It’s easy to dismiss breathwork as just another wellness trend that you see all over social media, but it’s so much more than that.
For hundreds of years, people have been practicing breathwork as a means of healing, peace and health.
Last week on We Gotta Talk, I interviewed the founder of the Academy of Breath, Ava Johanna, and she ran us through how breathwork can improve every aspect of your health. (Right now as I’m writing this, I’m finding myself taking deeper breaths and being aware of my breath, and even that has me feeling so much better. Ha!)
I think this is the biggest takeaway for me—that this one simple thing we can do can touch every feeling inside your mind and body.
I’m not trying to oversell this—haha—but I am saying that on the nights I take five minutes of “meditation”—which is essentially just me sitting in my dark and silent closet—and when I breathe intentionally, I feel so much better, immediately.
Now that’s not scientific evidence of any changes in my body, but that feeling alone is all I need to be sold on trying my best to continue this. If I’m being honest, I’ve fallen off of my meditation and breathwork practice lately, and I’m planning on starting it up again tonight, because it’s such a simple way to find peace.
Anyhow! Let’s start off with why breathwork can improve health. Let’s go over to Ava for this:
“The breath is a part of our autonomic nervous system, which is essentially the automatic systems within our body that keep all of our vital organs running all of the vital processes from hormonal release to immune function, to sleep into stress. So when you think about all of those different aspects of our physiological makeup … you can really see that there’s a bigger picture happening here with how the breath can impact and not only impact but enhance our lives overall.”
When I asked Ava for one thing beginners can do to begin feeling more in-tune with their body, Ava had this simple tip:
“What I would suggest doing throughout your day is first and foremost, becoming aware of your physical body.”
She gave the example of even starting with being aware of yourself while you’re driving, or sitting down at your desk, since many times we can be in a tense state and not even realize it.
“When we’re in a reactive state, or when we’re on a defensive state, we’re going to be more tight, pulled together and contracted. … When you notice that you can say, ‘Okay, let me relax my body. And let me just put a hand on my belly for a moment.’
And take three deep breaths in and use that as a centering practice a practice to bring you back into the present moment.”
First things first—what is coherent breathing?
Coherent breathing is when your exhale is longer than your inhale. A friend of mine who’s very into wellness once mentioned this to me as a good starting point for someone wanting to explore the benefits of breathwork. Here’s why coherent breathing is so good:
“When your exhale is elongated, when it’s longer than your inhale, what that does is actually stimulate your vagus nerve.”
Any why stimulating your vagus nerve helpful? Your vagus nerve is, as Ava explained, a “tree-shaped nerve” that goes from your brainstem all the way down into your gut. And when it’s stimulated, there are tons of benefits.
“Your vagus nerve essentially acts as a brake in your stress response. … [So] let’s say, you inhale for four, you exhale for eight, it activates your vagus nerve. The higher the vagal tone you have, the better you are at your the better your physical body is responding to stress.”