Can breathwork help reduce stress?
I have an embarrassing confession...
It’s 6am on a Monday and all is calm in my home. I'm up early to get some quality quiet time before the challenges of the day ahead require my attention. Being a mum of 3 littles makes for morning routines that involve more shouting than I feel comfortable to admit, but I reassure myself that I’m not the only shouty mummy in the mornings, right?
FALL OUT into the ocean?
During the usual stresses of a shouty, drill sergeant firing off commands, morning routine I stopped to think about last night’s online yoga class and something I always hear instructors say: “don’t forget to BREATHE, engage that ujjayi breath, I can’t hear your oceans”...
On the mat vs off the mat
And then it hit me, why aren’t I using the breathing techniques I learn on the mat, off the mat? If it works for holding Purvottanasana (reverse plank pose - literally my nemesis), then it can work for keeping my cool while holding a 9 year old accountable for their oral hygiene.
Enter my deep dive into breathwork...
Here’s a whistle stop tour of the MASSIVE internet deep dive I went on, you can thank me later.
What is breathwork?
Breathwork is any breathing technique or exercise that is used to improve emotional, physical, mental or spiritual wellbeing by focusing on the breathing cycles. Sounds pretty legit, let’s keep going...
Why try breathwork?
If you’re feeling frazzled by the daily stressors of life (morning mayhem, work deadlines, refereeing the sibling rivalry of your little humans, or generally trying to juggle too much crap) your breathing pattern ends up consisting of short, shallow breaths. But here’s the totally cray-cray thing: when you’re not allowing a full inhalation you start holding your breath in the high chest area WITHOUT realising, this creates even more tension and adds to the stress, giving you an unwelcome little vicious circle.
By practicing the art of tuning into the breath you can quickly release tension, improve clarity of mind and essentially free yourself from all the BS that is causing you to unintentionally restrict your breath. You may be thinking “awesome, but a glass of wine after the littles are in bed does the same thing, right?” Ahem, no.
How breathwork works
According to Medical News Today, in a recent study at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience in Dublin, Ireland, researchers showed that controlled breathing affects the levels of a stress hormone called noradrenaline in a region of the brain that is linked to attention AND breathing. Too much noradrenaline causes our hearts to beat faster so we can’t think straight, while too little causes us to feel sluggish so again we can’t think straight (ironic, right?). It’s finding the balance in the middle that brings mental clarity and helps our brain create new connections between cells.
And why do we want connected cells? Neuroplasticity, that's why.
More new connections between brain cells makes for a stronger brain and a more resilient mental state. WIN-WIN! But don’t take my word for it, this article gets down to the scientific nitty gritty of how yoga and breathwork can bolster mental resilience. Someone book me into the nearest ashram.
So with that in mind (and no tickets to a remote monastery in India to be had) I found a FREE and quick mindful breathing exercise to help you flex your sexy brain cells and get them hooking up with each other in 3 minutes. It’s like speed dating for the brain, but there’s way less pressure to make a good impression, you can rock up in your oldest yoga leggings and you don’t have to make small talk (okay, so it’s nothing like speed dating, but it’s definitely cheaper than a bottle of wine and contains zero calories). Before you dive in be sure to check out the ‘Is it safe?’ section below.
This 3 minute guided breathing space mindful meditation is from Breathworks, a UK based charity whose international mission is to alleviate human suffering by helping people living with pain, stress and illness to live happier, healthier lives.
Is it safe?
Most types of breathwork are safe and beneficial to wellbeing, unless you have any underlying health issues such breathing, vision or cardiovascular issues, high blood pressure, or recent surgeries. Another thing to be aware of is that certain breathwork techniques could bring on hyperventilation which may lead to other complications, or they could cause deep rooted emotional issues to bubble up for release (tissues at the ready). However, a simple exercise that involves spending 2-3 minutes just focusing on the breath is safe for most people.
As with any new fitness regime, check with your doctor that it’s safe for you to try breathwork, do your research into the various techniques available (see the resources section below), decide on one that could be great for you / your health and always work with a professionally trained practitioner if you decide to try 1 to 1 or group sessions.
Take inspired action
Knowledge is power to fuel action so…
Can you check in with your breathing cycles throughout the day by setting a reminder on your smartphone? In the morning, midday and after work is good.
Ask yourself “is my breathing short and shallow or long and deep?”
Can you make time to tune into your body and breath with the guided mindful meditation above?
But don't force it!
Remember it's all about finding the balance in the middle, you don't want to go from subconsciously controlling the breath with restricted, short and shallow breathing (too much noradrenaline = racing heart rate) to the other extreme of intentionally controlling the breath to force the body into a long, deep breathing pattern (too little noradrenaline = snooze fest). It's about reaching the full potential of breath but keeping it natural and comfortable.
Share what your inspired action step is in the comments below, and if you found this article helpful and think it could help a mama in need then be sure to share it on (because sharing is caring).
As always, inspire good vibes
For the low down on how and why breathwork works check out this article to geek out on medical papers and studies https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321794
For a medically reviewed article on what breathwork is, including the different types and risks, read this https://www.healthline.com/health/breathwork
For breathing techniques to relieve stress this article has some easy to follow excersises
For a globally recognised leader in mindfulness check out https://www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk/
Why more is better when it comes to reversing depression with brain cell connections. Neuroplasticity, that’s why (the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between cells) https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/heal-your-brain/201107/neuroplasticity-and-depression