#Health and Wellness #Integrative Medicine

Just Breathe: Using Breathwork for Wellbeing


When searching for a simple stress management approach, the ancient practice of breathwork stands out for its accessibility and effectiveness. It's free, available on demand, and as an emotional regulation tool, can provide instant results. This method, centered on the conscious control of breathing, serves as a powerful tool for enhancing both mental health and physical wellbeing.

Breathwork provides a wide range of health benefits, including improved moods, reduced high blood pressure, and enhanced relaxation. It can also be effective in managing symptoms of chronic conditions like COPD and asthma, improving cognitive functions such as alertness and memory, and fostering creativity and quality sleep.

Additionally, breathwork has been found to reduce anxiety and depression, and increase heart rate variability, indicating improved fitness and mental health.

Often paired with meditation, there are several types of breathing practices available.

4-7-8 breath

The 4-7-8 breathing technique, developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, is a simple yet powerful breathing technique designed to promote relaxation and stress reduction. By inhaling for 4 seconds, holding the breath for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds, this method helps regulate the nervous system and can lead to improved mental and physical well-being. It's an accessible practice suitable for anyone seeking a quick way to alleviate stress and enhance calmness. The 4-7-8 breath is so effective, it's included in the core curriculum here at the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine, and used in practice to alleviate anxiety symptoms and support management of stress.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Hold your right nostril closed while breathing through the left. Now alternate and hold your left nostril closed while breathing through your right nostril. Focus on your breath, relax, and inhale slowly. How do you feel? Relaxed? This is just one of the benefits of alternate nostril breathing.

Alternate nostril breathing is a yogic breath control practice known as Anulom Vilom. This technique involves alternating the flow of air through each nostril by gently closing one while breathing through the other. It aims to bring about a sense of harmony, enhance focus, and calm emotions. Regular practice may contribute to better respiratory health and stress reduction.

Bumblebee Breath

Named after the Sanskrit word for "big black bee," Bhramari Pranayama or bumblebee breath is a soothing technique where you exhale with a hum, similar to a bumblebee's sound. Bhramari Pranayama, or the bumblebee breath, is a calming breathwork technique that involves gently placing the thumbs over your ears, index fingers on your eyes, middle fingers on nostrils, and remaining fingers on closed lips, while you inhale softly and exhale with a humming, or buzzing sound, feeling the vibrations of your own body. This buzzy breath is known for its potential to reduce stress and quiet the mind, making it a beneficial practice for promoting relaxation and mental clarity.

Box Breathing

Box breathing is a technique used to manage stress and improve concentration. Also known as square breathing, it involves four steps: inhaling, holding your breath, exhaling, and holding again, each for an equal count, typically four seconds. This method is beneficial for calming the nervous system and can be particularly useful in high-pressure situations or as a relaxation tool before sleep.

Box breathing is a deep breathing technique that can help regulate the autonomic nervous system, leading to reduced stress, lower blood pressure, and a sense of calm. This technique is beneficial for managing anxiety, depression, PTSD, and insomnia, and can even aid in pain management.

Bring Breathwork into Your Daily Life

Breathwork is rooted in a variety of traditions, each offering different techniques tailored to specific outcomes. Incorporating breathwork into daily life can be surprisingly straightforward and incredibly beneficial. It can begin with dedicating a few minutes each morning to deep breathing, setting a positive and calm tone for the day.

Once breathwork begins a part of your morning tradition, you will find yourself incorporating it in other parts of your life. The transformative potential of breathwork is best illustrated through personal experiences. People from all walks of life, facing different stressors and challenges, have found solace and strength in these breathing practices. For example, an executive dealing with high-stakes decisions may find box breathing invaluable for maintaining composure and clarity. Similarly, a medical student struggling with anxiety and sleep challenges might discover that alternate nostril breathing helps to improve focus and wellbeing.

Breathwork's appeal lies in its accessibility and immediacy. Unlike other stress-relief methods that may require special equipment, settings, time, or financial investment, breathwork can be practiced anywhere, anytime, at no cost.

As awareness of the benefits of breathwork continues to grow, it is increasingly recognized not just as a technique for acute stress relief but as a lifestyle practice with profound implications for long term health.