Your breathing is not something you think about very often, it goes on by itself anyway. But your breathing has more influence than you thought: on your energy level, on how you feel and on your stress levels. Most of the time you don’t pay attention to how you breathe, it’s present in the background, but goes its own way. However, you can harness the power of your breath to calm or boost your energy. You can do that with breathwork.
What can you do with breathing techniques or breathwork?
By using breathing techniques, you can consciously control your breathing. You do this to achieve certain benefits. Because you focus on your breath in this way, your mind comes to rest. He has no ability to brood. It is similar to the effect of meditation, as you come to relax, both physically and mentally. A difference, however, is that during meditation you become aware of what is happening in your mind. Through breathwork you disconnect from the chatter of your mind. You connect with your body and your energy. There are several techniques you can use. Each has its own benefits and effects.
Breathwork can be applied exactly as you wish. You can develop your own routine and just go with it at home. So you can do it alone or with a teacher. There are also apps available nowadays that give you tools to do breathwork, with guided sessions and a clear explanation. You can do breathing exercises at any time of the day, in the morning after getting up or as a break moment at work. Apply it so you benefit the most.
The benefits of breathwork
It has long been known that breathing has a great influence on health. Traditionally, a part of yoga is also working with the breath, called Pranayama. In the Western world there is also more attention for breathing. In the previous century, the Russian doctor Buteyko conducted research into chronic hyperventilation and developed the Buteyko breathing method.
Research shows that breathing can have a big impact on your well-being. When you exhale longer than you inhale, your parasympathetic nervous system is activated. This part of the nervous system helps us to relax: it affects digestion and heart rate. When you do exercises that cause you to breathe out calmly and deeply, research shows that your blood pressure goes down, cortisol levels go down and your heart rate calms down. So your body comes to rest and can release stress.
By consciously taking deeper breaths you can ensure that you actually get more energy. Many people breathe shallowly, which means their cells don’t get enough oxygen. Research at the Vrije Universiteit in Belgium has shown this to be the case. People with CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) have an irregular breathing pattern. This has a negative effect on their oxygen levels. The participants in the study were found to be able to improve their symptoms by doing some simple breathing exercises. It also appears that breathing exercises can help with depression.
Breathing techniques for more (or calming) energy
Breathing techniques can help with a lack or excess of energy. When doing any of the exercises below, make sure you are in a quiet space and not disturbed. You can do them sitting down, or lying on the couch or in bed. Soothing exercises are great to do before bed. They help you calm down, making it easier to fall asleep. But of course also if you feel stressed or anxious. Of course, the exercises that boost your energy are best done in the morning or afternoon.
Breathe deeply into your belly as much as possible, so you can take in lots of oxygen. It is nice to keep your eyes closed while breathing, but this is not a requirement.
Relaxing breathing technique The 4-7-8 breathing
This breathing technique was developed by dr. Andrew Weil, who based it on Pranayama exercises. This breathing is very relaxing and activates your parasympathetic nervous system. Do the exercise as follows:
- Breathe calmly through the nose, until your lungs are 80% full, for 4 seconds
- Hold the breath for 7 seconds
- You can now tighten your pelvic floor muscles and pull your belly in slightly. This stimulates the vagus nerve, a nerve that inhibits stress
- Exhale through the mouth for 8 seconds. Push the air between your lips as if blowing out a candle
Energy generating breathing exercise Bellows or Bhastrika
This exercise will help you to crank up your energy. It is an exercise from the Pranayama. This exercise is best done in a sitting position.
- Breathe in and out through your nose
- As you breathe in, pull your belly in.
- On the exhale you actively push it outward
- You breathe in for 1 second and out for 1 second
- If you notice that you are getting dizzy, adjust this to 2 seconds for the in-breath and out-breath.
- You breathe in and out briefly and powerfully
- Start with 10 reps, then pause for 30 seconds breathing normally
All breathing exercises require your body to get used to them. If you notice light-headedness, nausea or any other reaction, stop immediately. Take a break and see if it goes better after that. Start quietly with, say, 1 or 2 minutes. Take your time and build it up gently. Breathing techniques can bring you a lot, so it’s worth practicing them.