Breath work encompasses any breathing activity that improves the mental, physical, or spiritual health of an individual. Breath work has a wide range of uses. From general everyday use to targeting specific health needs to being used in addiction recovery programs, breath work is a powerful tool anyone trying to be more present and mindful should be aware of.
Breath work has its origins in Eastern practices such as Yoga, Tai Chi, and Buddhism. But it became more commonly used in the 1960s and 1970s when people in the West were trying to raise their awareness. The many models of breath work that have evolved since that time cover areas such as self-awareness, inner peace, and altered states of self-consciousness. The practices even gained a foothold in therapies dealing with trauma. Regardless of why you are using breath work, the benefits included are many. In addition, the goal of breath work is generally the same across the spectrum of its uses: holistic well-being. With that in mind, below are some of the many benefits of breath work.
According to the Anxiety Center, anxiety disorders affect 18.1 percent of the American population, equating to about 40 million people. The age of those who suffer with an anxiety disorder ranges from 18 to 54 years of age. With anxiety affecting everyone, combating it is important. One of the best ways to do this is through breath work. Breath work helps activate a part of the nervous system that initiates the relaxation process. This allows us to fight the deep, shallow breathing that can worsen anxiety and turn it into a deep and relaxing breathing process.
Increased Clarity and Focus
It’s very easy to lose focus in today’s fast-paced world. With cell phones always on the ready and an overload of information, trying to pay attention and be present can feel nearly impossible at times. Breath work allows us to slow down and place the focus on what’s going on inside of us. This reduces the background noise from the outside world and results in a clearer and more focused state of being.
The notion that we should rely on outside measures to affect our mood is false. Although things like a sunny day and kind words from others can temporarily alter our mood, they are not cure-alls. Breath work focuses on an altered state of being, which allows us to be aware of and adjust our mood as we recognize when our mood is souring. The ability to elevate our mood consciously allows us to live a healthier way of life.
Breathing to improve sleep is not a myth. Through breath work we are able to not only relax but also settle the mind. By settling the mind, when it is time to sleep, the thoughts that may otherwise keep us restless are nonexistent. In addition, by breathing deeply as we try to fall asleep, we are relaxing our bodies into a deep state of calmness that allows us to become physically less restless as we sleep. A quiet mind and body are a great recipe for a deep and restorative sleep experience.
Lowered Blood Pressure
Breath work increases oxygen to the heart. Increased oxygen to the heart means better blood flow through the body. This, in turn, reduces blood pressure as the blood moves through the body at a less taxing rate. The cumulative effect of this can be long-term lowered health risks that would otherwise be caused by high blood pressure, such as heart disease.
The end goal of breath work is the ability to make conscious choices due to awareness caused by being present. Breath work is all about ensuring that we slow down and realize what is all around us. For many, that means the power to make better choices due to their awareness. This could mean something as simple as enjoying the fresh air instead of being upset over how cool it is. Or this could mean making a life-altering choice like not eating certain foods or indulging in dangerous and self-harming behaviors.
Start working on your breath work with a simple step of three deep breaths when you sense stress coming on. Then consider slowly increasing your practice to a couple of minutes and longer. Read some of the other material on Are You Being Present? to learn more about how to put breath work to use today.