What You Need To Know About Breathwork

You might not have given much thought to the way you breathe, but did you know there’s actually a right way to do it? Bad breathing habits can force the body into survival mode, in turn triggering the nervous system, which can intensify feelings of stress and impair cognitive ability. We went to four wellness experts to delve deeper – from the signs you aren’t breathing properly to hacks for better sleep, focus and anxiety, here’s what they had to say…

First – what exactly is breathwork and why do you need it?

“Breathwork describes a group of exercises that teach you to manipulate your breathing rate and depth with the goal of bringing awareness to your breath, ultimately providing the same benefits you may get from meditation or mindfulness. I liken breathwork to a Swiss army knife that you can pull out at any time – you can find the right technique for whatever your needs. Whether it’s instant calm, an energy boost, focus, sleep or deep transformation, there are breath practices that can help.

We live in a fast-paced world where we are always connected, overstimulated with information at a level that has never been seen before in human history. Stress, anxiety and overwhelm are pervasive in our lives, taking a toll on physical health, emotional wellbeing and mental performance. Breathwork is a fast-acting solution to combat these effects.” – Melike Hussein, certified transformational conscious breathing coach and founder of Breathzone

“Breathwork is one of the quickest, most accessible ways to improve your health and wellbeing. We breathe over 23,000 times in a single day, but most of us aren’t doing it properly and don’t realise the impact this is having. Breathwork – i.e. conscious breathing exercises – can change the depth, rhythm and rate of your breath, hacking the messages transmitted from the body’s respiratory system to the neuro-pathways in the brain.” – Stuart Sandeman, founder of Breathpod

Aside from feeling calmer and more focused, are there any other benefits?

“The practice of conscious breathing stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system. This slows the heart rate, lowering blood pressure and respiratory rate, and diverting blood supply towards the digestive and reproductive systems. When the parasympathetic nervous system is active, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) becomes less active. The SNS raises heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate, diverting blood to the brain in readiness for fight or flight. By deactivating the SNS, we can interrupt the vicious cycle of adrenaline and cortisol which contribute to chronic stress levels and predispose us to panic attacks and anxiety.

Another benefit of breathwork is that it helps to release tension in the diaphragm and primary breathing muscles, relieving many long-term respiratory issues such as asthma and increasing the capacity for our lungs. Finally, the lymphatic system depends on gravity, muscle movement, and the benefits of breathwork to keep it flowing efficiently. Deep diaphragmatic breathing can play an important role in protecting the body from bacteria, viruses and other threats to our health. It can also boost blood flow in the digestive tract, which encourages intestinal action and improves overall digestion, alleviating irritable bowel syndrome and constipation.” – Rebecca Dennis, transformational breath facilitator and founder of Breathing Tree

What are some of the signs you aren’t breathing properly?

“If you ever experience shortness of breath; an increased breathing rate; frequent yawning; grinding teeth; tension in the neck and shoulders; feel stressed and depressed; and have difficulty sleeping, chances are you aren’t breathing properly. The majority of us are shallow breathing, barely filling our lungs. We tend to sip short inhalations and keep our breathing in the chest area.

Many of us grew up trying to squeeze ourselves into tight jeans, thinking that breathing in meant sucking your tummy inwards to pull the zip up, but this is the complete opposite to the yogi breath. When you breathe in, the belly should expand, filling your lungs with air, and when you deeply exhale, you should squeeze all the air out. This is something most people have to relearn.” – Tara Nash, breathwork facilitator

“So many of us unconsciously hold our breath, especially when looking at emails and texts. In fact, one study delved into this and even coined the term ‘email apnoea’. The study found that subjects repeatedly and unconsciously stop breathing for short periods whilst going through their emails or scrolling through social media.” – Melike

It may sound obvious, but it’s vital to understand that your breath flows with ease, when your body and muscles feel relaxed.
Melike Hussein

If you’re a total beginner, where should you start?

