The Science Behind Breathwork
Take a deep breath.
Do you remember being told this in times of panic and stress, maybe from a loved one, a colleague or a friend? There is a reason why this term is used often, a long deep breath can be expansive powerful.
Breathing is automatic and it changes in sync with our nervous system. Times of breath can be short, shallow and sharp ranging from 14 to 20 breathes per minute. When we’re relaxed breath can be longer and deeper at a ‘healthy’ rate of 5 – 6 breathes per minute.
Science tells us that mindful breathing or breathwork, the practice of focusing on your breath is one of the best and most accessible ways to manage stress. This is because of its ability to manipulate the nervous system, which operates automatically in our bodies. The nervous system controls our heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, digestion and sexual arousal. Controlling the breath is almost like flipping a switch off automatic and switching on controlled and focused. Controlling breath can control heart rate, respiration rates and can allow us to actively calm it and even direct it.
If you enjoy the practice of breathing, it can be a fantastic entry-level gateway to meditation. Besides the immediate sense of relaxation and tension release that washes over the body during breathwork, there are some other benefits:
Benefits of practising breathwork
1. Reduces stress
Research has shown that different emotions are associated with how we are breathing, meaning that if we can manipulate how we breathe, essentially we can change the way that we feel. When we control our breath, for example taking slow and controlled breaths signals the body to relax by stimulating the vagus nerve. Which helps to slow down the heart rate which puts us into a parasympathetic state, our “rest and digest state”
2. Improves digestion
Often we will only move our chest when we breathe. This requires less effort and less muscle group activation, but when we activate the diaphragm and breathe the air into the stomach expanding and contracting the abdominal muscles, acting as a gentle massage for our digestive tract. Research has shown patients with gastrointestinal tract issues find relief after performing deep belly breathing exercises, helping the movement of food, gas and help with uncomfortableness.
3. Improves sleep
The Sleep Foundation says that taking long and deep breaths is one of the best ways to stimulate the body’s relaxation response. Taking deep breaths before going to bed can send signals to the brain that it is time to relax and wind down.
4. Balances mood and energy levels
As we turn our thoughts to the breath, we gently disengage from a racing mind, distractions and sensations. We can navigate our minds to focus on a tool that inherently relaxes us and reduces stress. Studies have indicated that mindful breathing techniques activate the amygdala (the emotional regulation centre of our brain), reducing negative emotions and stimulating positive changes in mood and cognition.
Breathwork vs. meditation
Breathing is one of the most accessible tools to practice mindfulness. The mind can be a busy place, and focusing on a variety of breathing techniques provides the mind with a tool to focus on rather than fluctuating thoughts. As a result, the benefits from this practice can start to be felt in the body even within a couple of minutes of starting. These practices are short, potent and transformational.
Breathwork is a fantastic entry-point to meditation giving us the tools to cultivate mindfulness, resilience and gratitude.
If you enjoy conscious breathing, breathwork can be the gateway to meditation. Mindful breathing is an active form of meditation, that can be easy and accessible for those who are trying it for the first time. Meditation holds great benefits but it does require discipline, regular practice and focus to master. Breathwork and meditation are similar, they both require focusing on a tool and meditation will often use breath as one of those tools.
How to implement the practice into your life?
Performing breathing exercises like anything can take some practice. Learning how to focus the mind and activate the diaphragm to expand breathing can be a challenge in itself. Myall offers breathwork classes throughout the week to help you synchronise a breathe, mind and body connection. You can choose to practice with us online, at home or in the studio with us. You’ll find shorter classes at 15-minutes or longer classes at 45-minutes. These classes are potent, powerful and inspire self-discovery.