forms:
    • Ujayi: Ujayi is the “ocean” breath where you inhale and exhale from your nose with your mouth closed. The exhale makes an oceanic sound. Try inhaling from your nose and exhaling from the back of your throat through your mouth. Then, close your mouth and try to make the same sound as you exhale from your nose.
  • Alternate Nostril Breathing: This type of breathing in yoga involves holding your nose with your thumb on your right nostril and pointer on your left nostril. Remove your thumb to inhale from your right nostril. Put your thumb back. Remove your pointer, and exhale that breath from the left nostril. Continue alternating.
  • 4-7-8 Breathing: There are many ways to count while you breathe to slow down and improve relaxation. The 4-7-8 method involves inhaling for four seconds, holding for seven seconds and exhaling for eight seconds. 
  • Box Breathing: There are four parts to box breathing and you can visualize a square as you do it. Inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds and repeat.
  • Observing Breath Meditation: This one is different because you are not controlling your breath but observing it. It is a common practice in mindfulness meditation. Instead of trying to breathe in a certain way, you simply notice and observe your breath and see how your body knows how to breathe on its own.

Research on Benefits

Regularly practicing some form of breathwork can impact your mental and physical health. Here are a few of the recent studies.

  • Nervous System Shift: Breath control moves your brain and body from the SNS to the PNS, which can help reduce stress and decrease inflammation.
  • Insomnia: Mindful breathing before bed may improve sleep quality for people with insomnia.
  • Blood Pressure: Slow breathing lowers resting blood pressure and can be an easy addition to treating hypertension.
  • Chronic Conditions: Pranayama can reduce the frequency of asthma attacks in people with respiratory illnesses. It can also reduce fatigue and anxiety in people with cancer and cardiovascular illnesses.

Breathe In, Breathe Out

Caught in a panic? Take 10 seconds to intentionally breathe in, and then breathe out. There are many ways to practice breathwork, it is free and you can do it anywhere. A lot of research suggests it can help manage mental and physical health conditions and it works right away.

Our website content, services and products are for informational purposes only. The Well News does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have medical concerns or questions, discuss with your health care professional.

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