What is breathwork?
Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your abdomen. Without trying to change your breathing in any way for now, notice a few things as you inhale and as you exhale. Is your breathing quick and shallow, or slower and deeper? Do you notice that your chest and shoulders move more, or does your belly move more? How long is your inhale as compared to your exhale?
Deep breathing exercises (also known as breathwork) is focused, intentional breathing. It may take some practice, yet when done regularly breathwork does have proven benefits for our physical, mental and emotional health. It can even have an impact on our spiritual health when using techniques such as "Breath as Prayer" (see the resources below).
Here are three basic breathing exercises to try that can help calm anxiety:
Abdominal or Diaphragmatic Breathing: Choose a sitting or lying down position, and place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Consciously expand the belly as you inhale through your nose, engaging the diaphragm and fully inflating the lungs. Exhale slowly through your mouth, allowing the belly to fall. Repeat 3 times.
4-7-8 (Relaxing Breath): This exercise can also be practiced either in sitting or lying down. Gently inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, exhale for a count of 8. Pause, and repeat 3 times.
Square or Box Breathing: Think about the 4 corners of a square, representing an inhale, hold, exhale, and hold. As you gently inhale through your nose count to 4, then hold for a count of 4. Exhale through your mouth for a count of 4, then hold for a count of 4. Repeat 3 times.
Notice how you feel before, during and after practicing each of the exercises above. What works well to bring down the heart rate, blood pressure and anxiety for one person may not work as well for another. Breathwork may take practice, but it's also important to experiment and see what works best for you. Consider working one-on-one with a trained healthcare professional if you are experiencing significant anxiety that doesn't seem to reduce with these simple breathwork techniques. We can help you explore a wide variety of options to help you better manage your anxiety!
~Nicole Hutchison, PT, CSCS, Holistic Health and Integrative Nutrition Coach