Consciously Connected the Benefits of Breathwork
Breathing is an unconscious act and doesn’t take any thought. However, by becoming aware of your breath, you can change your mood in a matter of seconds.
“Deep breathing is nature’s tranquilizer,” says Joy Arnold, 500 RYT, 200 E-RYT, reiki master, and holistic health coach, with a studio in Cameron Park. “The moment you pause whatever you’re doing and take a few deep breaths, you begin to relax. This is because the nerve endings of the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest system) are located in the lower lobes of the lungs. So, by taking slow, deep breaths and filling the lungs completely, your nervous system automatically begins to calm and relax.”
Cathy Connors, PysD, founder of Awake Yoga & Meditation Sanctuary in El Dorado Hills, says as you focus your attention on the breath, the mind releases other thoughts that are present. “We have a lot of input coming at us and so many distractions, but when we’re in our breath, we’re present and thereby better able to make decisions from a grounded space,” she says.
And the health benefits of deep breathing are vast. “You calm the nervous system; bring oxygen to the brain, spine, and nerves, which improves overall health; quiet the mind and body; expand lung capacity; increase relaxation; and help to reduce anxiety,” Connors says.
So, what does a proper deep breath look like? “Sometimes, I think it’s better to say a ‘full breath.’ It starts with the belly pushing outward, which draws the diaphragm down and helps you fill your lungs from the bottom to the top,” says George Hudson, ND, based in Fair Oaks. “Pacing is important, too. Breathe slowly, taking five to six seconds for inspiration and five to six seconds for expiration. Inspiration should be through the nose and the expiration either through the nose or through pursed lips.” Hudson says nearly everyone can benefit from some form of breathwork, though those with a history of cardiovascular or respiratory disease, severe mental illness, or seizures should consult a doctor first and be familiar with the benefits and contraindications of specific breathing strategies as they might apply to these conditions.
Kim Vanacore, owner and manager of Radiant Yoga in El Dorado Hills, says the key to a healthy and happy life lies in being connected to your breath. “In yoga, the branch dedicated to breathwork is called pranayama. This practice of breath control exercise assists in connecting and facilitating energy throughout your body,” she shares. Vanacore recommends setting aside time each day to connect with your breath. “In just a few minutes, you can incorporate the power of breath to improve your overall health and well-being.”
Preston Sandbakken, founder of The Inner Athlete Foundation in Folsom, says practicing deep breathing is a great way to connect the mind and body. “By bringing your attention to the breathing process, you’ll witness how your body feels in the immediate moment. The key is to breathe consistently for at least two minutes to feel the effects, so set a timer, and just breathe,” he advises.
Two common exercises you can practice are square breathing and circular breathing. In square breathing, inhale for four counts, hold for four counts, exhale for four counts, and hold for four counts. “This breathing exercise requires all your attention. If your mind wanders into thought, you’ll lose the count,” Sandbakken says. In circular breathing, inhale for four counts, then immediately exhale for four counts in a circular motion without pausing at either end. “I recommend you start slow with this by taking long, deep breaths. You can quickly build up a lot of energy, if done properly, so make sure you’re seated in a comfortable place with no distractions.”
Sandbakken recommends synching either of these breathing exercises to the rhythm of a song, or by using breathing beads (malas). “I recommend beginners start out using a bracelet with 10-15 beads on it, and then gradually work to a full-size mala (traditionally 108 beads), once familiar with the concept,” he says. Hudson’s last words of wisdom are to go slow and be patient. “When you start, try doing the pattern for [at least] five minutes. You might lose concentration, but gently return to the breath each time. It will get easier with practice,” he says. “Also, each breathing experience will be different, depending on your current distraction, fatigue, time of day, when you last ate, etc., so don’t get frustrated if you don’t always ‘feel’ the benefits in the moment.”