With the 2020 Presidential election on the nerve-rackingly close horizon and the ever-changing Primaries landscape filling my newsfeed–when, you know, Coronavirus isn’t stealing the spotlight–I’m feeling (more) anxious about the state of the world. And like everyone else, I’m also juggling home and work life; in my case, that includes a toddler who’s losing interest in naps (a.k.a., Mommy’s quiet time). So it’s safe to say that inner (and sometimes outer) frazzlement is abundant in my life. (Sure, “frazzlement” isn’t technically a word, but we all know the feels, yes?)
Yet, despite all of this, I’ve been feeling increasingly capable of handling these spells of turbulence, emotionally speaking. I certainly feel a lot of things in a given day, but I have greater resilience and am able to more easily return to a sense of inner and physical security. I attribute this to a few things–having work I care about and a supportive family and friend group, getting older (it’s actually kind of great!), and following the breathwork practice I started developing this year.
In my experience, breathwork has helped me calm anxiety in the moment, feel a greater capacity for joy (also in the moment), and feel more in-tune with my body. Here’s a little more about this simple, accessible practice!
What Is Breathwork?
Breathwork, like meditation, is practiced to increase mindfulness, situate your mind in the present (rather than fretting about the past or the future), and help you dwell in your body in a more peaceful manner. More specifically, breathwork is the intentional focus on and (sometimes) control of the breath. It may also include visualization, but at its most basic, breathwork is conscious breathing. As breathwork expert Dan Brule explains, it’s “the art and science of using breath awareness and breathing exercises for health, growth, and change in body, mind, and spirit.”
While meditation can be done by anyone anywhere, it can sometimes seem difficult to an initiate. (Am I sitting in the right position? How do I silence or observe my thoughts? Am I breathing the right way?) Breathwork, while sharing some similarities with meditation, may be even more accessible. First, there tend to be fewer stipulations about your positioning (though this may vary among breathwork teachers and styles). Moreover, the practitioner is often encouraged to remember the thoughts they encounter during breathwork rather than observe them and let them go (meditation)–and this process of remember or processing thoughts seems to be a more natural cognitive habit.
Why Breathwork Is Special
Although it may be nice to have a special place in your home dedicated to wellness or breathwork specifically, most of don’t have an Instagram-ready wellbeing sanctuary. You can do breathwork while wrapped in your kid’s Moana blanket, pretending not to notice the iPhone cord tangled in yesterday’s bra (not speaking from personal experience or anything…).
Indeed, you can integrate breathwork with your real-world life. You’re breathing anyway–why not be more conscious about it. Overwhelmed by your inbox? Take a full inhale. Pause. Fully exhale. Repeat. Now you’ve done breathwork.
Breathwork instructor and author of How to Breathe: 25 Simple Practices for Calm, Joy, and Resilience, explains, “one of the things I have my clients do is check in with their breathing throughout the day. Notice where your breath is at: Are you huffing and puffing? Are you holding your breath? Are you stress breathing? These are all really good indicators that it’s time to slow down. People text me and they’re like, ‘Oh, I finally get it now. I’m not breathing when I’m scrolling through Instagram.'”
By checking in with our bodies in this way, Neese argues, we’re able to figure out what’s going on (why are we feeling reactive, angry, or flustered?). With this knowledge, we’re better able to make healthy choices, and, if necessary, establish or reconnect to our personal boundaries.
Experts’ Advice on Using Breathwork in Everyday Situations
Neese encourages using breathwork in everyday situations, especially when you feel your body tensing up or your breath quickening. The neat thing is–you can do it in front of people, and no one will be the wiser!
“What I have [clients] do is put their feet flat on the floor in a seated position and take a couple of seconds to connect with their feet. That practice alone can lower your energy. Step two is breathing in and out through your nose. You can do this as a slow inhale and slow exhale without drawing a lot of attention to yourself. I usually suggest doing five to ten rounds. That can give you the reset you need to be present.”
Try that next time you’re in a stressful meeting!
What do you think? Have you tried breathwork?
Related: 4 Vigorous Yoga Breaths for Energy