Everyone that comes to see me as a clinician gets my “Breathwork Lecture”. Well, maybe not a lecture, but I am a big believer in the benefits of breathwork, both from a personal perspective and a clinical perspective. I have seen amazing results in my own life as well as the lives of those that I work with. I engage in breathwork every day. It is the first thing that I do after a long day working with my clients. If you would have asked me twenty years ago that I would be touting the benefits of breathwork, I would have said “no way”. Here’s why.
We have two nervous systems, a sympathetic nervous system and a parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for producing cortisol; a useful hormone, but also one that can have damaging effects to our bodies and health. When we are in stress mode, we produce cortisol. The sympathetic nervous system, also dubbed the “flight or fight” part of our body is simply doing its job by telling out bodies that we need to keep safe.
Cortisol which is produced by our adrenal glands also has other benefits in our bodies. Most bodily cells have cortisol receptors and affects many different functions in the body. Cortisolcan help control the body’s blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, help reduce inflammation, and assist with memory formulation. It has a controlling effect on salt and water balance and helps control blood pressure. Too much cortisol is not a good thing!
High cortisol level symptoms include:
- High blood pressure.
- A flushed face.
- Muscle weakness.
- Increased thirst.
- Urinating more frequently.
- Changes in mood, such as feeling irritable or low.
- Rapid weight gain in the face and abdomen.
- Bruises or purple stretch marks appearing on the skin
- Decreased sex drive
Some woman may also find that their periods become irregular or stop altogether when there is increased levels of cortisol. Too much cortisol can also cause other conditions and symptoms, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and fatigue.
Our parasympathetic nervous system also nicknamed the “feed and the breed” helps to counterbalance the impact of stress and what it has on our bodies. How do we tap into that you ask? You guessed, breathwork. You’ll want to engage your diaphragm during breathwork and not your chest and shoulders. Ironically, some individuals will see benefits from 10 minutes of controlled breathing using their diaphragm while others will need more. Some individuals will not see benefits from 10 minutes and give up. Engage in breathwork for a length of time that you see results. Scientists literally have no idea why one person only needs 10 minutes and another needs to spend more time breathing until they see benefits.
Here’s the deal. Breathing is free. What do you have to lose?
When you engage in breathwork, look for the following:
- Be aware of the thoughts in your head, but don’t attach to them.
- Feel what emotions come up.
- Notice your inner voice is saying to you.
- Visualize the intention you set for your breathwork practices.
There are several different types of breathwork:
I am a big fat NO on the rebirthing. That’s just me. I witnessed rebirthing in a training, and I wanted to run so far away it wasn’t even funny. Holotropic involves music and can be beneficial. I would definitely consult with someone before engaging in Holotropic Breathwork or Rebirthing. I saw a woman spin her head and spit out green pea soup during rebirthing, so I’m out. It’s too “woo-woo” for me. I am a trained clinician and I need science as the basis for implementing a technique in my life, or even recommending one for that matter. Pranayama is what is taught in Yoga. Holotropic is not my cup of tea either. I don’t want to feel as if I just tripped on LSD, I just want to improve my health and to quell the feelings of stress.
The goal is to decrease and eventually eliminate any negative thoughts during breathwork and replace them with only positive ones. I love breathwork in a hot shower. Yep, I breath (mediate) in a hot shower every day after work. The shower symbolizes washing away all my worries as well as all of the negativity of my day. I am literally addicted to breathwork.
We discussed previously that when you experience stressful thoughts or a stressful event, your sympathetic nervous system becomes triggered and the body’s ancient fight-or-flight response is activated. This in turn gives your body a burst of energy to respond to the perceived danger, or the actual danger. You may notice that your breathing becomes shallow and rapid, and that you are primarily breathing from the chest and not your lower lungs. Breathing from your lower lungs can make you feel short of breath and is a common symptom when you feel anxious or frustrated. Stress is a complicated process, and at the same time, your body begins to produce a surge of hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine, which is also known as adrenaline. This in turn begins to increase your blood pressure and pulse rate and put you in a heightened state of alert which is meant to serve as a single that you are in protection mode.
With deep breathing, you can reverse these symptoms instantly and create a sense of calm in your mind and body. The goal of breathwork is to restore balance and a sense of calmness. By breathing deeply and slowly, we are activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn reverses the stress response in your body. Deep breathing also stimulates the main nerve in the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the vagus nerve, and slows down the body’s heart rate. Once the body’s heart rate slows, you are then lowering your blood pressure, and subsequently calming your body and mind.
Deep breathing engages the abdominal muscles and diaphragm instead of the muscles in our upper chest and neck. During breathwork we are conditioning the respiratory muscles and improving the efficiency of oxygen exchange with every breath by allowing more air exchange to occur in the lower lungs. Breathwork also reduces strain on the muscles of the neck and upper chest, allowing these muscles to relax. Deep breathing is responsible for improve health on a cellular level, by allowing for higher volumes of oxygen to reach the body’s cells and tissues.
Go ahead, give it a try. I know you’ll love it just like I do. So the next time someone says breathe, you can totally relate.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Rebecca Inman Counseling, her employees or any person that works with her and her practice; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program