Breathwork: the next big thing in wellness or a load of hot air?
Breathwork. It may sound like the name of a long-lost ’80s hair metal band, but it’s actually one of the latest buzz trends in health and wellness.
According to its fans, breathing techniques – or breathwork – can relieve stress, improve your emotional state, and resolve sleep issues, among other things.
Naturally, celebs love it and it’s big on social media. And the trend links in with our increased focus on mindfulness practices such as yoga during the pandemic. As a practitioner told The Guardian: “Right now, breathing is hot.”
But why all the fuss about breathing – something we do around 20 times per minute without even thinking about it? And can breath training actually benefit your physical and mental health?
What is breathwork?
Breathwork is a catch-all term for guided breath exercises, or conscious changes to breathing patterns, used for well-being purposes. These exercises can be as simple as bringing awareness to your breath (or mindful breathing), through to cycles of holding your breath, “controlled” hyperventilation and even slightly more extreme concepts like rebirthing.
Some breathwork variations stem back to yoga and others to alternative therapies developed in the 1960s and ’70s.
What are the benefits of breathwork?
It’s important to note that, at this stage, there are no long-term studies to back up the claimed benefits of breathwork.
Breathwork can take many forms. Try taking a Deep Breath with Ally Bogard to calm your mind and relax your body.
Proponents contend it can be a therapeutic tool for mind and body including lowering blood pressure, reversing physical stress responses, treating depression, anxiety and PTSD, easing respiratory conditions (such as asthma), and boosting the immune system.
There are also some rather ambitious claims by practitioners that breathwork can treat infectious diseases and chronic illnesses.
But while large-scale scientific research to support these claims is so far lacking, there are some interesting smaller studies that suggest breathwork can have positive outcomes.
On the mental health side of things, small studies published in recent years found that:
Slow breathing may help alleviate stress and reduce symptoms of depression
Yoga breathing may help veterans suffering from PTSD
Diaphragmatic breathing may reduce anxiety.
Studies also found possible physical benefits such as:
Slow breathing may help reduce blood pressure/hypertension
Deep breathing may control pain and nausea
Diaphragmatic breathing may reduce reflux and gas.
Again, it’s important to note that many of these small studies suggest only short-term benefits or improvements.
Is breathwork right for me?
Before you start hyperventilating right there on the sofa, take a deep breath…
At Centr, we’re big fans of using an awareness of breath to focus your thoughts and emotions. Breathing can also help regulate your workout performance – such as exhaling when lifting weight and inhaling as you lower it, or providing a pace and rhythm to your Pilates movements. However, if you have conditions that could potentially be worsened by changes in your breathing patterns (such as asthma or vertigo), breathwork may not be for you – and you should definitely seek out medical advice before giving it a go.
Before you make any changes to your health and well-being program, you should consult with your doctor. Breathwork is no different.
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