The common thread between every living human being is our breath. It is our daily reminder that we are here and that we can also be and live well.
Often times throughout our day there are moments when we feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious or a sense of discomfort, without realizing that our breathing patterns are affected. The breath is an underutilized gift, and is the very essence of life. We actively recognize that more people are showing up to understand their own breath, and in turn that makes us hopeful that they are also showing up with intention for the world by becoming aware. With so many tools at our disposal, it is lovely to be reminded that one we can harness daily, simply and intimately is the most useful, and it’s already a part of who we are.
While there are many habits and tools which can support our wellness, breath work is a foundational element. The brilliance and accessibility of implementing breath work offers abundant benefits: it can decrease inflammation, relax your nervous system, and improve clarity, focus, and mood. So what is it exactly and how do we show up for it? Breath work includes a diverse range of therapeutic practices and exercises intended to relieve mental, physical, and/or emotional tension. Using the breath with specific techniques is centuries old and originated in Eastern religious practices before spreading to the west in the 60s and 70s as therapists and the medical community sought alternative therapies.
In the yogic tradition, breath work is referred to as “pranayama” and is believed to bring harmony between the body and mind. Pranayama (a Sanskrit word that translates to “breath control”) is a series of breathing techniques that are designed to liberate the flow of Prana (life force energy) and increase spiritual self-realization. In the Vedas (ancient religious Indian texts) Yogis described eight types of pranayama with many different variations. Three of the of the more common examples of these techniques are:1
The ‘Three Part Breath’ is used to bring awareness by actively breathing into three parts of our abdomen. This breathing cycle uses both an inhale and exhale breath, with three positions, or areas that we breath and focus into. Inhalation starts in the first position, the low belly; then moves to the second position, the low chest; then to the third position, the lower throat. The exhalation starts in the low throat, moves to the low chest, and finishes in the low belly. In this breathing exercise, slowly inhale to fill your lungs, hold your breath for a few moments once the lungs are filled, and slowly release to completely exhale. Tip: when first starting, use your hands to isolate each step by placing them on or above your body to help find the positions.
Also known as ‘Alternate Nostril Breathing’. In addition to carrying a larger supply of oxygen to our blood, Nadi Sodhana breathing soothes the nerves, helps calm the mind, and balances the subtle energy of the body. To practice this technique, use your right hand to close your right nostril and inhale deeply with the left. Close the left nostril with your spare fingers, open the right nostril, and exhale completely. Inhale through the right nostril, then close. Open the left, exhale completely. This is one cycle; repeat 10 times.3
The ‘Bellows Breath’ method is practiced by first, inhaling deeply through your nostrils. Then exhale forcefully through your nostrils, using the diaphragm to ‘pump’ the breath out in strong bursts. Inhale and exhale forcibly about 10 times, then take a deep inhale. Hold the inhalation breath in for as long as you can and then slowly release the breath with a deep exhalation. After completing this cycle, you can rest with normal breathing, then continue for another three to five cycles. Bellows breath simultaneously calms the mind and energizes the body by bringing more oxygen to our blood, which is great for our organs a tissues, and strengthens the lungs and digestive system.
We typically experience the most sincere benefits of breathwork when it is practiced consistently, proactively and preventatively. It is one of the fastest methods to completely shift our nervous system, and can be an invaluable tool for major transformation and healing. Here is a simple technique called the 4-7-8 to try at your desk, on a walk or relaxing at home:
If you’re looking for a powerful way to increase wellness, find a breathwork technique that you enjoy. Try it on and see which best fits your energetic style. Here is to improved physical health, increased mood and to a life well lived. Head to MG Method for more intentional living resources.