Breathing. It’s something that we do without thinking about it. However, most of the time we’re practicing shallow breathing, which can sometimes make us feel out of breath and anxious — especially when we’re already stressed.
When we actively concentrate on breathing techniques that fully utilize our lungs, abdominals and diaphragm, it can actually reduce stress, create mindfulness, and even lower blood pressure.
Cultures around the world have also used breathwork to create deep psychological, emotional and spiritual shifts in the brain, according to breathwork facilitator Amelia Toporsh. She's the owner of the personal health and wellness company HER Milwaukee.
She says the breath can be considered its own form of medicine. It's been used in ceremony by indigenous tribes and as a tool of enlightenment for monks and Buddhists for over 1,000 years. In the West, using breath as medicine became popular with the rise of psychedelics and the widespread adoption of Eastern practices in the 1960s, such as yoga and meditation, according to Toporsh.
"Psychologists also began noticing the benefits of practicing breath techniques and how helpful it was for their patients who were experiencing mania, anxiety and depression," she notes.
Breathing techniques vs. breathwork
It's important to note the difference between breathing techniques and breathwork, says Toporsh. While both are used to calm and ground your state of mind, the methods differ.
"Think of breathing techniques as the tool to cope with your anxiety and stress, and breathwork as a spotlight to the sort of what/where that stress and anxiety is actually coming from," Toporsh explains.
Breathwork is a much more dedicated and involved practice, says Toporsh. Coined by Freudian psychologist Wilhelm Reich, breathwork was used as a way to help his clients achieve a state of relaxation to deal with everything from anxiety to uprooting repressed emotions and memories, according to Toporsh.
Breathwork uses a circular breathing method that uses a short pause between the exhale and inhale of the breath. "In this breathing pattern, it creates a high dose of oxygen in the body ... Doing this breathing pattern for up to an hour can create a hyper-relaxed, even hypnotic state of consciousness that creates a dream-like state, allowing the subconscious to come forward," explains Toporsh.
Breathwork can be a challenging experience, and therefore shouldn't be done without a facilitator, says Toporsh.
Breathing techniques are a much more accessible practice that can be done anytime, anywhere. "They are safe for the average healthy individual and can be as short as taking one minute to tune into the breath and can go as long as sixty minutes if you want to take yourself into a deep breath meditation," Toporsh explains.
A breathing technique can be as simple as breathing in through your nose for four seconds and exhaling through your mouth for four seconds. Toporsh says that what's important is that these techniques allow us "to navigate stress from a state of rationality instead of panic."
Have a moment? Follow along with Toporsh as she leads a conscious breath technique: