While you might notice your breath during yoga (or when you're trying to catch it after a hill sprint), pros say practicing breathwork on your downtime could be the thing missing from your wellness routine.
You worship at the altar of the avocado, and you have a closet full of workout gear and an acupuncturist on speed dial. So what's a girl to do when she still can't seem to find peace of mind? Just breathe.
It sounds too easy to be effective, but with a few techniques and a little know-how, it can have some seriously impressive results. We're talking mood-enhancing, body-benefiting, and even career-boosting consequences. Introducing the latest well-being hack you should know about: breathwork.
What Exactly Is Breathwork?
Expert Dan Brulé defines breathwork as "the art and science of using breath awareness and breathing exercises for health, growth, and change in body, mind, and spirit." It turns out you don't need to be a Reiki or energy work pro to get the hang of it. More health-seekers are becoming aware that anyone can learn how to use breathwork to enhance their well-being.
"Breathing training is really entering the mainstream in a big way these days," says Brulé. "Now science and [the medical community] are acknowledging the use of breath as a self-help, self-healing tool." But like so many well-being practices blowing up your Insta-feed (looking at you, healing crystals), breathwork isn't new. In fact, you've likely already come across something similar in your Tuesday night yoga class. "All of the martial arts, warrior, and mystic traditions use the breath," says Brulé.
Celebs like Christy Turlington and Oprah have touted the benefits of purposeful panting, but certified breathwork teacher Erin Telford has a different theory for breathwork's newfound popularity. "We're an instant gratification society and this is instant gratification," she says.
Another possible explanation? We're all seriously stressed out. (It's true. Americans are less happy than ever before.) Debbie Attias, healing artist at New York's Maha Rose Center for Healing, reasons that "the current political climate and the ways that we communicate have created a lot more anxiety and stress. More people are looking to reconnect to the peace within them." (To find it, some people are going to SoulCycle.)
Different Types of Breathwork
Getting in on the breathwork trend is easy. "If you have a belly button then you're a candidate for breathing," jokes Brulé. But he's quick to point out that there are about as many different breathing techniques as there are belly buttons. Finding a breathwork practitioner or technique that works for you is going to depend a lot on what you want to achieve.
Brulé sees people with a wide range of issues, from those who want help dealing with pain (physical and emotional) to professionals who want to improve their public speaking and athletes who want an edge over their competitors.
"I always ask people when they come to me what their purpose is in training," he says. "Do you want to see God? Do you want to get rid of your headaches? Do you want to manage stress?" If that sounds like a tall order for just breathing, then keep reading.
As with any exercise, experiences vary. But it's not uncommon for participants to have an intense or even psychedelic experience.
"When I first did this type of breathwork, I felt a tremendous shift in my state of being," says Attias. "I cried, I laughed, and processed so many things that I had been working on for years. Now, I find it to be one of the most powerful tools to use with clients."
Telford says breathwork gives you a safe outlet for repressed anger, grief, and sadness. "[Breathwork] gets you out of your mind, and your mind can be the number-one block to healing, because your brain is always going to try and keep you safe. And safe—a lot of times—is equal to being stuck."
All right, so it has a slight New-Agey feel. But breathwork isn't just for yogis and hippies. Brulé teaches many people at the top of their respective industries. He's trained Olympians, Navy SEALs, and high-powered business executives. "[Breathing techniques] are like this secret ingredient which gives people that edge." (P.S. Should you be meditating in the office?)
There's actually a fair amount of research to support the idea that breathwork can boost your health. One recent Danish study found that breathwork can cause noticeable positive temperament changes, while another study published in the Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy showed its usefulness in the treatment of anxiety and depression. Ready to try it?
Innovations In the Breathwork Space
After 20 years as a surgeon, Eric Fishman, M.D., decided to transition his healing practices to aromatherapy. So he created MONQ Therapeutic Air, a personal diffuser designed to promote mood enhancement.
Touted as "Paleo air," the idea is that your ancestors breathed in air from forests, jungles, and savannas that were full of plant fragrances, similar to what you'll get from MONQ (which is made with essential oils and vegetable glycerin). The device's instructions tell you to breathe the puff of air (one scent includes orange, frankincense, and ylang-ylang) in through your mouth and exhale through your nose without inhaling.
While we can't say we totally get behind the Paleo hook, research confirms that spending time in the woods is good for your physical and mental well-being. And there are plenty of studies that corroborate the positive effects of aromatherapy on stress.
If you're looking to up your breathing game even more, there's the O2CHAIR. This high-tech seat, invented by a French scuba diver (where deep and slow breathing is obviously vital), is designed to help you breathe optimally by moving with your natural breath.
How to Do Breathwork at Home
While group and one-on-one sessions with a breathwork teacher are becoming increasingly popular, you can actually reap the benefits of breathwork from the comfort of your own couch.
Coherent breathing, for example, is basically breathing at a rate of between four and a half to six breaths per minute. Six breaths per minute means a five second inhale and a five second exhale, giving you a breathing cycle of 10 seconds. "If you practice that particular breathing pattern (six breaths per minute) then in just five minutes the average person lowers their cortisol [the "stress hormone"] levels by 20 percent," says Brulé. You'll also lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Not too shabby for a few minutes of work.