4 Simple Breathwork Techniques That Can Reduce Stress And Improve Your Health

Black woman, breath and hand on chest, for meditation and wellness being peaceful to relax. Bokeh, African American female and lady outdoor, in nature and being calm for breathing exercise and health.

Unless you live in a bubble, you won't have escaped the buzz about breathwork in recent years. If you've done yoga or Pilates, you'll know about the benefits, and if not, you'll no doubt know about ‘Ice Man' Wim Hoff, who has made his breathwork practice famous.

Despite its recent popularity, breathwork is far from a new phenomenon. Across diverse cultures, it has been practiced for millennia. These days, breathing has evolved into a thriving industry, with a plethora of courses, coaches, and retreats promising transformative experiences.

But you might still be a bit skeptical. Surely breathing is something we all do automatically, the body knows how to breathe right?

Well it used to, but apparently our modern world has made it much more difficult for us to breathe properly. And scientists now are attributing poor breathing to many health related issues, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and poor immune function. 

Watch the video below or listen to the podcast (episode 143).

Why aren’t we breathing properly?

Several factors can have an impact, including;

  • Stress – when we're stressed, we tend to shallow breathe, and this can limit oxygen intake and disrupt our natural rhythm
  • Sitting & poor posture – when we're sitting or hunched over, this can restrict our lung capacity and inhibit deep breathing
  • Pollution and airborne chemicals – these can irritate the respiratory system, encouraging shallow breathing as a protective response
  • Lack of fresh air – more and more time spent indoors with no access to fresh air can hinder the intake of essential oxygen 

Breathing in properly enables us to get enough oxygen into our body, and that’s super important for oxygenating our cells and delivering nutrients to them. Breathing out properly enables us to get rid of carbon dioxide, waste products and toxins. It’s one of our main detoxification processes! So when we don’t breathe well, we are not getting these benefits.

The health benefits of regular breathwork

  • Stress & Anxiety Reduction: deep, controlled breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation and reducing the production of stress hormones like cortisol
  • Improved Sleep: practicing relaxation and mindfulness techniques through breathwork can ease insomnia and promote restful sleep
  • Enhanced Mental Clarity: breathwork helps to oxygenate the brain, helping with cognitive function, memory, and emotional stability
  • Pain Management: deep breathing can trigger the release of endorphins, which act as natural painkillers
  • Digestive Health: breathing exercises can promote relaxation in the digestive tract and reduce symptoms of conditions like IBS
  • Immune Support: deep breathing can help to increase oxygen intake and promoting a strong immune system
  • Cardiovascular Health: controlled breathing can help to reduce blood pressure, improve circulation, and lower the risk of heart disease 
  • Lung Capacity: regular breathwork exercises can improve lung capacity and respiratory function
  • Detoxification; proper breathing helps to get rid of waste and toxins

Nasal Breathing vs Mouth Breathing

In his book ‘Breath; the science of a lost art’, James Nestor talks about the critical importance of nasal breathing as opposed to mouth breathing. He believes you can be eating healthily, exercising and sleeping well, but if you’re not breathing properly, you’ll never be fully healthy.

Nasal breathing acts like a natural air filter, cleansing and moisturizing incoming air, which can help stave off respiratory ailments and allergies. It's also a trigger for nitric oxide production, which widens blood vessels, aiding blood pressure control and heart health. Plus, it encourages diaphragmatic breathing, preventing the shallow breaths that often accompany stress and anxiety

While nasal breathing is generally recommended, there are situations where mouth breathing may be necessary, such as during intense physical exertion or when experiencing nasal congestion.

If you tend to mouth breathe during sleep, you can try using medical tape or sleep strips to gently seal your lips while sleeping. This encourages nasal breathing and may improve sleep quality.

Simple breathwork techniques to try

Breathwork is easy, cheap and super effective. Give these 4 common techniques a try;

  1. Deep Belly Breathing (Diaphragmatic Breathing): Sit or lie down comfortably. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Inhale deeply through your nose, allowing your abdomen to expand fully while keeping your chest relatively still. Exhale slowly through your nose, gently contracting your abdomen. Repeat for several breaths, focusing on the sensation of your breath moving in and out of your body.
  2. 4-7-8 Breathing (Relaxing Breath): Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose for a count of four seconds. Hold your breath for a count of seven seconds. Then, exhale slowly and completely through your nose for a count of eight seconds. Repeat this cycle for a few minutes, allowing yourself to relax deeply with each breath.
  3. Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana): Sit comfortably with your spine straight. Use your right thumb to block your right nostril and inhale deeply through your left nostril. At the top of your inhale, use your right ring finger to block your left nostril, and exhale completely through your right nostril. Then, inhale through your right nostril, switch fingers to block the right nostril, and exhale through the left nostril. Continue this pattern for several minutes, focusing on the flow of breath and the sensation of air moving through each nostril.
  4. Box Breathing (Square Breathing): Sit comfortably with your spine straight. Inhale deeply through your nose for a count of four seconds. Hold your breath for a count of four seconds. Exhale slowly and completely through your nose for a count of four seconds. Then, hold your breath for a count of four seconds before inhaling again. Repeat this cycle for several minutes, visualising a square with each breath: inhale (4 seconds), hold (4 seconds), exhale (4 seconds), hold (4 seconds).

These breathwork techniques can help promote relaxation, reduce stress, improve sleep and enhance overall wellbeing when practiced regularly. Adjust the pace and duration of each technique according to your comfort level and preferences. And always check with your Doctor if you have any heart, lung or other health condition.

If you need any help or support with your health, do contact us for more information on how we can help.

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