BREATHING — It is essential to human life. Every second, we inhale, and we exhale. It’s hard to really take the time to linger over it. Breathing is the force that keeps us alive. Each cell in the human body needs oxygen to work properly. It’s no surprise that, for years, research has shown the benefits of various breathing techniques on our physical, mental, and overall health. Let’s take a closer look at some practices that have proven themselves in the field of stress management, overall well-being, and self-transcendence.
conscious breathing: deepening breath awareness
Previously nicknamed rebirthing, conscious breathing is a gentle and deep practice of breath awareness developed by Leonard Orr over the course of the 1970s. Its principle involves continuously breathing through the nose. The transition between the inhalations and exhalations is therefore fluid and deep. In other words, there are no breaks during which the lungs are blocked. In everyday life, it’s not uncommon to stop breathing when we run into problems. These blockages are inscribed in the body’s memory. The goal of conscious breathing is to soothe this memory. The supply of oxygen resulting from full, deep, and continuous breathing has the power to bring certain memories to the surface in order to release them.
To practice conscious breathing, the first step is to become aware of your body, to inhabit it. You can then become aware of the moments when your breath is blocked, integrate simple breathing exercises into your daily life, or rely on the assistance of a certified specialist to support you in deepening this journey. Particularly beneficial for people suffering from stress or anxiety or who are simply overwhelmed, conscious breathing is nevertheless intended for everyone. The benefits are numerous: a calmer mind, lower blood pressure, reduced stress, improved memory and overall attention, and better sleep.
cardiac coherence: a practice to better manage stress
Beneficial for the body, mind, and heart, cardiac coherence is a concept born in the United States over the course of the 2000s. The product of medical research combining neuroscience and neurocardiology, cardiac coherence helps slow the heartbeat by practising simple breathing exercises. Nicknamed “365,” this method developed by Dr. David O’Hare involves repeating six breaths per minute (a five-second inhalation followed by a five-second exhalation) for a total of five minutes three times a day (morning, afternoon, and evening). Though it might appear quite simple, this method definitely isn’t instinctive, because we usually breathe faster.
Apps like CardioZen and Cardiac Coherence can help us achieve the desired pace. Professionals in sophrology, a holistic relaxation method, can also be consulted to learn how to relax the body and mind. Better stress management, reduced anxiety, increased energy and emotional balance, improved sleep, a stronger immune system, and the prevention of cardiovascular diseases…its benefits for physiological, biological, and psychological health are multiple. The Fédération Française de Cardiologie recommends the daily practice of cardiac coherence for everyone.
pranayama: breath control
In Sanskrit, “prana” means vital energy, and “yama” means control. Pranayama is therefore a breath regulation practice. It is also called control of the vital force, the extension of breath. The goal? To connect body and mind.
Pranayama is one of the eight branches of yoga. While it can be combined with other practices such as physical poses (asanas) and meditation (dhyana), pranayama offers its own benefits due to the therapeutic effects of breathing exercises. According to multiple studies conducted in India and published in the International Journal of Yoga by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, pranayama helps reduce stress, soothe the nervous system, improve sleep quality and mindfulness, reduce high blood pressure, and increase lung capacity and cognitive performance. Worth discovering: nadhi sodhana, an alternate- nostril breathing technique that can be practiced in a seated position or lying down. First of all, empty the air from your lungs. With your right thumb, block your right nostril and breathe through the left nostril. Once you have fully inhaled, block your left nostril with the ring finger of the same hand, keeping your right nostril closed. Retain your breath for a few moments, then release your thumb and exhale through the right nostril. Take a pause, then inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left nostril. You have now completed a full cycle. Repeat the exercise and perform up to ten cycles per practice. A balancing, purifying, and deeply calming exercise.
INTRODUCE THE BENEFITS OF BREATHING INTO YOUR DAILY ROUTINE
Whether you want to begin your journey with a specialist or you choose to integrate simple exercises into your daily routine, mindful breathing has a lot to offer. Transform your days one exercise at a time, when you wake up in the morning, before lunchtime, or before going to bed. Introduce your children to the benefits of breathing. Invite them to become aware of their breath as well. Offer simple exercises tailored to each one’s age group. Practise alone, with friends, or as a family.
wim hof breathing: surpassing your limits
Surrendering to the polar cold to achieve fullness: this is what the Wim Hof method, which has been especially popular in recent years, promises. Created by Wim Hof, a Dutchman known for his resistance to extreme cold, this breathing technique aims to push one’s limits and deepen the control of the emotions to achieve a state of total calm.
Since Wim Hof breathing may involve significant risks and requires practice to be safe, it is not recommended to learn the technique or practice alone at home. However, it is possible to rely on the support of a certified coach. Although no studies have scientifically proven its benefits, the Wim Hof technique is recognized for releasing dopamine, adrenaline, and serotonin and improving physical and emotional health. The Wim Hof method consists of inhaling fully and quickly, then exhaling slowly 30 times, then retaining the breath for one minute once the lungs are empty, then inhaling again and retaining the breath again for one minute once the lungs are full. Lasting 20 minutes in total, this breathing cycle will be repeated four to five times.
holotropic breathing: the transformative breath
Commonly referred to as breathwork, holotropic breathing is a breathing technique involving hyperventilation aimed at reaching the depths of the subconscious by bringing up past traumas in order to release them. This is an exceptional experience during which, in addition to letting go, participants may cry, laugh, or even scream. Hard to believe?
The technique was developed by Stanislav Graf, a psychiatrist who pursued research on altered states of consciousness over the course of the ’70s. His muse: the amplification of breathing. Derived from certain pranayama and rebirth techniques, breathwork involves altering your state of consciousness in order to explore your emotions and better control them. With their eyes closed, the participant places one hand on their stomach and the other on their chest. The first inhalation is taken through the mouth, inflating the stomach. Then, without deflating the stomach, a second inhalation is taken, inflating the chest. With an energetic exhalation, the stomach and chest are finally released. Over the course of the breathing exercise, the body gradually starts hyperventilating and goes through several reactions: nausea, tingling in the body, dizziness. With resilience and perseverance, you can overcome these phenomena and extract the benefits of the practice: clarity of mind, the release of emotions and past traumas, increased oxygenation of the blood, and the regeneration of the body. Be warned: the holotropic technique may involve certain risks such as dizziness, loss of balance or consciousness, falls, etc. The presence of a companion and a coach is essential. Holotropic breathing is not recommended for pregnant women, people with certain mental illnesses, or those suffering from heart problems. Before starting, make sure you are properly prepared and, if necessary, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor.
For all breathing techniques, be sure to have someone accompany you and stop your practice if you feel any discomfort. The preceding descriptions are introductions to the different breathing techniques and do not constitute complete practice guides. Additional steps will be required before performing these methods.