The act of breathing is so automatic that most of us are shocked to realize how much of an impact it can have on our lives (well, aside from, you know, keeping us alive!).
For instance, it may come as a surprise to know that not only are there multiple types of breathing … but also that the way we breathe can actually impact our emotions, stress levels, energy levels, and more, for better or for worse.
Here we’re breaking down why correct breathing is so important, why breathwork is so beneficial, and sharing an extremely effective breathing exercise you can do today!
Benefits of Breathwork
1. Reduces Stress and Anxiety
The way we’re breathing in any given moment is a reflection of our emotional state. For instance, when we’re stressed or or nervous system is overactive in any way (which is the day-to-day case for most of us in the modern world) our breathing becomes more shallow and rapid in response to fight-or-flight hormones like adrenaline.
When stress becomes a common reality, we then fall into the habit of breathing shallowly all of the time, which then re-signals to our body that we must be under some type of stress.
As you can see, this can be a dangerous feedback loop of breath-stress, stress-breath that leads to constantly elevated cortisol levels, which then increases anxiety, blood sugar levels, and makes dropping fat and toning up significantly more challenging.
Studies show that deep breathing, due to it’s association with relaxation and ability to activate calming hormones, has a remarkable ability to reduce stress and anxiety.
2. Increases Energy
Because of the increase in oxygen that results from breathing correctly and deeply, practicing breathwork can also increase your energy levels!
When we fall asleep at night, our breathing automatically slows and becomes more shallow due to less energy requirements from our body. When we wake up, our breathing is meant to become deeper and more frequent in order to support the greater energy levels we need during the day. Breathwork can help re-train your body to breathe correctly throughout your day, leading to a boost in energy.
3. Helps Reduce Pain
As we saw earlier, breathing correctly can help reduce the stress hormone cortisol, which also plays a role in inflammation. Inflammation, in turn, plays a role in pain. By reducing cortisol with breathwork, we can possibly help reduce any chronic pain we may be experiencing.
In addition, correct breathing can help oxygenate your blood, leading to improved organ function and increased circulation (great news for helping speed up healing from injuries!).
4. Improves Digestion
When our body is in a state of stress, one of the functions that automatically slows down (or even comes to a halt) is digestion.
By encouraging your body to reduce the amount of stress hormones you’re producing through breathing exercises, you can help stimulate optimal digestion.
5. Can Improve Sleep
Research has shown that practicing certain breathing techniques (like the one we share with you below) can not only help you fall asleep, but can help you stay asleep and wake up feeling more refreshed.
One study found that just 15 minutes of slow, deep breathing before sleep (versus using social media) improved their sleep, as well as their cardiovascular function.
Breathing Exercise To Do Everyday
An awesome breathing exercise to start with is called diaphragmatic breathing, or “belly breathing.”
In reality, belly breathing is actually the way we should be breathing at all times. However, most of us tend to breathe shallowly into our chest, instead of deep into our lungs, or “belly.”
To practice belly breathing, you can either lie down in bed or on the floor, or sit in a chair. Place one hand on your belly and sit up tall. Inhale normally, then exhale fully, pushing all of the air out of your lungs.
Now, inhale, focusing on breathing fully into your lower lungs, or belly. You should feel your belly push out as your diaphragm expands to accommodate your full lungs.
Hold for 5 seconds, then exhale slowly until all of the air is pushed out of your lungs.
Repeat for 5-10 cycles of inhales and exhales, and practice doing this at least once a day, but preferably multiple times throughout your day. It’s especially helpful for reducing stress and tension, so don’t hesitate to take a quick break to belly breathe during intense moments.