• A gym trainer is coaching his trainee to exhale while lifting weights and inhale while putting the weights down.
  • In a hospital, a nurse is asking an expecting mother to take deep breaths when in labor.
  • A woman is asking her colleague to take a deep breath before an important presentation.

Don’t we all witness such situations on a day-to-day basis, where a lot depends on one thing – our breath. Right after a diving session under water or while climbing a mountain or while heaving a literal sigh of relief – what do we do? We breathe.

We might forget to acknowledge it at times but breathing is what sustains us. And understanding our breath can be quite a game changer. Practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine which calls breath as chi and treats it as the connection between mind, body, and soul. The age-old practice of Pranayama in India are also all about breath control. If done right, breathing can be meditative. You can check out some of the best breathwork exercises here. Let’s take a look at how breathwork can be helpful for our physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

Reduces anxiety and stress

A calm elderly woman practicing breathwork and meditation

Stress is an adverse mental and physical impact on the body due to the presence of an external hostile or demanding circumstance. The stressor is typically an outward situation such as an issue at work or having lost important documents or a temporary conflict with family. Anxiety, on the other hand, is an internal feeling of unease due to apprehension about the future which may or may not have a stressor.

Stress and anxiety kick off the sympathetic nervous system (‘fight or flight’ response). This releases cortisol and adrenaline in the body, which suggest the body about the presence of danger. It causes rapid breathing, an increase in heart rate, and hindered digestion. Breathwork exercises can calm down the rapid breaths, thus, signaling the brain that the danger has been averted. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing down the heart rate and promotes the feeling of relaxation.

Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing, Box Breathing, Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana), and 4-7-8 Breathing are a few Breathwork exercises that can help while coping with anxiety and stress.

Helps with anger management

A smiling old monk

Breathwork has been found to be effective in managing anger, as it can help to bring about a sense of calm and balance to the mind and body. When we are angry, we tend to take shallow rapid breaths, which can worsen feelings of anger and agitation. Breathwork can help in slowing your breath down and bringing more oxygen to your body. That ends up calming the mind and reducing the feelings of anger. Other than that, mindfulness towards one’s breathing diverts one’s attention from the cause of anger.

4-7-8 Breathing, Belly Breathing, and Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana) are a few Breathwork exercises to help with anger and agitation.

Improves energy level

A young woman performing breathwork

Breathwork not only helps one calm down by triggering the parasympathetic nervous system but can also be a tool to improve energy by controlled stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. To do so, breathwork exercises that include rapid breathing can be incorporated. These breathing exercises temporarily increase the amount of oxygen in the body and give a great boost of energy. However, these exercises should be time regulated and should be done under some supervision with accurate technique.  Overdoing rapid breathing exercises can lead to light-headedness.

5-3-3 Breathing, Breath of Fire, and Pranayama practice of Kapalbhati and Bhastrika are a few exercises that can give you that necessary boost of energy.

Increases lung capacity

A young indian man looking at the sky and breathing

Breathwork can make the lungs healthier by helping in increasing their capacity and efficiency. Certain techniques, such as diaphragmatic breathing, can strengthen the diaphragm. Diaphragm is a muscle that is plays an important role while drawing air into the lungs. Some breathing exercises can help in increasing the flexibility and elasticity of the lungs. Breathwork can also help one improve their lung health by clearing out excess mucus and other debris that can build up in the lungs over time. Techniques such as the ‘huff cough’, which involves taking a deep breath and then exhaling forcefully, can help to clear out the lungs and improve their function.

It is important to point out that, as with any exercise, it one should start gradually and increase the intensity over time to avoid injury or overwork of the lungs. Also, do consult with a doctor if you have any concerns about your lung health before doing any rigorous breathwork practice.

Aids in muscle toning

A man breathing and relaxing

Breathwork can improve muscle health by increasing blood flow and oxygenation to the muscles. When we breathe deeply and fully, we allow more oxygen to be delivered to the muscles. This can help in improving their overall state. Techniques like diaphragmatic breathing can help in strengthening the muscles of the diaphragm and abdominal region. This can help to improve the tone of the abdominal muscles, which can in turn aid to support the spine and improve overall posture. Breathwork can also be used to improve muscle tone by increasing circulation and reducing muscle tension. When we breathe deeply and slowly, the muscles are encouraged to relax, which reduces tension and improves muscle health.

It’s important to note that breathwork is not a replacement for regular physical exercise but it can be a great addition to a workout routine or as a warm-up/cool-down for any physical activity to improve muscle tone and to prepare the body for physical activity.

Improves sleep quality

A lady sleeping in the clouds

Breathwork can improve sleep quality by reducing stress and activating the body’s relaxed response (parasympathetic system). This regulates the Autonomic Nervous System activities such as heartbeat and blood pressure to a relaxed state. Breathwork can also help in improving sleep by regulating the body’s natural rhythms. Many techniques involve breathing at a slower, more relaxed pace, which can help to slow down the body’s overall rhythms and prepare it for sleep.

A short breathwork exercise before bedtime such as Deep breathing or Box Breathing or 4-7-8 Breathing can relax one and prepare the mind and body for sleep.

Helps with better focus

A man focusing and meditating

Breathwork techniques can increase the amount of oxygen inhaled and sent to the brain. When this happens, cognitive functions of the brain are boosted, resulting in a state of focus and clarity.

Breathwork exercises such as ‘Box Breathing’ or Pranayama techniques such as ‘Brahmari (Bee Breathing)’ and ‘Ujjayi (Victorious Breathing)’ slow down the breath to bring a state of mindfulness, thus, encouraging the mind to be in the present moment, devoid of distractions which help improve focus and concentration.

It is important to note that breathwork is a tool to improve one’s wellbeing and not a substitute for medical care or physical exercise. If practiced with the right technique on a regular basis, breathwork can help with your holistic wellbeing by promoting the state of calm which has become necessary in today’s hectic world.