A Basic Guide to Breathwork for Wellbeing

Take a deep breath. What do you notice? You probably feel better already! The power of breathing has long been revered in many cultures. Practices range from simple deep breathing to more advanced methods, but in every instance, breathwork is an all-natural, always-accessible way to enhance your well-being and feel grounded. Let’s explore the practice in more detail…

What is Breathwork?

Breathwork encompasses various techniques that incorporate the intentional use of the breath. Basically, you can learn to regulate the flow of breath to balance the body and mind.

When we’re struggling with our mental health, we often try to think our way out of anxiety and other issues. But this is almost impossible if we’re distressed or emotionally heightened. Before you can think calmly and rationally, you need to calm your body. If you do so, when you return to the problem, you’re going to be much more effective. Breathwork offers a simple, yet powerful way to do this.

How Does it Work and What Are the Benefits?

When we breathe consciously, the mind slows down and focuses on the present moment. This creates a sense of relief, allowing us to go back to our day-to-day activities feeling clear and refreshed. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘take a breather’? Even the smallest break can go a long way in boosting concentration and calmness.

The effectiveness of breathwork lies in how it affects our physiology. By eliciting the body’s relaxation response, deep abdominal breathing helps lower blood pressure. It slows our heart rate and takes us out of the fight or flight mode anxiety pushes us into. This gives us more access to our pre-frontal cortex, the balanced, logical part of our brains used for problem-solving or managing stress. Essentially, when our body is calm our mind organises itself differently.

It’s the out-breath that relaxes us, so it’s often recommended to make this longer than the in-breath when you’re practising breathwork. If you imagine breathing through your heart area, or try holding your hand over your heart while you inhale and exhale, this adds an extra soothing element that has even been seen on heart rate monitors.

Soothing Rhythm Breathing

I often practice what’s called ‘soothing rhythm breathing’. This simple exercise involves taking your attention to your breath and being aware of the soothing rhythm of your breathing. It helps soften emotions and has a calming effect on your body and mind.

Before you begin, think about your intention. Do you want to feel confident? Do you want to feel calm? Are you hoping to soothe a tricky emotion? Are you trying to ground yourself? With this intention in mind, work through the following steps:

1. Start with your posture. You want to be upright, with your chest open and your feet grounded. Hold a slight smile

2. Begin to slow down your breath. Bring air down to your diaphragm at the bottom of your ribcage. As you do, visualise this movement. Allow your breath to fall into a natural rhythm Notice the smoothness and consistency of it. Stay with your breath. If your mind wanders (which it probably will) gently bring it back to your breath.

3. When you’re ready, come back to the room. Wiggle your toes and fingers, smile and notice your surroundings.

4. Reflect on the experience. What did you notice? Any shifts or changes physically or emotionally? Any blocks or resistance?

If Breathwork Isn’t Right for You…

If breathwork doesn’t feel like a good fit, don’t push yourself. Not every exercise is right for everyone. If you’re looking for an alternative well-being practice to add to your self-care tool kit, why not have a go at journaling or mindfulness? Here are some useful links:

Mindfulness Tips from a CBT Therapist

A Beginner’s Guide to Journaling

If you’re already a fan of these things, breathwork can be a lovely way to begin your mindfulness practice or journaling session. In fact, any self-care activity can be enhanced by some breathwork.

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Sarah Rees

Sarah is a fully accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and mental health writer delivering Modern Mental Health for you and with you in Mind. Sarah is the author of ‘The CBT Journal’ which helps you write for your wellbeing incorporating CBT techniques. For more information and to keep in touch have a look at sarahdrees.co.uk.