Updated: Aug 16
Our ‘Practices of Mindfulness’ series continues in today’s post, which takes a look at the beauty of breathwork and why it too can be viewed as another one of the fundamentals of mindfulness. So on our next inhale, let’s dive right in!
We can define breathwork as the practice of consciously controlling and directing our breathing in order to induce certain feelings, such as serenity or rejuvenation. It is primarily used to help us soothe ourselves and calm down, however it can also be used to revitalize ourselves and help us feel more energetic. It can be viewed as a form of grounding considering that it helps us relax and come back to our centre.
Breathwork is highly effective…if one knows how to breathe properly. Yep, you read that right: we must breathe properly, which a good majority of us will not currently be doing. And that’s ok, it isn’t your fault. Our lack of proper breathing stems from the way our daily lives have been constructed: the rat race. In a world where we are constantly under pressure to perform well, be highly productive and efficient 24/7 and rush all day, every day, it is no wonder that our breathing has suffered. Spoiler alert: We are not meant to be running around like headless chickens all the time. It. Is. Highly. Unnatural. And we are natural beings. There needs to be balance. 50/50 between doing and being. A time to work, a time to rest. One of the (many) consequences of our little rat race world is that we are almost continuously in a state of ‘fight or flight’ where our adrenaline is high – think: antelope sensing a pride of lions hunting them. When we operate on this level, our breathing is shallow and short. It only reaches the chest so our lungs cannot fully inflate. In order to achieve serenity, we need to lengthen our breath cycles. And to do this, we must breathe deeply into the diaphragm first, then the chest. We should get the diaphragm nice and full then shift the inhale into the chest and expand the chest fully to get a nice set of lungs full of oxygen. Step-by-step, this looks like:
Inhale through the nose and into the diaphragm (belly). Rest your hands on your belly so you can get a feel for it.
Get the diaphragm nice and full
Begin to move the inhale up into the chest until it is fully expanded
Start to exhale out of your nose or mouth – diaphragm first – until the lungs are emptied
Repeat the process until you feel calm(er)
I highly suggest that you, dear reader, begin with getting yourself acclimated to this form of breathing: diaphragmatic breathing. If you can make this your ‘baseline’ style of breath cycle then you will continuously feel more at ease. It is our more natural state anyways and even this small tweak will help loads when it comes to releasing tension.
What I love about breathwork is that it is such a subtle practice, so much so that it can be practiced anytime, any place. Subtlety is especially great for those who are somewhat self conscious of participating in mindfulness in public places (which I have found is usually where a majority of our need to employ mindfulness is formed). Because breathwork is simply breathing, it can be done in public without anyone knowing as all it appears to be is just someone breathing or simply just standing/sitting around, existing: it is a practice that does not draw any attention towards the practitioner. Which I personally love because it is very easy for me to get on with my practice without people stopping to watch or taking notice or even coming up and talking to me about it. The second incredible aspect about breathwork is that it works very well, very fast. Yes I know that last bit sounds like one of those ridiculous “miracle formula” infomercial spiels…but I assure you it is anything but!. I urge you to give it a go if you are skeptical. In essence, conscious breathing helps us to recentre our Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) which in turn helps us lessen stress, tension and anxiety. It takes us out of the ‘fight or flight’ response (where our adrenaline is high and we are constantly on alert) and into a calmer state of mind where we can perceive situations from a more reasonable perspective. It is a more natural state to be in. Rebalancing the PNS isn’t the only benefit, our heart rate slows down and our blood pressure lowers too, so all in all, calm is what we will feel. I also have found that practicing breathwork is revitalizing too. And of course, the reason for this is because breathing is what helps us oxygenate the body. By consciously taking slower and/or longer, deeper breaths, we are allowing the oxygen to reach our whole body in a much more effective manner.
By soothing the body, we can soothe the mind. To be perfectly honest, it goes hand-in-hand. By getting our PNS to relax, we give our mind the green light to reach a state of peace too. And due to this, it is a great practice to incorporate before meditation – in fact, many meditation practitioners will begin their practice with breathwork because it calms the mind and allows us to reach a place of mental quiet. This is a great space to be in when entering meditation. Breathwork often accompanies visualization too, because again, it is good at calming, however it is also good on getting us to concentrate (by controlling our breath, our mind must focus on the process of breathing: inhaling and exhaling). We can even use visualization in breathwork as a way of helping us achieve a zen state by imagining that we inhale positivity and exhale negativity…as a small example. We can even use breathwork to energize ourselves, and get our systems pumping, it all depends on how we breathe. This is the point of breathwork: it is controlled breathing. We control it, and it takes us to where we want to go! If you are interested in learning more about how it can energize us, I suggest having a look at Wim Hof’s methods. It is almost paradoxical, in that even by employing breathing techniques to calm ourselves, simply by calming ourself down we are giving ourselves the ability to become more focused, more motivated and more eager as we do not have all these worries and stressors taking up a great deal of our time and energy. Similarly, employing elevating breathing techniques can help us achieve higher states of consciousness too and help us get to a point of pure peace, a calm high.
In short, breathwork benefits us by:
Circulating oxygen around the body
Releasing stress, tension, anxiety and anger
Regulating the Parasympathetic Nervous System
Grounding and re-centering
Calms an overactive mind
Helps us bring in more joy
Boosts our self-esteem
Lowers blood pressure and heart rate
There are lots of styles of breathwork that we can use for different results. Three well-known styles of breathwork are: Pranayama, Rebirthing and Holotropic. There are also a wide range of breathing techniques that one can use, such as Box Breath, 4,7,8 Breathing, Ujjayi Breath, Lion’s Breath and so on. Whilst I will be covering these more extensively, I have neither the time nor the space in today’s post, although I encourage you to look into them in your spare time if you have a chance.
As for now, this is all the knowledge I am able to impart with you today! I hope you enjoyed the read. If you have any questions or just want to comment your thoughts, please do so below! I look forward to hearing from you. Furthermore, please follow us on our Instagram (@myeireneapp) and Pinterest (MyEirene App) pages
Until next time, namaste. Jamila, Founder of MyEirene Ltd.