Breathwork 101: A Comprehensive Guide to the Practice and Benefits of Controlled Breathing
As a brand inspired by the outdoor and island lifestyle, we believe in the importance of honoring and connecting with the natural world around us. One of the most essential ways we do this is through our breath. Breathing is a universal human experience, connecting us to the rhythms of the ‘āina (land) and the movement of the ocean.
Beyond that, breathwork is a powerful tool that promotes overall health, mental well-being, and a feeling of aloha—something we’re always in favor of here at OluKai. By becoming conscious of our breath, we can reduce stress, improve our sleep, and even tap into our inner wisdom and creativity.
In this blog, we'll explore the origins and history of breathwork, different types of breathwork practices, the science behind breathwork, and tips on how to incorporate it into your daily routine. We even asked director, actor, and breathwork advocate Justin Baldoni to share his favorite method, box breathing. Whether you're a seasoned practitioner or new to the world of breathwork, we hope you find some inspiration here.
The History and Origins of Breathwork Practices
The origins of breathwork can be traced all the way back to ancient cultures and spiritual traditions around the world.
In Eastern cultures, breathwork has been an integral part of spiritual practices like yoga, meditation, and qigong for thousands of years. The Indian sage Patanjali, who lived around 200 BCE, wrote extensively about pranayama, a form of yogic breathing that involves breath control and regulation. In China, qigong has a long history of incorporating breathing exercises into its practice. Qigong, which means "life energy cultivation," involves a combo of movement, meditation, and trained breathing.
In the Western world, breathwork has also been used for centuries as a tool for healing and transformation. The ancient Greeks and Romans practiced rhythmic breathing as a means of achieving altered states of consciousness, while the Christian tradition has long used breathwork as a form of prayer and contemplation.
These days, breathwork has become a popular tool for stress reduction, relaxation, and self-exploration among wellness lovers and scientists alike.
Types of Breathwork Practices and Their Goals
There are multiple different types of breathwork practices to choose from if you’re just getting your feet wet, each with its own unique goals. Here are some of the most popular forms:
1. Pranayama: This is a form of yoga that involves a variety of breathing exercises aimed at increasing vitality, reducing stress, and calming the mind.
2. Holotropic Breathwork: This practice involves a series of deep, fast breathing techniques aimed at inducing a non-ordinary state of consciousness.
3. Wim Hof Method: This is a practice developed by Dutch athlete Wim Hof, which combines deep breathing, cold exposure, and meditation to improve physical and mental health.
4. Buteyko Breathing: This is a form of breathing therapy that focuses on reducing the amount of air that is breathed in order to improve breathing efficiency and reduce symptoms of asthma and other respiratory conditions.
5. Box Breathing: Box breathing is a breathing technique that involves taking slow, deep breaths in a specific pattern. The pattern typically involves breathing in for a certain count, holding the breath for the same count, exhaling for the same count, and holding the breath again for the same count. The resulting breaths form a "box" shape, which is where the technique gets its name
The Science Behind Breathwork and How it Affects our Mind and Body
Breathwork has been scientifically shown to provide several health benefits. One of the primary benefits of breathwork is its ability to reduce stress. A study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that slow and deep breathing reduced stress and anxiety levels in university students (1). According to Dr. Richard Brown, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and co-author of The Healing Power of the Breath, slow, deep breathing signals the body to calm down and can help reduce the production of stress hormones like cortisol (2).
Breathwork can also induce relaxation, promote feelings of calmness, and improve your quality of sleep. A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that yogic breathing techniques reduced anxiety and induced relaxation in healthy adults (3). Dr. Andrew Weil, a physician and author who has researched breathwork extensively, notes that breathing exercises can quickly calm the mind and body (4). A second study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that a technique called slow-paced respiration reduced sleep latency and improved sleep quality in patients with insomnia (5).
Outside of stress relief, relaxation, and improved sleep aside, breathwork delivers on a boatload of other awesome benefits, including improved cardiovascular function, enhanced cognitive performance, and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. Whatever health benefit you’re looking to improve this year, consider it the newest tool in your self-care toolkit.
Common Myths and Misconceptions about Breathwork
Breathwork is a powerful tool, but there are also plenty of common myths and misconceptions floating around that can lead to confusion or even skepticism about the practice.
One myth is that breathwork is only for spiritual or religious people. While breathwork has been used in many spiritual and religious traditions, it’s not inherently tied to any particular belief system. In fact, many modern breathwork practices are secular and focus on the physiological effects of conscious breathing.
Another misconception is that there is only one "right" way to do breathwork. Breathwork encompasses a wide range of techniques and practices, and what works for one person may not work for another. It's important to experiment and find what works best for you.
There is also the belief that breathwork is only useful for stress relief. While breathwork is absolutely effective for reducing stress and anxiety, it can also be used to promote greater focus, creativity, and self-awareness. Breathwork can also be a powerful tool for improving physical health, such as reducing blood pressure and improving lung function.
Finally, some people believe that breathwork is a quick fix. Like any practice, breathwork requires time, consistency, and patience to see lasting results. While some people may experience immediate benefits from a single breathwork session, most will need to practice regularly over time to see significant changes. Patience is a virtue!
How to Incorporate Breathwork Into your Daily Routine
Incorporating breathwork into your daily routine can be a powerful tool for managing stress, improving focus, and promoting overall well-being. Here are some tips on how to practice breathwork for relaxation and stress relief and what to expect during a breathwork session:
1. Start with small steps: Start with just a few minutes of breathwork each day and gradually increase the time as you become more comfortable and confident with the techniques.
2. Find a comfortable space: Find a quiet and comfortable space where you can practice breathwork without distractions. This could be a dedicated meditation space or a quiet corner of your home.
3. Choose a technique that works for you: Explore different breathwork techniques and find the one that resonates with you. Some popular techniques include diaphragmatic breathing, alternate nostril breathing, and box breathing.
4. Set a regular practice time: Set a regular time each day for your breathwork practice. This could be in the morning to start your day or in the evening to wind down before bed.
5. Use guided meditations: Use guided meditations to help you stay focused and relaxed during your breathwork practice. There are many guided meditations available online and through meditation apps.
6. Incorporate breathwork into other activities: You can incorporate breathwork into other activities such as yoga, running, or even during your daily commute. Use breathwork to help you stay focused and calm during these activities.
7. Be consistent: Consistency is key when it comes to incorporating breathwork into your daily routine. Set a goal for yourself and commit to practicing breathwork every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
At OluKai, we understand the importance of approaching wellness in a thoughtful, holistic, and natural way. This guide and Justin Baldoni’s box breathing tutorial were designed to help you connect with yourself and the world around you, allowing you to experience a deeper sense of connection, inner peace, and aloha.
1. Kim, S., Lee, B., & Kim, M. J. (2018). The effect of deep breathing on university students' stress and cortisol levels. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 25(4), 422-429.
2. Brown, R. P., & Gerbarg, P. L. (2012). The Healing Power of the Breath: Simple Techniques to Reduce Stress and Anxiety, Enhance Concentration, and Balance Your Emotions. Shambhala.
3. Jerath, R., Edry, J. W., Barnes, V. A., & Jerath, V. (2006). Physiology of long pranayamic breathing: neural respiratory elements may provide a mechanism that explains how slow deep breathing shifts the autonomic nervous system. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 12(9), 847-857.
4. Weil, A., & Vranich, B. (2020). The Science of Breath: A Practical Guide. Penguin.
5. Khazaie, H., Rezaie, L., Tahmasian, M., & Roshanaei, G. (2019). The effect of slow-paced respiration on quality of sleep: A clinical trial. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 15(4), 535-541.