Breathwork. The work of breathing. Sounds kind of silly considering ‘breathing’ is not really work. It’s actually an autonomic response, meaning we don’t have to think to breath. However the actual definition of breathwork states, the conscious control of
breathing meant to influence a person’s mental, emotional and/or physical state with claimed therapeutic effect.(1) Okay, so breathing is automatic…breathwork is not…got it.
There are several types of breathwork, pranayama being one of them. Pranayama is a Sanskrit term meaning “life force” (prana) and “extension” (ayama). It is a controlled breathing technique often used to energize the body and relax the mind.(2) Sudarshan Kriva Yoga (SKY) is another type of cyclical controlled breathwork that has been studied for its positive benefits on depression.(3) Yoga and breathwork have long been used as forms of relaxation, to reduce stress and center oneself, but what are some of its other potential health benefits? Here are 3 interesting facts about breathwork perhaps you didn’t know.
1. Yoga breathwork was, and is, being used after horrendous disasters such as those of the World Trade Center bombing and hurricane Katrina. The victims of the bombing and the hurricane refugees, after using breathwork techniques, showed significant relief from symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia and post traumatic stress disorder.(4)
Breathwork stimulates the endocrine system to release ‘feel good’ hormones such as prolactin, vasopressin and oxytocin, helping to alleviate stress and tame down the ‘fight or flight’ cortisol response.
2. Breathwork studies show an increase in antioxidant status for those who develop a regular practice. This could be important in maintaining a strong immune system and reducing oxidative stress, which is known to contribute to aging, chronic disease and cancer.(5,6)
3. The boosting of your immune system through breathwork may also contribute to cancer prevention or the spread of cancer. Studies show and increase in the body’s own natural killer cells after several weeks of consistent breathwork (7). And women diagnosed with breast cancer stated significant improvement in their quality of life and state of well-being after practicing breathing techniques (8), showing that breathwork may very well be an important tool to include in your prevention, reoccurrence, and/or spread of cancer toolbox.
Want a simple breathwork exercise for beginners? Check out this cliff note version of the Wim Hof method (9).
1. Lie on the ground or sit with your back straight.
2. Inhale deeply, pulling in as much air as you can using your diaphragm.
3. Exhale fully but not forcefully; simply let the breath go.
4. Repeat inhales and exhales for 30 to 40 rounds with your own rhythm.
5. On the last round, exhale and then hold your breath until your body feels the need to breathe.
6. Inhale deeply, then hold your breath for ten seconds.
7. Repeat steps 3–6 for three or four rounds.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, there are many steps along the path of disease prevention and longevity, and there is no one answer to cancer, or any other chronic disease. So if you are interested in reducing stress and building up your immune system to prevent quickened aging and disease, I would definitely recommend trying breathwork. One can do it quietly in their own home, or seek out a class or certified practitioner. Wellness is a lifestyle made by the choices we make every day, so I say give it a try, add breathwork to your prevention bag of goodies. Until next time…xx
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