Breathwork has exploded in the past two years. It's even been called the new yoga.
Interestingly, however, no one method gets all the attention. People are interested in everything from nose breathing, sighing, or breathing for altered consciousness states. Why is this? Why are people finding comfort in such vastly different breathwork approaches?
It turns out that the joy of breathwork is precisely that: breathing.
The Common Thread Through Breathwork Methods
There is a common thread through every approach to breathwork that explains why the simple act of breathing is so powerful: our autonomic nervous system.
The way we breathe directly influences our nervous system. At the micro-level, each inhale is dominated by the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system, while each exhale is dominated by the parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) branch.
At a more macro-level, the pace at which you breathe also changes your state. Research consistently shows that slow breathing activates the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, reducing stress and leaving you feeling relaxed. On the other hand, fast breathing provides a controlled manner of activating the sympathetic branch of the nervous system, increasing energy and leaving you stimulated.
These relationships suggest that we can choose specific breathing patterns to reach desired states. If you're tired, fast breathing can help wake you up. A few minutes of slow breathing, especially with longer exhalations, can almost instantly calm you down if you're anxious.
Thus, the joy of breathwork is breathing. It's free, and it's always available. It gives us a way of taking control of our nervous system and how we feel at any given moment.
Want to experience this for yourself regularly? Once you decide which breathwork practice is right for you, here are three tips for making it a consistent part of your day.
3 Super Easy Ways to be Consistent with Your Breathing Practice
These concepts were inspired by Stanford University behavior expert BJ Fogg.
1. Start very tiny. Even if it's just one breath or one minute, pick something so small you can't fail, even when your motivation is low or non-existent.
2. Pick an Action Prompt. Rather than using an alarm, choose a consistent cue you already perform (the more precise, the better) that will trigger your tiny practice—for example, starting the coffee or returning from walking the dog. By tying your breathwork practice to a habit you already do, you'll increase your odds of sticking with it.
(Here's an easy recipe for implementing it: After I _______, I will _______. Example: After I start the coffee in the morning, I will practice slow breathing for 2 minutes. Write out these statements by hand to further increase your odds of being successful.)
3. Celebrate. This might be the most important. Do something silly and fun that you find rewarding (for instance, a fist bump or saying "that's like me!" in your head). Celebration releases dopamine, which will trick your brain into looking forward to your practice.
Give these three practical steps a try. When you consistently use your breath to shift your body into desired states, the benefits move beyond joy and aggregate and compound into better overall health and wellness.
About the Author
Nick Heath, PhD, is an atmospheric scientist, breathing researcher, Oxygen Advantage coach, and type-1 diabetic. His work focuses on optimal breathing for diabetes, chronic disease, and overall health and wellness. Learn more at thebreathingdiabetic.com or follow Nick on Instagram.