Breathe Slow, Stay Calm, Live Long

breathwork

“What makes pranayama an excellent part of a healthy lifestyle is that it can be performed anywhere, even while at work, is simple to learn without any formal training required, and is efficient and practical taking only five minutes to do.”

Relaxation can be achieved in many ways. In our series Food for Sleep, Mental Health, and Relaxation, we showed how the choice of certain foods can combine to help us relax. Another way of calming our minds and bodies are through relaxation techniques.

When we think of relaxation techniques, usually the first things to come to our minds is sitting cross-legged in some Buddhist temple or curling ourselves into pretzels beside some waterfall somewhere.

Meditation and yoga are indeed wonderful practices to calm us, too. For example, “Yoga techniques have historically been found to enhance well-being, mood, attention, mental focus, and stress tolerance.” [1] However, a lot of people do not have the time, accessibility, or resources to enjoy the full benefits. When we get anxious before a huge presentation that may determine whether we stay at our company or if our company will get invested in, most of us do not have the luxury of being a guru or having one to guide us through these times.

Within both meditation and yoga, however, the process of controlled breathing, called pranayama, is used. “What makes pranayama an excellent part of a healthy lifestyle is that it can be performed anywhere, even while at work, is simple to learn without any formal training required, and is efficient and practical taking only five minutes to do.” [2] This is great news for those of us who are looking for convenient, day-to-day solutions for stress and anxiety.

What specific calming effects can be expected from breathwork? To begin with, this breathing helps combat depression and anxiety. “There is empirical support for yoga breathing-based interventions in treating depression, and meditation-based approaches demonstrate efficacy in the treatment of depression and anxiety. Neurological and behavioural self-regulatory changes associated with meditation are also related to positive mental health outcomes.” [3] Furthermore, pranayama works directly to lower blood pressure and destress our bodies. “Controlled breathing not only keeps your mind and body functioning at their best, it can also lower blood pressure, promote feelings of calm and relaxation and help you destress.” [4] By itself, pranayama is known to provide these benefits. But that’s not all.

Other health benefits associated with pranayama is its ability to decrease our chances of getting sick and to increase our chances of living a long life. “Controlled, slow breathing appears to be an effective means of maximising HRV [Heart Rate Variability] and preserving autonomic function, both of which have been associated with decreased mortality in pathological states and longevity in the general population.” [5] These benefits seem like a great deal for something that won’t take too much out of our day, something that we can easily incorporate into our lives.

Whether it’s disease prevention, longer life, or less stress and worry you want out of life, controlled breathing can help manifest these things the more we practice it. Various ways of practicing pranayama exist. From nostril breathing (double, single or alternate) to deep abdominal breathing with chants, you’re sure to find a practice (or combination of practices) that work best for you.

Check out our article Breathwork Steps We Can All Take to see a practice that helps me relax.

References

[1] Brown, Richard P., and Patricia L. Gerbarg. "Sudarshan Kriya Yogic Breathing in the Treatment of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression: Part II—, Clinical Applications and Guidelines." The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 11, no. 4 (2005): 711-17. doi:10.1089/acm.2005.11.711. P. 715.

[2]Chaddha, Ashish. "Breathing Slower to Live Longer." Journal of Indian College of Cardiology 5, no. 3 (2015): 183-88. doi:10.1016/j.jicc.2015.04.005. p. 187.

[3] Lalande, Lloyd, Matthew Bambling, Robert King, and Roger Lowe. "Breathwork: An Additional Treatment Option for Depression and Anxiety?" Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy 42, no. 2 (2011): 113-19. doi:10.1007/s10879-011-9180-6. P. 117.

[4] Banstola, Dinesh. "Effect of Yoga Breathing Exercises on Ventilatory Function." Journal of Gandaki Medical College-Nepal 9, no. 2 (2017): 17-22. doi:10.3126/jgmcn.v9i2.17861 p. 17.

[5] Russo, Marc A., Danielle M. Santarelli, and Dean O’Rourke. "The Physiological Effects of Slow Breathing in the Healthy Human." Breathe 13, no. 4 (2017): 298-309. doi:10.1183/20734735.009817. P. 306.