Health & wellness is a multi-pronged approach. When it comes to living a healthy and happy life, accrued stress and anxiety seem to be one of the biggest obstacles. Our blog today talks a little bit about something that everyone has access to help combat all that unwanted stress and help you live a more balanced life. And when combined with good nutrition + fung-tional fungi, it can make you feel unstoppable. We're talking about: Breathwork.
What is it?
What exactly is breathwork? Maybe when you hear "breathwork" you can't help but think of that one guy in the office who keeps telling everybody about the Wim Hoff Documentary he just watched. Or perhaps the crunchy fella down the hall who burns a lot incense. While it's natural for a lot of us to be wary of all the hype when it comes to new fads + trends in health and wellness, breathwork has actually been around for centuries and the science behind it is pretty sound.
Breathwork comes in many different styles. You may have heard of more recent scientifc teachings from the likes of Wim Hoff, or Dr. Joe Dispenza. Maybe on the farther end of the spectrum you’ve heard of Holotropic Breathwork, Kundalini Yoga, or Shamanic Breathwork. Some breathwork utilizes fast and rapid breathing through the nose or mouth and sometimes it involves long slow inhales/exhales while focussing on different points in the body. While all these methods of breathwork differ in various ways, they all tend to seek similar results:
- Decreased levels of stress and anxiety
- Increased immune system health
- Increased mental clarity/energy
- Help with addiction/recovery
For centuries, common wisdom in Western Culture has said breathing through the nose and the mouth yielded the exact same effect on the body. However, we're beginning to realize that simply isn't true. Put very simply, breathing through the mouth accesses the body's sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight), while breathing through the nose accesses the body's parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).
Breath exercises that require the practitioner to breathe through the nose can do wonders when it comes to calming anxiety and creating a more peaceful state of mind. Breathing through the nose can also help your lungs absorb more oxygen and can help stimulate cognitive function.
Knowing all of that, one might be surprised to find that some breathwork actually seeks out to purposefully access the body's fight or flight mode. The idea of open mouth breathing exercises is to intentionally tap into sympathetic nervous system to achieve what is called "applied stress" so that the body can be more equipped to handle stress in real life. This is very common with Wim Hoff + Holotropic breathing.
3 Breathwork Techniques to Try at Home:
4-7-8 Breathing for Better Sleep
This breathing technique is described by Dr. Andrew Weill as a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system" helping quickly reduce tension and allowing the body to relax.
- Start by coming to a seated position and close your eyes.
- Place the tip if your tongue to the tissue right behind your front teeth
- Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4 seconds.
- Suspend the breath for a count of 7 seconds
- Exhale through the mouth by making a “whoosh” sound for a count of 8 seconds.
It is recommended to do no more than 4 cycles.
Alternate Nostril Breathing for Balancing Stress
As we mentioned before, breathing through your nose is key. However, oftentimes throughout the day we will experience swelling through one of our nostrils, thus making the other nostril the “dominant” nostril we breathe through. Alternate nostril breathing helps restore the balance between the two nostrils and is a good practice when dealing with srtess.
- Take a tall comfortable seat
- Hold your right thumb over your right nostril and inhale deeply through your left nostril.
- At the peak of your inhale, close off your left nostril with the third and fourth fingers on your right hand, then fully exhale through your right nostril
- After you’ve exhaled, inhale through the right nostril
- At the peak of your inhale close off your right nostril with your right thumb and fully exhale
Repeat for 5-10 cycles
Bellows Breath For Energizing the Mind and Body
Bellows breath or Bhastrika is a great thing to do first thing in the morning to help you wake up.
- Take a comfortable seat with your spine elongated and your hands at your shoulders
- Breathe in and out through your nose forcefully
- On your inhales bring your arms over your head and on your exhale bring them back to shoulder height.
- Breath should be coming from the diaphragm
- Continue this at the rate of 1 second per cycle.
Start with a round of 10 Bellows Breath and then take a break for 30 seconds. Continue with a round of 20 breaths, followed by another 30 second break, and finally one last round of 30 breaths.
Quick Fungi Plug:
Cordyceps is often associated with helping boost our energy and libido. But it has also shown that it can be a huge aid to your respiratory system. Cordyceps has shown the ability to relax the bronchial walls and promote enhanced oxygen utilization. Since our breath plays such a big role in regulating our health and sleep cycles, perhaps cordyceps can play a big role aiding that process... And maybe it's your new secret weapon when it comes to starting (or boosting) your breathwork practicie.
More airflow = oxygenation of the blood + better immune function + less stress and anxiety.
Give it a try!
- Dr Andrew Weill's Breakdown of the 4-7-8 Breath Technique: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gz4G31LGyog&ab_channel=XavierBloomer
- Various Breathwork Techniques: https://advice.theshineapp.com/articles/how-to-boost-or-chill-your-energy-with-your-breath/
- NESTOR, J. (2021). BREATH: The new science of a lost art. S.l.: PENGUIN LIFE.