Want to learn how to use your breath to find your calm? Let’s uncover the biology of breathwork and learn a few exercises to keep in your back pocket anytime you need to “get some air.”

Did you know the average adult takes 20,000 breaths each day. That’s 20,000 chances to pause, 20,000 chances to be present, and 20,000 chances to feel calm. Are you taking advantage of the power of your breath?

If you’re like most people, the answer is probably no.

The breath is so natural and effortless to us that we don’t even notice it’s there. And that’s a shame, because the breath is also our secret weapon against anxiety and stress.

Breathwork is the use of breathing exercises to train your body to stay calm and focused, even when under pressure. The practice of breathwork is a proven method for stress relief, improved mental clarity, and overall health. 

Want to learn how to use your breath to find your calm? Let’s uncover the biology of breathwork and learn a few exercises to keep in your back pocket anytime you need to “get some air.”

What is Breathwork?

Breathwork is more than just breathing - it’s breathing with purpose and intention.

Breathwork is a technique that uses specific breathing exercises or rhythms to clear away stagnant energy and refresh the mind and body. It can be used to release emotional blockages and energetic imbalances.

Breathwork is often referred to as pranayama in the Ayurvedic medical tradition. It has been practiced for centuries by yogis who use it as part of their spiritual practice for health, well-being and enlightenment. 

Breathwork in Chinese medicine is also considered integral to mental and physical wellness. When you breathe in fresh air, the Lungs and Spleen work together to turn the energy from air and food into the qi that enlivens the entire body. Breathing exercises are often used in Chinese medicine to influence the flow of qi, clear away stagnation, and encourage balance through all the organ systems. 

The Biology of Breathwork

Breathwork sounds great. But is there science behind it? You bet!
Breathwork is proven to be a powerful, natural way to manage your stress and anxiety. As you breathe deeply and rhythmically, oxygen levels throughout your whole body increase and hormones fall into balance. 

The exact mechanisms of why breathwork is so powerfully calming are still being studied, but most believe that it has to do with its ability to voluntarily regulate our internal body to a state of calm, which then triggers the mind to feel calm as well.

Here are three proven ways that breathwork calms the mind and body:

  1. Breathwork Restores Healthy Oxygen Balance
    Our cells need oxygen to function. When we breathe deeply, we inhale oxygen-rich air from the outside and breathe out carbon dioxide. But, most of the time we don’t breathe in deep, full, relaxed breaths. Daily stress causes us to breathe in short bursts and never fully embrace the full capacity of our lungs.
    Deep and slow breathing through breathwork helps to restore a healthy balance of oxygen and improve your overall energy.

  2. Breathwork Reduces Cortisol
    Diaphragmatic breathing has been directly linked to a drop in cortisol levels, which might explain why breathwork is so calming. When we practice breathing exercises, the nervous system quickly moves from sympathetic (fight or flight) into parasympathetic (rest and digest). This returns our typically high cortisol levels to a normal level and our physical and mental stress reduces.

  3. Internal Body Regulation
    Researchers find that breathwork induces psycho-physiological changes in the brain-body as the central nervous system relaxes. EEG studies show that key physiological markers like Heart Rate Variability (heart rate) shift during breathwork to signal an increase in relaxation and comfort, and a decrease in anxiety and anger.

How to Use Breathwork to Reduce Anxiety 

Breathwork is proven to help reduce anxiety, manage stress, and improve brain function naturally. Now, let’s learn how to harness the power of breathing and make your breath work for you!

Breathing Exercise to Stop Anxiety: The 4-7-8 Breath

When anxiety strikes, you can either let it take over or take control. Let’s go with the latter. This simple breathing exercise will help you slow a racing heart and gently trigger a relaxing response in the brain.

How to: The 4-7-8 breath was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil as a useful exercise to replenish oxygen and calm the mind. Just a few rounds of the 4-7-8 breath have been shown to significantly reduce feelings of anxiety or panic and restore the mind and body to a state of calm.

  1. Find a comfortable seated position and relax any muscle tension in your body or face.
  2. With your lips slightly parted, exhale completely through the mouth. 
  3. Press your lips together and inhale through the nose for a count of 4.
  4. Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  5. Exhale slowly for a count of 8, making a whooshing sound through your lips as you do so.
  6. Repeat 4-8 times. 

Video: How to Practice 4-7-8 Breathing

Breathing Exercise to Release Stress and Mental Tension: Belly Breathing

Feeling tense? Overwhelmed? Irritable? Just breathe. Breathwork helps your mind and body relax so you can stay cool through any stressor. Belly breathing is a deep and meditative exercise that engages the whole body. As it does, your qi and blood flow freely through your body, muscle tension melts, and your mind is soon at ease.

How to: Belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, is great for both the mind and body. Drawing air slowly and deeply into the entire abdomen fills your lungs with oxygen and gently massages your internal organs.

  1. Lie on your back and bend your knees over, or sit comfortably in a chair.
  2. Place one hand over your heart and the other on your belly.
  3. Take a slow, deep breath through your nose. Breathe into your belly, rather than your chest. You should feel the hand over your belly rise as you breathe in, as the hand over your heart remains still.
  4. Exhale slowly, feeling your belly sink. 
  5. Repeat for 10 cycles or as long as you wish. 

Video: How to Practice Belly Breathing

Breathing Exercise to for Mental Clarity: Box Breathing 

Breathwork is more than a rescue-technique during a rush of anxiety or after a stressful day. It can also help to prevent mental and emotional issues and even make your brain sharper. Practice box breathing daily - either in the morning to wake up, or in the evening to prepare for sleep. 

How to: Box breathing is a simple exercise that helps you focus on bringing fresh oxygenated air into your lungs, then cleansing the lungs by pushing that air out.

  1. Find a comfortable place to sit with your back straight. 
  2. Take a deep breath in. Then, push out as much air from your lungs as you can as you exhale.
  3. Inhale slowly through your nose for a count of 4.
  4. Hold your breath for a count of 4. 
  5. Slowly exhale through the mouth, trying to push out as much air as possible to reset. 
  6. Repeat for 10 cycles.

Video: How to Practice Box Breathing

Breathe and Be Calm

Finding your calm could be as simple as taking a few deep breaths. Practice these exercises daily to improve your overall health and boost your resilience to stress. And the next time anxiety comes knocking, don’t forget your body has a built-in secret defense! Just breathe!

Want more mind-body tips and tricks? Read the CALM blog and follow us on Instagram and Facebook for more simple ways you can find your calm.

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