What is breathwork?
Breathwork is starting to gain the attention it so rightly deserves, but what is it? We already breathe, don’t we? We’ve been breathing our whole life, right?
Yes. However, when we learn how we can take control of our breathing, we have an incredibly powerful tool that we can use to support our mental health and wellbeing.
Breathwork is becoming aware of your breathing and then consciously changing it in a particular way to activate a particular response within the body. We might change the tempo of the breath, the depth or use the nose or the mouth for example.
We can use our breath as the accelerator to energise us and give us a boost, or we can use it to put on the brakes to relax us and bring us into a place of calm and relaxation if we’ve experienced a stressful situation… Hello Motherhood.
When might we need to use breathwork?
When we are stressed, our breath changes, when we are concentrating, our breath changes, when we are scared, our breath changes, when we are upset, our breath changes… and so on. Every single emotion that we experience has an effect on our breathing. When we understand that our emotions change our breathing, we can then change our breathing to change how we are feeling…
When understanding breathwork, it’s really important to understand the nervous system, because you can imagine our breathing as the key to the nervous system. When the awareness is there, we can then work with our nervous system as opposed to reacting to it.
Breathwork and Motherhood
In all honesty, Motherhood and the journey to Motherhood can be one of the biggest tests on the nervous system. You’re busy; sleep-deprived, stressed, always on the go with a huge responsibility of keeping this little human safe.
This is all before you throw work, maintaining a house, having a social life, keeping up relationships and practising self-care into the mix. It’s a lot, and this constant being on the go can wreak havoc on our nervous system if we don’t know how to down-regulate it.
Learning how to control your breath
Our breathing is part of our autonomic nervous system, which means that all these responses are automatic – we don’t even need to think about them, they just happen. Other functions include our heartbeat, temperature regulation and digestion for example.
Breathing, however, is the only system within this that is also completely under our control. We cannot hold our heartbeat or slow down our digestion… but we can do all this with our breathing. That is why breathwork is so incredibly beneficial because we can use the breath as this gateway to harmonising all our body’s functions. We can change our breathing to quite literally change our physiology, how our systems are firing and how we want to feel.
The automatic nervous system
The autonomic nervous system splits into two branches: the sympathetic nervous system (also known as the fight or flight response) and the parasympathetic nervous system (also known as rest and digest response). We naturally fluctuate between the two responses throughout the day or depending on what life is throwing at us.
It’s also important to know that the fight or flight response isn’t a bad response; its primary function is to keep us safe, it’s always looking out for us, however, it’s there to be used in short, sharp bursts.
Modern life and its impact on our breathing
The issue these days in our busy and modern lifestyles is, for many of us we stay in this state of fight or flight response for long periods of time, and it can become habitual and chronic. We might constantly feel switched on, wired, anxious, panicked, reactive, heightened and externally focused. Mothers can also become more hyperaware and find themselves scanning for / preventing danger when the children are around.
So where does breathwork come in?
By practising conscious connected breathing and slowing down the breath, we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest response), bringing the mind and body into a place of calm and relaxation within a matter of minutes
Breathwork doesn’t need to be inaccessible and there is a benefit for everyone. To reap the benefits, just a few conscious deep breaths is all it takes.
Here are just some of the benefits of practising regular breathwork:
- Down regulates and builds a healthy nervous system
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Improves focus and mental resilience
- Improves immune function
- Improves digestion
- Improves circulation
- Lowers blood pressure
- Improves more restorative sleep
- Improves oxygenation
A really simple practice that you can begin with is extending the exhale, which means you want to double the length of your exhale to inhale. You can practice this seated or lying down, whilst feeding baby, on your commute or at your desk!
- Take a slow breath in through the nose for a slow count of 4, feeling the lower belly rise and expand.
- Exhale through the nose or through pursed lips for a slow count of 8, belly relax back towards the spine.
- Repeat for 5 minutes.