The Healing Power of the Breath
Breathing is something we do every single day without thinking about it. So, you’re saying this has healing powers? Not so quick. The healing power of the breath comes from true breathwork. This is a practice that is about the intentional manipulation of your breath.
Breathing techniques have been used for centuries for helping in healing illness long term and also helping symptoms in the short term. Why has it disappeared in our conventional medical model? I’m not too sure why because the benefits and healing power of your breath are quite astounding. Focusing on breathwork can improve your mood, calm you down, stabilize bodily functions, and even improve memory!
Once you practice breathwork in your daily routine, you’ll see why many holistic providers incorporate this into their own routine as well.
Do I have to do yoga or meditation with breathwork to see benefits?
While yoga and meditation have shown numerous health benefits, breathwork alone can significantly impact your health. So if you don’t have time to get your yoga gear on or get in your “zen” space, don’t worry! You can practice your breathing exercises anywhere! So no excuses for not giving it a go!
Don’t believe me? See what breathwork studies show.
One study in 2017 showed that 20 participants who participated in 20 sessions of breathwork, implemented over 8 weeks, had increased sustained attention, significantly lower cortisol levels, and better mindset compared to the control group! This is huge because cortisol is your stress hormone. Consistent high cortisol levels lead to inflammation and chronic disease. If you were to say simple daily breathing exercises could help avoid chronic disease, why wouldn’t you give it a try!?
How about adding some music to your breathing practice? In 2021, one study came out that slow breathing exercises for 10 minutes while listening to quiet music significantly lowered blood pressure in participants over an 8 week period. This is great news for those who need to reduce their blood pressure or else be faced with a need for pharmaceuticals.
Wondering how exactly you practice breathwork? Here are my favorite breathing techniques to give a try.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Box Breathing Benefits
The benefits of box breathing are undeniable. It gained popularity as Navy SEALS would use this technique before missions. Box breathing can be used to simply clear your mind or even heighten your performance and concentration. But I love using box breathing as a powerful tool for stress relief!
How do you practice box breathing?
Breathe in through your nose while slowly counting to four. Then, hold in your breath while, again, counting slowly to four. You’ll avoid inhaling or exhaling for those 4 seconds. Then, slowly exhale through your nose for 4 seconds. Lastly, hold your breath and pause again for 4 seconds, keeping your lungs empty. Voila. Keep doing this breathing cycle for 5 minutes to start and then build up your time each time you practice.
4-7-8 Breathing Technique
Andrew Weil, M.D is the first integrative doctor to start teaching this particular method of breathing. Here’s how to do the 4-7-8 breathing technique.
Place the tip of your tongue just behind your upper front teeth, keeping it there throughout the entire exercise.
First, exhale completely through your mouth. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose for 4 seconds. Then hold your breath for seven seconds, neither inhaling nor exhaling. Finish by completely exhaling through your mouth for eight seconds. This accounts for one breath. You’ll repeat this cycle four times.
Make sure that each exhale through your mouth is audible, whereas the inhales through your nose should be quiet. And remember, your tongue should stay in that location, right behind your front upper teeth!
4-7-8 breathing benefits include stress relief, helping to calm down your mind during panic attacks, and even digestive issues.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate nostril breathing can help calm your anxiety, help you fall asleep at night, and reduce your stress. This practice helps you realign your mind and body balance and regulate airflow through your nasal passages. Like the previous breathing techniques, alternate nostril breathing can help you destress, clear your mind, help increase focus, and even restore balance in the left and right hemispheres of the brain (allowing you energetic channels to be cleared).
How do you practice alternate nostril breathing?
Sit up straight and relax your left palm into your lap. Bring your right hand just in front of your face, with your pointer finger and middle finger resting between your eyebrows, using them as an anchor. Your thumb and ring finger will be the active fingers during this technique.
When you’re ready, close your eyes and take in a deep inhale, and exhale out through your nose. Then, you’ll want to close your right nostril with your right thumb. Take a breath in and inhale through the left nostril slowly and steadily. When you are at the top of your inhale, use your ring finger to close your left nostril so both nostrils are closed and hold your breath for a long pause.
Then, open your right nostril and slowly exhale through just the right side, holding your breath for a quick pause at the bottom of the exhale. Inhale through the right side slowly and then hold both nostrils closed again.
Open your left nostril and release your breath slowly through the left side. Once again, pause for a short moment. You can repeat 5-10 cycles, being mindful of your inhales and exhales. While this may seem more complicated, it’s really pretty simple once you get the flow down. Slowly go through the motions until you get the hang of it. Each full cycle (both nostrils) should take 30-40 seconds if you are doing it slowly.
Which breathing method is best?
While all of these breathing exercises have significant benefits, slow, deep breathing can help lower blood pressure better, while any of these listed above have been shown to help with stress reduction. If you ask me, we could all benefit from a little stress reduction, seeing how normalized busy schedules and overworking is in the U.S!
You can read my previous blog, Is Stress Good or Bad for Your Body?: New Study On Stress Mindset Gives Insight, to learn more about stress mindset and steps you can take to reduce your stress. Remember, don’t underestimate the healing power of the breath!
Work with a Functional Health Expert
If you’re ready to learn natural and actionable steps to optimize your health, a functional health coach may be just what you are looking for. I’m Jessica Meyers, a functional health expert. I can help you overcome stress, underlying imbalances and uncover the root cause of your health symptoms and give you health hacks to improve your overall health. Apply to become a new client here to get started and on your way to feeling happy, healthy, and YOUR BEST!