If you've ever been to a breathwork class, or even just practiced breathing exercises at home, chances are you've experienced its epic effects—maybe a sudden burst of energy or the feeling of stress melting away. (If you haven't, good news—you will after reading this!) Most of the time we just let our bodies do the work, but once we start thinking of our breath as a tool, that's when the magic happens.
Let's break it down
Chris Keener of Goldenair Breathwork in L.A. describes breathwork as "a variety of techniques that allow us to jump into the driver's seat of our lives. Of all the functions of the autonomic nervous system, breathing is the one we can control consciously. It allows us to deactivate the fight-or-flight response." Controlled breathing isn't a new age phenomenon—it dates back to ancient Hindu culture. The Sanskrit word for controlled breathing is Pranayama, which loosely translates to "life force" (prana) and "control" (ayama). Breathwork techniques are wide-ranging and vary in length of time and effect. For instance, alternative nostril breathing promotes relaxation while Rebirthing Breathwork is said to help release past trauma.
Why breathwork is om-azing
Controlling the breath can be transformative, whether it's done during one session or over a lifetime. "I believe our mind is waiting to provide us with clarity and assurance, but it takes active listening and surrender to receive," says Chris. "In a mere hour of lying on our back, we can get a handle on depression, quiet anxiety, mitigate addictions, and create a larger sense of self. Where there was constriction, there is now infinite possibility." Breathwork teacher Rebekah Rivera also describes the practice as anti-inflammatory and oxygenating. "When we follow our breath, we can directly shape shift the quality of our thoughts and emotions," she says.
Get your calm on with these awesome breathwork exercises...
"Dr. Andrew Weil prescribes a beautiful, simple breath for creating a positive daily mindset or turning around a crappy one. It's called 4-7-8 breath, and it's just that," says Chris.
With your tongue behind your upper teeth, breathe in through your nose for a slow 4-count.
Hold your breath for a 7-count.
Exhale through the mouth for an 8-count, making a nice whoosh sound.
Repeat until you feel more calm. Usually 4-5 rounds will do it. Just don't do this while operating anything with a motor in it!
Equal part breathing
"Sama Vritti Pranayama, or equal part breathing, is one of my favorites and easy to incorporate into your day-to-day, whenever you need to get centered," says Rebekah.
Inhale, then match the length of your exhale to your inhale. The length of the breath is up to you.
When this becomes easy, add in a slight pause at the height of the inhale and the base of the exhale. This is called a Kumbhaka.
Slowly match the length of your Kumbhakas to your inhales and exhales.
Inhale 4 counts
Kumbhaka 4 counts
Exhale 4 counts
Kumbhaka 4 counts.