Stress undressed: Free your mind with the relaxing art of breathwork

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When we reach a certain time in our lives, we’re expected to know how to deal with things that our associated with ‘adulting’. But no-one teaches you how to navigate your way through stressful times like applying for a mortgage, dealing with a demanding boss or even a tricky friendship.

The emotional upheaval of these situations normally go hand-in-hand with higher stress levels – when a hormone called cortisol is released. And high stress levels, especially if they’re a frequent occurrence, can lead to a raised blood pressure, anxiety, headaches and shallow breathing.

Once we’re stressed, we start to breathe differently

We take around 20,000 breaths per day, without even thinking about it; but once we’re stressed, we start to breathe differently. This comes in the form of quicker, shallower intakes of breath, that come from the chest and shoulders – rather than the belly.

“We have constant stimulation and ‘danger’, or stressors, that we have to contend with on a daily basis,” explains Sophie Belle, a breathwork mentor and founder of Mind You Club.

“Fight or flight mode, which is our sympathetic nervous system, is there for a reason – to keep us safe from impending danger. But with us living in this mode for so long, we aren’t in balance and our breathing is significantly impacted.”

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What is breathwork?

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With so many wellness fads being chucked around, it’s easy to think that breathwork is another health trend that won’t stick. But, like meditation, it’s a well-researched way to calm our nervous system and provide more oxygen to our cells – helping with the health of our organs and our immune system.

Sophie explains that our breathing response to any stressors is to take large amounts of air in through our mouths: “This is normally taken in through the top of our chest and lungs. We get into this habit, and therefore spend a lot of our time breathing incorrectly, which impacts our whole body. It sends constant stress signals to our brain, which makes it much more difficult to switch off and relax. Over time it physically impacts us, too.”

So, breathwork is simply following a breathing pattern, which could be as simple as breathing in for five and breathing out for three. This allows us to realign our breathing into a more consistent pattern, calming down our nervous system in the process.

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The benefits of breathwork 

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Taking just five minutes out of your day to consciously breathe, in a structured pattern, comes with major benefits. Breathing in through the nose and from the bottom of your lungs and through your belly, can ease anxiety, help with focus and better sleep. It also gives your immune system fresh healthy cells.

“Deep and rhythmic breathing helps activates your vagus nerve, which enables your body to access your rest and restore, or parasympathetic, system. As these periods of restoration and lower stress build up, your neural pathways (or automatic stress responses) reform,” adds Sophie.

Breathwork can rebuild your mental wellbeing and confidence

If you often feel as though you’re on autopilot, Sophie explains that breathwork is also an incredible way of aligning your mind and body.

“If you regularly feel out of sync with your intuition and natural instincts, such as your gut feeling, or even your hunger responses, regular breathwork will help you align these intuitions,” Sophie explains. “It starts to rebuild your mental wellbeing and confidence – and in the process, helps you to feel calmer, more present and fulfilled.”

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A two-minute breathwork session

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This two-minute session by Sophie can be done at work, at home or even on the top of a mountain.

  • Close your eyes, and feel the weight of your body wherever you are sitting or standing through your feet and sitting bones. Start to become aware of your breath for a few seconds, watching it come in and out without changing it.
  • Check your breathing – make sure your breath is coming in and out through your nose. Direct the inhale into the bottom of your lungs (focus it going right into your belly) and ensure that your shoulders are relaxed. Start to breathe in for 4, and out for 8.
  • After a couple of rounds, add a breath hold between the inhale and exhale. You can do this for a couple of seconds, but as you practise more, you want to build it up to 7 counts. Then do this 4 / 7 / 8 breath for 10 rounds.
  • Let the breath go back to your natural breathing pattern, gently open your eyes and come back into the rest of your day.

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