“Technology can be helpful in the initial stages of developing your breathwork practice – well-known platforms like Headspace and Calm are great places to get started as they offer dedicated breathing sessions.” – Melike

“Try Jason Amoroso’s Revelation Breathwork classes. It can be more motivating to be in a live class and have the teacher speaking specifically to you. The teacher can also see how your body is moving and can give adjustments to deepen the experience. Once you have done a live class or followed one on IGTV or YouTube, you can try practicing alone.” – Tara 

How quickly can you see results? 

“With the vast majority of breathwork practices, you can see results very quickly, sometimes within seconds. However, consistent repeated practice is the key to reap maximum benefit. Just a few minutes every day can make a huge difference.” – Melike 

“It varies between individuals. Without a doubt, you will gain a huge amount from just one session, while other people will commit to classes for a year and then have a major breakthrough. If you are feeling drawn to a certain breathwork class and keep going back, trust you are being guided and it will help you.” – Tara 

What are the most common mistakes people make when starting breathwork?

“It may sound obvious, but it’s vital to understand that your breath flows with ease, when your body and muscles feel relaxed. For example, try taking a deep breath in whilst squeezing your hands into a tight fist – it’s almost impossible. Before you start any breathwork practice, take a moment or two to tune into your body, check how you are feeling and release pockets of tension with gentle stretches. This can make a huge difference to what you get out of your session. Secondly, understand that what works for your best friend may not work for you. If you can, book in for a private session with a professionally trained breathwork practitioner, who can evaluate your breathing pattern and advise which techniques may work best for you.” – Melike 

Here, Rebecca and Tara share their top breathing exercises for every moment of the day…

  1. If you feel tense and frazzled as you start your day: “Do a mini breath exercise for increased energy. As you inhale, divide the breath into four equal segments (sniffs), and hold for a few seconds. Exhale, breaking the outgoing breath again into four equal segments. On each segment or sniff of the inhale and exhale, pull your tummy toward your spine slightly. One full breath cycle should take around eight seconds.” – Tara 

  2. When you’re feeling depleted and frustrated during the working day: “When we feel overwhelmed, the breath can feel stuck or laboured and it can be harder to focus the mind. Start by relaxing your shoulders, bring your focus to your breath. Slowly and gently, breathe in through the nose and out of the nose, noticing your tummy expand as you inhale and contract as you exhale. Inhale through your nose for five counts; and hold the breath for five counts before exhaling through your nose for five counts. Hold the breath again for five counts and then repeat. If this feels too hard or forced, bring it down to three counts and work up to five. Continue this for a couple of minutes.”- Rebecca 

  3. Using the breath to enhance wellbeing when out on a walk: “When out in nature, take a deep inhale and exhale with a big sight. There are studies that show sighing causes a physical, emotional and mental reset. Being outdoors is the perfect place to do this as you won’t feel so self-conscious.” – Tara 

  4. To instantly calm the mind: “Use the ten-second breath – a great way to restore focus if you feel your mind is spinning with too many thoughts. Start by breathing in through the nose, taking a big, long and slow inhale to the count of five; then breathe out through the nose with a relaxed exhale to the count of five. Repeat for six rounds.” – Tara 

  5. To wind down in the evening: “The 4-7-8 technique is great to relax the mind at the end of a busy day. By focusing on the counting, the mind is tricked into distraction, and the longer exhale stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. Start by lying in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Press the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, slightly open your mouth, and exhale until you reach the bottom of your breath. Close your mouth and quietly inhale through your nose for four counts, then hold your breath for seven counts. Exhale slowly and gently through your mouth for a total of eight counts to return to the bottom of your breath. Repeat for four full breaths, working your way up to eight over time.” – Rebecca 


Breathe, written and read by Rebecca Dennis, with a foreword by Fearne Cotton, is published by Penguin Audio (£9.00). It is available via Audible, Apple Books and Google Play. For more information, visit BreathingTree.co.uk, Breathzone.com, Breathpod.me and Tara-Nash.com


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