Breathwork for Mind & Body

We take about 25,000 breaths every day, yet we are rarely mindful of our breathing or even know how to maximise the benefits of breathwork to optimise our mind and body. Whilst there are many cultures and traditions that have realised the importance of our breath for enhanced wellbeing for several millennia, it has never been as popular as it is now in Western Culture. There have been an immense number of recent studies that show the benefits of breathwork such as reduced anxiety and blood pressure, improved sleep, weight management, digestion, immunity, oral health - to name just a few.

Let's talk about how we can capitalise on the physical and emotional benefits of practising breathwork, transforming our quality of life.

Did you know that most of us only use 10% of our diaphragm when breathing? Breathing influences our heart rate, digestion, almost every internal organ, emotions and our sense of wellbeing. Breathing powers our autonomic nervous system; of which there are two parts - the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. As molecules of breath descend deeper into our lungs, they switch on parasympathetic nerves which in turn send messages to our system to rest and digest. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for making you feel relaxed, restored and safe. With deep breathing, you will not only feel relaxed and digest correctly, your brain will also release feel-good hormones such as serotonin and oxytocin.

When you take shallow breaths from the chest, it causes the heart to race, creates muscles tension and activates the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) which causes as surge of adrenaline and cortisol that tells your body that you're ready for action, or ready to flee danger. When you are able to shift your breath to the abdominal (using your diaphragm), your body shifts into a more relaxed state. As your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest response) is activated, you are able to slow your heart rate and reduce feelings of stress or anxiety.

Mouth breathing and nostril breathing also play different roles in how our body responds. In a lot of cases, the mouth is substituted for the nose as a primary mode of breathing, however this behaviour is linked to a myriad of health issues. In early days, humans rarely had respiratory issues such as allergies, colds, pneumonia, asthma, sleep apnea and bacterial infections which are common these days and attributed to breathing primarily through the mouth - which has become more common (perhaps trough unfortunate evolution) than it was many millennia before. Today, around 40% of the Western population suffers from chronic nasal obstruction and about half of us are habitual "mouth breathers" - affecting women and children the most. According to dental health research, mouth breathing contributes to periodontal disease and bad breath, and was the number 1 cause of cavities - more damaging than poor hygiene, diet or sugar consumption. The lesson here: spend as much time as possible breathing through your nose.

Now that we have discussed the benefits of breathing through ones nose as compared to mouth breathing, we should delve a little deeper into this practice for even more optimised performance. Just like breathing into the diaphragm and stomach has a different effect on our system as shallow breaths into the chest, so too do the locations from nose breathing have different effects on us. Let's talk about how the right nostril, differs from the left nostril. Just as the right and left sides of the brain dictate certain aptitudes and bodily functions, the right and left nostrils also do this.

Your right nostril is like a gas pedal. When you inhale primarily trough this side, circulation speeds up, your body gets hotter, cortisol levels, heart rate and blood pressure all increase. As you might have guessed, breathing through the right nostril activates your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) which puts the body in a more elevated state of alertness and readiness. Breathing through the right side of the nose also sends more blood to the left side of the brain (the left side) - the prefrontal cortex - which is associated with logical decisions, language and computing. The left nostril is linked with the creative and emotional side of the brain and is connected to the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest response) that lowers temperature, heart rate and blood pressure and reduces anxiety.

A great way to check in and become more mindful of where are breath is coming from and going to is to place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest, and take several conscious breaths in. You should feel your belly expand with air. We tend to take shallow breaths in our chests as we go about our day, so doing this exercise is a great way to disrupt a pattern of behavior that does not serve us and to provide an opportunity to reset and relax. If you find that your body wants to take you back into a state of shallow breathing, take your awareness to this part of the body, observe it, and if there is tension, use deep deliberate breaths to release the tension, and actively release it.

Not all breathwork techniques are designed to calm anxiety or to relax. Certain breathwork techniques may be used to boost your energy, improve digestion, focus, sleep or memory. Controlled breathwork techniques have also be helpful for states beyond the day to day such as during child-birth, athletic competition or to ease pain. The benefits are endless once we understand just how much our breath impacts our mind and body - our entire system. We've touched on the basics, but there is indeed a wonderful world of breathing techniques you may still want to explore.

If you would like to try some breathwork techniques for various states,

Click here to access our Breathwork for Beginners