4 Breathwork Practices; for mental wellbeing, stress relief and holistic wellness.
At the root of every mindfulness practice lays the breath. Our vital life force, the breath remains as our steady, constant companion through every moment on this earth. Yet often, it seems we overlook the inherent, unconscious act of breathing, which when applied with a touch of focus, can become one of our most powerful allies in restoring mental wellness, shifting our energetic states and relieving stress.
With benefits of a regular breathwork practice including balancing the nervous system, regulating hormonal levels, lowering blood pressure, alleviating anxiety, we’re sharing four of our favourite breathwork practices which will reward you with a zen-like state of calm!
read: meditation 101
What Is Breathwork?
While breathing itself is automatic, breathwork just requires focus and attention – in essence, breathwork practices are the mindful awareness of the breath. In this way, the breath becomes an anchor for our mind – if you feel your thoughts getting pulled away, distracted, losing rhythm or concentration – simply gently bring yourself back to the flow of the breath. Observe it’s journey, be curious and stay soft with the inhalation and exhalation.
Breathwork is a practice for yourself, try to let go of expectations, of what it should look, feel or sound like. It’s wholly dependant on your own experience in the moment.
How To Set Up For Breathwork Practice.
The beauty of breathwork practices are that they are portable – you always carry your breath with you, so the barrier to entry is simply your own commitment to trialling it out! No excess requirements neccessary!
However, if you are looking to cultivate a daily practice, creating a dedicated space in your home may help heighten the sense of intention. Though of course, you can simply practice in your office, or a quiet corner, so long as you feel comfortable and safe.
Whether you prefer seated, on the ground or in a chair, or standing, or lying is often your personal preference, though it may vary dependant on the practice you are undertaking, in which case the set up is generally indicated.
In any scenario, you want to ensure that the spine is long and in a neutral position, providing the optimal posture for the full expansion of the lungs, and that you feel comfortable to stay within the practice.
Read: The Pilates Breath
The Stress Relief Breath
This stress relief breathwork practice is a simple, yet powerful relaxation method that invites equal length into all aspects of the breath cycle; the inhale, hold, exhale and hold. Also known as square or box breathing, this breathwork pattern allows the body and mind to connect to the steady rhythm – which can help reset the individuals stress response.
This is a great breathwork practice to include as a daily stress management exercise, or even if you find yourself in a heightened stress experience and want to bring the body back into the state of the parasympathetic nervous system swiftly.
Set Up: Seated, standing or laying down.
Inhale through the nose, expanding the diaphragm and aiming to fully inflate the lungs for a count of 1-2-3-4.
Hold the breath for the count 1-2-3-4.
Slowly exhale through the mouth, feeling the body soften for the count of 1-2-3-4.
Hold the exhale and pause for the count 1-2-3-4.
Repeat for 4 minutes.
The Cleansing Breath
Many of the toxins within our body are expelled through the breath. This breathwork practice, focuses on an extra contraction of the deep abdominal region to help encourage the detoxifcation of the organs. However, it is also a great energising breathwork practice, with the steady rhythm helping to clear and steady a busy mind.
This practice is known by many in the yoga community as Kapalabhati or “breath of fire”, however here we are working with a slower pace and slightly more gently on the abdominal contraction.
Set Up: Seated. One palm resting on the lower abdominals, the other on the knee or thigh.
Begin by taking a few deep breaths in and out through the nose.
Inhale through the nose and feel the abdominal region expand into the palm.
Exhale sharply through the nose as you contract the abdominals, drawing the lower belly back towards the spine.
As you release the contraction of the abdominals, the inhale will naturally take place and fill the lungs back up.
Exhale deeply and again, feel the deep upward lift of the abdominals pulling back intowards your centre.
As you continue, the focus will be on the deep, sharp exhalation, with the inhalation being an automatic response.
Repeat for 50 counts of the exhale. Repeat 1 more round if inclined.
Note: not recommended for women who are pregnant or menstruating.
The Grounding Breath
This grounding breathwork practice aims to reconnect us to the world around us while tuning in to our own bodies. Drawing and receiving energy, while sending back anything stagnant we need to let go of. The focus here is on feeling steady and supported by the ground, using imagery to help connect us to the meditative aspect.
Set Up: seated on a chair, with the feet flat on the ground. Alternatively; outside with the soles of the feet touching the earth.
Begin by taking easy and gentle inhales and exhales through the nose to settle in.
Once you feel settled, begin to bring your awareness to the soles of your feet.
As you inhale, imagine a flow of energy or light, drawing up from the feet, through the lower limbs all the way up to your hips.
As you exhale, imagine that energy drawing back down, from the pelvis, through the legs, down to the soles of the feet and into the layers of earth below you.
Continue to breathe in this manner, syncing the imagery of energy flowing to the breathwork pattern for 4-11 minutes.
The Balancing Breath
This balance breathwork pattern, also known as alternate nostril breathing, is believed to help balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain – working unilaterally to bring us back into even balance. It is a peaceful, unifying and calming practice that helps us to feel more connected to our own polarities.
Set up: Seated. Take the index and middle finger of the right together and place onto the third eye, gently rest the thumb above the right nostril and third finger above the left nostril. Rest the left hand, palm upwards, on the left thigh or knee.
Take a few cleansing breaths through both nostrils.
Gently close the right nostril with the thumb and inhale through the left nostril only.
Close the left nostril with the third finger and hold the breath for a beat.
Release the right thumb and exhale through the right nostril, hold the exhale for a beat.
Inhale through the right nostril only.
Close the right nostril and hold the inhale for a beat.
Release the third finger and exhale through the left nostril, hold the exhale for a beat.
This completes one round.
Continue for 10 rounds total.