How Breathwork Works? Effective Practice or Just Woo Woo
Breathwork is one of the most valuable and powerful tools that you should be taking advantage of! Breathwork offers many of the same benefits as meditation, but it’s easier to learn, can be practiced anywhere, and the results are very predictable. But you’re probably wondering how breathwork works?
If you’re curious about starting a breathwork practice but not sure if breathwork is legit, I’ll fill you in on the basics.
1. What is Breathwork
Breathwork, also known as yoga breathing or pranayama, is simply learning techniques to control our breathing. We control the depth at which we’re breathing, how frequently we’re breathing, and our breathing patterns. Some of the benefits that we can gain from this are reducing our stress levels, reducing anxiety, improving our focus, boosting digestion, improving sleep, and overall regulating our energy levels. The really cool thing about breathwork is that we can do this completely free anytime anywhere without the need for medications. It’s completely safe, easy to learn, and we can get reproducible predictable results every time.
2. How breathwork works
How breathwork works is by allowing us to hack our own nervous system. When most people think about the nervous system they think about physically feeling sensations and our sense of touch. The portion of our nervous nervous system that we’re taking advantage of when we do breathwork is our autonomic nervous system, the part of our nervous system that is responsible for all the things that we’re not conscious of. All those things happen naturally in our body that we don’t have to think about and put forth the effort to do. For example our heartbeat, breathing, swallowing, our pupil response, perspiration, salivation, and digestion. All those things that we don’t ever think about, but that happen naturally throughout the day.
Autonomic Nervous System
The really interesting thing you might notice is that some of those functions controlled automatically by our nervous system can also be consciously controlled as well. You can control your heart rate, it’s difficult to learn but you can do it over time, you can control swallowing, and you can of course control your breath.
Breathing is something that you can very very easily control. We can use controlling our breathing like a key to unlock the door of our nervous system in order to get it to do what we’d like it to.
There are two different branches of our autonomic nervous system that we can unlock with that key, there’s the sympathetic portion and the parasympathetic portion.
Sympathetic Nervous System
The sympathetic portion is our fight-or-flight response. It tells our body that it’s time to get up and go, it’s time to run, time to do something. When this portion of our nervous system is activated or digestion is reduced. It’s not a bad thing for this portion to be active. This is the part of our nervous system that would be most active if you were running a marathon.
Parasympathetic Nervous System
The other part of our autonomic nervous system is our parasympathetic nervous system. This is the rest and digest part of our nervous system. When this part of our nervous system is activated it tells our body that everything’s okay, that we can relax, we can sleep, and we can digest.
For more information on your autonomic, sympathetic, and parasympathetic nervous system check out this in-depth article from Healthline, The Parasympathetic Nervous System Explained.
3. Breathwork Exercises
In my breath work coaching I teach three different categories of breathing techniques. Each takes advantage of our nervous system in a different way to produce different results.
Energizing Breathwork Exercises
The first is a fire category of breathing exercise. These breath exercises are very rapid and they activate our sympathetic nervous system. They’re great to do when we’re waking up because they give us a natural boost of energy. These exercises tell our body it’s time to get up and go. They are also great to practice before exercise.
Balancing Breathwork Exercises
The next category of exercise I teach is a water category of breathing exercise. This is a very balanced breathing technique. We take deep balance breaths. This category of exercises balances our nervous system. If we’re feeling a little bit up and stressed, it will help regulate and bring us back down. If we’re feeling a bit down and sluggish, it’ll help bring us back up.
Tranquilizing Breathwork Exercises
The last category that I teach is an ice category breathing exercise. This is a very very slow controlled deep breath. This category activates our parasympathetic nervous system. It tells our bodies it’s time to down regulate and relax. This type of exercise is great to do if we want to get ready for bed, or if we want to improve our digestion. Ice category practices are perfect to practice in the evening.
Learn More About Breathwork
This was just a brief overview of how breathwork works, why we might want to do it, and how it affects our nervous system. If you have any more questions or if you’re interested in learning more about breathwork check out the other articles on my blog. For 5 perfect beginner exercises to start with check out my blog post 5 Yoga Breathing Exercises for Beginners: Easy Traditional Yoga Breathing Techniques