Breathing to beat anxiety

Breathwork, the intentional practice of controlling the breath, dates to ancient times, with the earliest known references coming from India around 2,500 years ago. The practice of pranayama, which is a Sanskrit word meaning “extension of the breath,” was developed by ancient yogis to improve overall health and well-being. The idea behind pranayama is that by controlling the breath, one can control the mind and the body, leading to a more balanced and harmonious life.

History

In China, breathwork was also used for healing purposes. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has long recognised the importance of breath, and breathing exercises in promoting health and wellness. The Chinese practice of Qigong, which translates to “energy work,” includes various breathwork techniques to improve circulation, boost immunity, and increase energy levels.

In the West, the use of breathwork for health and wellbeing began to gain popularity in the 20th century. In the 1950s, the Swiss psychologist Dr. Stanislav Grof began using breathwork as part of his research into altered states of consciousness. Grof found that breathwork was able to induce altered states of consciousness, and lead to profound healing experiences for some people.

Since then, breathwork has been used in various therapeutic settings, including psychology, psychotherapy, and complementary medicine. It has been shown to be beneficial for stress management, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Breathwork has also been used to improve athletic performance, increase focus and concentration, and enhance spiritual experiences.

Modern Uses

Today, breathwork is used by a wide variety of practitioners, including yogis, meditation teachers, therapists, and healthcare professionals. Scientific studies have confirmed the many benefits of breathwork, including:

  1. Reduced stress and anxiety: Deep breathing has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. This can help to lower anxiety levels and promote a sense of calm.
  2. Improved immune function: Breathing exercises can help to increase the production of white blood cells, which play a crucial role in fighting off infections and diseases.
  3. Better sleep: Deep breathing before bedtime can help to calm the mind and promote a more restful sleep.
  4. Improved digestion: Breathing exercises can help to improve digestion and relieve symptoms of digestive disorders.
  5. Increased energy levels: Deep breathing exercises can increase oxygen levels in the body, which can boost energy levels and improve overall health.

4-7-8 Breathing – Calm Anxiety and Promote Relaxation

One popular breathwork technique is the 4-7-8 breathing technique, also known as “relaxing breath”. This technique was developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, a pioneer in integrative medicine. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is said to reduce stress and anxiety and promote relaxation.

To practice the 4-7-8 breathing technique, follow these steps:

  1. Sit comfortably with your back straight.
  2. Place the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, just behind your front teeth. Keep it there throughout the exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
  3. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whooshing sound.
  4. Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for a count of 4.
  5. Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  6. Exhale completely through your mouth for a count of 8, making a whooshing sound.
  7. This completes one full breath. Repeat the cycle three more times, for a total of four breaths.

It is recommended to practice this technique twice a day, but not more than four breaths at a time for the first month. After that, you may gradually increase the number of breaths per cycle and the frequency of practice.

References

Banushi, B., Brendle, M., Ragnhildstveit, A., Murphy, T., Moore, C., Egberts, J., & Robison, R. (2023). Breathwork Interventions for Adults with Clinically Diagnosed Anxiety Disorders: A Scoping Review. Brain Sciences, 13(2), 256. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci13020256

Bulzoni, S. (2023, March 21). Video: Dr. Weil’s Breathing Exercises: 4-7-8 Breath. DrWeil.com. https://www.drweil.com/videos-features/videos/breathing-exercises-4-7-8-breath/

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