Breathing is something we do automatically and most of us don’t give much thought to how we breathe. Breathwork – controlled, deep breathing exercises – can help increase oxygen flow to your body and brain and reduce the negative effects of stress or exhaustion. It can also help you to stay calm in difficult situations and improve how you manage your emotions.
More often than not, most of us take shallow breaths from our chest, which isn’t the best way to maximise the amount of oxygen we absorb. Breathwork practices teach you how to engage your diaphragm when breathing to improve oxygen flow within your body.
Regular breathwork practice can help you better manage stress and chronic pain, lower your heart rate and blood pressure, regulate your body’s reaction to fatigue, improve diabetic symptoms and act as a buffer against burnout for caregivers. Psychologists have long been using the power of conscious breathing to help their clients be more mindful and resilient in coping with the challenges in their lives, while sports, yoga and meditation instructors frequently incorporate breathwork as part of their training regime.
Focused breathing can also help improve your performance at work by optimising your energy intake and training your mind to tune in to the rhythm of your breath rather than focussing on anxious or distracting thoughts. By breathing consciously and paying attention to the quality of your breath, you can learn to calm yourself down when you feel anxious. This can help you do your best at sports, at work, when speaking in public, and even in your communication with colleagues, family and friends.
Al Lee, co-author of Perfect Breathing says, “By learning to control your breathing, by understanding how the respiratory system is integrated with your body, by using conscious breathing in all your pursuits, you will improve nearly every aspect of your life.”
Here are a few simple breathwork exercises to get you started.
The goal with coherent breathing is to inhale and exhale to the count of six.
This breathing technique is used during Pilate exercises to help engage the core muscles. It can also help sufferers of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) reduce shortness of breath, release air trapped in the lungs and relax.
Box Breathing is a technique that athletes, police officers, nurses and the U.S. Navy SEALs use to improve concentration and cope better under pressure. According to Mark Divine, former U.S. Navy SEALs Commander and New York Times bestselling author “The Way of the SEAL”, “Box breathing is a technique that helps you take control of your automatic breathing patterns to train your breath for optimal health and performance.”
Choose a quiet and comfortable place in your home or office where you can sit every day and practice your breathing exercises. Experiment with different techniques till you find one that works best for you. Begin practicing for ten minutes every day, then work your way up to 20 minutes. Begin practicing once a day, then work towards twice or thrice daily. Try to practice at the same time each day to establish a routine. There’s no need to try too hard, just focus on the rhythm of your breathing, and over time you’ll find that you can intuitively breath in the correct ways to increase your focus on calm yourself during times of crisis.