It’s an incredibly stressful time for everyone. And, despite the calls to use quarantine to become your “best self,” not everyone has the mental or physical energy to take up a new exercise regimen or hobby right now. But, if you’re looking for a simple, easy practice that can positively influence your wellbeing, breathwork could be for you. Breathwork is a broad term that encompasses a variety of breathing exercises that can help you stay relaxed and grounded when experiencing stress. It teaches us that by becoming more mindful of our breath, we can positively impact our mental and emotional states.
There are many schools of breathwork, but the simplest way to incorporate it into your daily life is to pay attention to how you breathe throughout the day. Try to be mindful of when is your breathing fast and shallow versus deep and steady. Think of your breath as your personal barometer. It can show us things about ourselves that we weren’t aware of — all just by being aware of how we breathe throughout the day.
Here’s an example that might help put it in context. I recently got a text from someone, and as soon as I saw their name pop up on my phone, my breathing went from steady to nonexistent. Then, as I read what they sent me, I realized I was holding my breath the entire time. Why did I have such a strong physical response to something so small? I realized that a problem we had had in the past (a problem that I had brushed off) was bothering me more than I was willing to admit. By being aware of my breathing, I realized that I had unresolved issues with this person that needed to be addressed.
Breathwork doesn’t just help you become aware of your emotions — it can also help you influence how you feel. The next time you’re beginning to feel overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious, try taking 10 slow and steady breaths. Notice how you feel afterward. Are you a little more relaxed? If so, continue for 10 more breaths and then check in with yourself. If the deep breaths are helping you feel better, see if you can continue this practice for an entire minute. After your minute is up, you may feel more clearheaded and ready to calmly deal with your stressor rather than simply react to it.
One of the great things about breathwork is that even if you only have a few minutes to spare in your day, you can take that time to just sit and breathe. And, if you eventually start to feel up for some more physical or mental exercise, breathwork is a great way to prepare for yoga, meditation, tai chi, strength training, running, and much more.
Although most people can begin mindful breathing at any time, it’s important to note that you should always consult with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you to begin a new practice. If you can use breathwork, understanding the basic principles can help you take a small but meaningful step towards a healthier, more mindful life.
This is Mia Bencivenga's first column for The Green Voice! She will be a regular contributor sharing how sustainability and wellness can work together to help you achieve the wellness you are looking for.