Before we dive into this article, let’s take a moment to notice our breath. Have you done that today? Maybe this is the first time that you’re going to stop what you’re doing just for a moment to focus on your breathing. What a glorious thing!

Let’s do that now.

Close your eyes. Maybe place a hand on your heart or your belly and take a long, slow, deep inhale in, pause briefly at the top of that breath, and then take a long, slow, deep exhale out. See if you can make your exhale a little bit longer than your inhale. Maybe do a couple of those if you feel inclined. We’ll meet you back here in a moment.

Welcome back 😊

If you’re feeling slightly more calm, grounded, and present, you’re experiencing some of the wonderful benefits of breathwork!  Let’s explore more.

What is Breathwork?

Officially, breathwork “comprises various practices which encompass regulating the way that one breathes, particularly in order to promote mental, emotional and physical health.”

What you just did above was breathwork. It can be as gentle and simple as that, or more intricate or robust depending on the practice. Breathwork can be practiced on its own but it’s often incorporated into yoga and meditation practices.  

Studies show that even five minutes of breathwork and mindfulness meditation per day improve mood and reduce anxiety.1

Controlled breathing practices shift your body from the sympathetic nervous system, aka “fight-or-flight” mode to the parasympathetic system known as “rest-and-digest.” In today’s world, many of us find ourselves in chronic fight-or-flight mode (which can be activated by mental and psychological stress, even if our physical bodies aren’t under stress) which leads to inflammation and disease. Breathwork is an important and useful tool to de-stress and tap into our parasympathetic nervous system.

Benefits of Breathwork

  • Reduces stress & anxiety
  • Increases feelings of comfort, relaxation, pleasantness, vigor and alertness
  • Improves sleep
  • Improves digestion by Increasing blood flow to the digestive tract
  • Increases oxygen levels, boosts your immunity, and releases toxins
  • Promotes awareness of the present moment, thus enhancing mood

Types of Breathwork Techniques:

There are LOTS of breathwork techniques to choose from, but these are three of our favorites:

4-7-8 Breathing

Made popular by Dr. Andrew Weil, the 4-7-8 breathing technique is a simple, calming exercise with roots in yoga tradition. It goes like this: (Watch Dr. Weil demonstrate the 4-7-8 breath HERE).

  1. Inhale through your nose for four counts.
  2. Hold your breath for seven counts.
  3. Exhale through your mouth for eight counts.
  4. Do this for at least four rounds.

Box Breathing

Box Breathing, also known as 4×4 breathing, equal breathing, or square breathing is a method used by the United States Navy Seals. It involves breathing for four equal counts of four – like the four sides of a box!

  1. Breathe in through your nose as you slowly count to four in your head.
  2. Hold your breath for a count of four.
  3. Exhale for another count of four.
  4. Hold your breath again for a count of four.
  5. Repeat for three to four rounds.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Known as Nadi Shodhana in Sanskrit, Alternate Nostril Breathing is a calming yogic technique (Pranayama) that specifically focuses on promoting balance through the body’s midline.

  1. Close your right nostril using your thumb. Inhale slowly through the left nostril for three counts.
  2. Use your ring finger to block your left nostril. At this point, both nostrils should be held closed. Hold your breath for a beat or two with both nostrils blocked.
  3. Release your thumb to unblock your right nostril and exhale slowly through the now-open right nostril for three counts.
  4. Inhale through the right nostril for three counts.
  5. Again, use your thumb to close your right nostril. At this point, both nostrils should be held closed. With both nostrils blocked, hold your breath for a beat or two.
  6. Release the left nostril and exhale slowly through the now-open left nostril for three counts.
  7. Repeat for 3-5 minutes.

The wonderful thing about breathwork is that it’s a tool you can always keep in your back pocket for whenever you need it. And remember, as little as five minutes a day consistently can have positive benefits for your nervous system and overall health. Explore different breathwork techniques and find the ones that work for you!

“Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment.”

Thich Nhat Hanh
Inspired Health - Integrative + Functional Medicine Center Natural Fertility Bend Oregon

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[1] Brief structured respiration practices enhance mood and reduce physiological arousal, 2023.  
[2] How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing, 2018.  
[3]Breathwork for Beginners: What To Know and How To Get Started, 2023.
[4] The Effectiveness of Diaphragmatic Breathing Relaxation Training for Reducing Anxiety, 2016.
[5] Dr. Weil Video: Breathing Exercises: 4-7-8 Breath