Twenty-five thousand inhales and exhales a day. That’s how many breaths we take each day. Our life starts with an inhale and ends with an exhale. Our breath, as simple as it is, has a much bigger impact than we think it has on just everything in our life. This is the reason why consciously using through specific practices has exploded recently.
Breathwork is all over the place! It’s all the rage the past couple of years! In the US they even call it the new yoga. It has become mainstream and is taught in most yoga and meditation studios, practiced in the wellness and medical industry.
If you haven’t been to a Breathwork session yet, put it on your “must-do” list because it’s an experience that will blow your mind.
But what is Breathwork exactly and why are so many people obsessed with it?
What is breathwork
Breathwork refers to any type of breathing practice in which the conscious control of breathing is said to influence a person’s mental, emotional, or physical state.
It comes in many forms. There's a type of breathing exercise for literally everything you want to reach in terms of changing the way you feel whether it’s stress relief, increased focus, physical performance, or deeper spiritual transformation.
Sitting or lying down, during a workout or a speech in public, conscious breathing is a safe and natural way to hack into our physiology to alter our physical or emotional state. Regular practice is key to improving health, performances, and ultimately overall happiness.
Breathing practices aren’t new though. They have been part of the yogic tradition for thousands of years, known as Pranayama. This Sanskrit term made of “prana” meaning vital life force associated with the breath and “yama” meaning gaining control, is one of the eight limbs, pillars of the yogic path.
The breathwork I teach in group classes is based on the Pranayama two-stage technique which consists of a two-part inhale, first into the belly, then into the chest and an exhale, all through the mouth and in a continuous flow. Breath is life force, energy, so this circular way of breathing creates a powerful flow of energy that allows an intense experience to take place. The experience is much bigger than our mind can comprehend because most of it happens at the level of our unconscious mind which is the place where our limiting beliefs are settled.
Through our life experience, especially childhood, we create limiting, negative beliefs that at a certain time served for our survival, but now are limiting us. We keep listening to and believing in these beliefs because they’re unconscious. Most of the time we don’t even know they’re still here, and when we do, we don’t know how to get rid of them.
Let’s say you have a limiting belief from a childhood experience around trust. Even though today you consciously think it’s safe to trust someone, unconsciously (which is about 95% of your decisions, actions, emotions, and behaviors) you believe it’s not. The same goes for self-worth, love and any other kinds of beliefs.
Breathing through the mouth is here specifically used to cleanse, to clear out. Breath, the energy we create through it, dives into the depth through the layers of consciousness. At the conscious level, during breathwork we experience and feel this energy in the form of physical sensations, energy blocks and stress are clearing from the body. At the unconscious level the false limiting beliefs are cleared, emotional blocks are released which is a reason why we can feel emotional during breathwork.
We attract and manifest what we believe. Change your breath, change your life. This is what breathwork is all about. We learn to surrender and trust the power of our breath, the natural wisdom of our body. We’re able to tune in, hear and trust our own intuition. Clearing out and making space for new experiences based on what’s in our heart, our true essence.
You might wonder how it is possible, simply by breathing to create such a powerful experience. Well, as I said earlier, the experience is much bigger than our mind can comprehend, and my advice is to surrender and let the breath do what it needs to.
That said, I also find it important to understand and know the science behind what I practice and it’s seriously fascinating! So, let’s dive into it.
The science behind breathwork
Knowing more about the science behind breathwork makes it easy to understand why it has such an impact on the different planes of our life.
The mechanics of breathing
What happens when we breathe? Breathing in is an expansion, an opening and breathing out is a contraction. We all know that the diaphragm is THE muscle related to breathing, don’t we? It’s the biggest muscle in our entire body. This big guy works together with our core muscles to get our breathing going.
With the inhale it contracts, pulls down so our lungs get room for the inbreath. This pushes the organs down, and here comes our core into action: our abdominal muscles, back muscles and pelvic floor need to relax so these organs get space to move down and the belly can expand.
With exhale the reverse movement happens. The pelvic floor, back and abdominal muscles contract to help move organs back up and the diaphragm relaxes and moves up which presses the air out of the lungs.
The body’s energy system
Breathing is much more than air moving in and out of the lungs! Here’s a fact that might surprise you: about 82% of your energy comes from your breathing. Let’s get into respiration chemistry.
Simply put, inhaling fills our lungs with air from which Oxygen is extracted and transported into our bloodstream to the cells everywhere in the body. The cells use oxygen to transform nutrients and produce energy in the form of what’s called ATP(adenosine triphosphate). That’s how they are fueled to do whatever they need to do for the body to function. Energy can also be produced without oxygen, but it's inefficient and can be sustained for only a few seconds to a few minutes, think high intensity exercises.
This process results in the release of carbon dioxide and a mixture of other gasses (metabolic waste). Now here’s something that you might not know yet about carbon dioxide and breathing about 70% of waste is eliminated from the body just by breathing. This makes breathing the most efficient detox ever. Scientific studies have shown that for every ten kilos of fat loss, eight and a half are eliminated through our lungs!
Connection to the nervous system
Breathing, like your heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and sexual arousal, is one of these involuntary physiologic processes, regulated by the autonomic nervous system.
What's special about our breath is that we can also use it consciously. Meaning we can choose to bring our attention to it and steer it.
Goal: Hack in your physiology to change your current state.
From freaked-out . . . to blissed-out.
From furious . . . to fabulous.
From stressed . . . to blessed.
See our lungs are covered with nerves. The nerves covering the upper part are linked to the sympathetic nervous system which controls our "fight & flight" reaction.
The nerves on the lower part are connected to the parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates our "rest & digest" mode.
This means that the way you breathe activates one or the other. Deep and slow breathing, on one hand, signals the brain that we're safe and it's ok to relax. On the other hand, short and rapid breathing triggers our natural stress reaction.
Stress isn’t a bad thing if the intensity and duration in which the body has to be in this state is controlled and limited in time. This natural mechanism heightens alertness, by increasing blood flow and heart rate, helps boost brain function and focus. It makes you ready for action.
Conscious breath is a super-power
So, to recap, your breath involves many processes throughout the body: muscles contracting and relaxing so the air can flow in and out, gas exchange producing the energy to power the body so it can function and the link with the nervous system which makes it possible for us to use breath control to hack into our current state and change how we feel and perform.
Knowing more about your breath now, you understand how consciously using your ability to steer and direct the breath in a specific way impacts not only your physiology but your overall health and ultimately your whole being and life.
Breath is life: change your breath, change your life
Anyone can do breathwork and practicing daily is key to keep the body and mind into a natural balance and healthy state. Learning to know your breath, to use it consciously will impact your whole life from your workouts to the quality of your sleep or the glow of your skin.
Breathing practices as simple as box breathing are easy to start with on your own and have an immediate effect. A breath coach or breathwork facilitator is a must for anyone who wants to dig and dive into more intense practices and breathwork journeys.
Check out the agenda for our next group class or workshop or get in touch for private coaching.
Not located in Haarlem? Check here the Breathwork events in your area.