For thousands of years, spiritual seekers, mystics and yogis have used the power of the breath to shift their consciousness. By regulating the breath, they found they could more easily control the mind. They reached altered states of awareness and discovered that profound healing was possible through simple breath manipulation.
Yogis, both ancient and modern, believe that many diseases are connected to disturbed and inefficient breathing, which is why Pranayama – the Sanskrit word which means “life force control” is one of the key tenets of yoga. For more than five thousand years, yogis have been teaching that expanding the breath expands life. That on the deepest level, mental, emotional and spiritual enrichment can be attained through the breath, which automatically supports life itself.
While it’s taken some time for the Western world to catch up, there is now a bulk of evidence to back up what yogis have known all along. When it comes to increasing overall wellbeing, breathwork works. Even simple, deep, diaphragmatic breathing has been scientifically proven to reduce stress and manage symptoms of mental health concerns like anxiety, depression and insomnia.
Because breathwork is not only effective but also free it has become an appealing treatment method in the last several decades to help cope with, and even reverse the negative effects of modern life.
Breathwork allows a person to tap into their autonomic nervous system, which carries out the vital functions of the heart, lungs, circulatory system, and glandular system without any conscious control. It is further divided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
The sympathetic nervous system mediates the body’s response to physical activity by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tone (tension) in the large skeletal muscles, sweat secretion, pupil dilation, and other functions. In short, it helps the body gear up for physical exertion. It is this system that activates our “fight, flight or freeze” response.
The parasympathetic nervous system does much of the opposite work. It decreases heart rate, blood pressure, and skeletal muscle tone, preparing the body for rest, sleep, or digestion.Therefore, it activates our “rest and digest” response.
Stimulation of one of these branches occurs without our conscious awareness through our activities – sleeping, eating, exercising, outside stimulus like an alarm going off or touching a hot stove, and through our mental processes – our thoughts, feelings and dreams.
Nervous system stimulation also occurs during each cycle of the breath. Inhalation emphasizes sympathetic activity (the fight, flight or freeze branch), and exhalation stimulates the parasympathetic activity (the rest and digest branch). By adjusting the length of inhalation to exhalation, we can adjust the relative emphasis given to sympathetic or parasympathetic activity in each breath cycle.
By now I’m sure you’ve got the picture that the way we breathe has the power to affect our whole body and mind. By harnessing the power of the breath we can improve overall wellbeing and in time, even change the way our bodies respond to stress long term. So, what’s the best way to start reaping these breath benefits? I suggest learning a few key practices and integrating them into your daily routine.
To help you get your feet off the ground, here’s a handy mini-course I developed that’s totally free – just like your breath! I’ll go through three stress-busting techniques to help you get your routine going. I suggest trying one technique for a full week and then choosing your favourite before trying to properly make it part of your daily life. Once you’ve got the technique down all you have to do is practice!
If you’d like a bit more support or to practice with me personally, you can book a session with me here. I’ve been studying yoga and breathwork for over a decade and am certified as a breathwork guide as well as a registered yoga teacher and therapist.
I wish you the best on this exciting journey and am grateful you’ve allowed me to be a part of it.