The Power and Benefits of Breathwork for Health and Longevity
Breathing is an automatic and continuous activity through every minute of every day. Perhaps your most under-the-radar reflex, you take in and let out between 12 to 30 breaths per minute, coming to an impressive 17,000 breaths per day.
But while daily breaths are our instinctive power source, inserting some control in the form of breathwork can energize your emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being.
This article will explore benefits of the ancient practice of breathwork for keeping you centered and boosting longevity. To enjoy these advantages, we’ll be sharing the different methods of maneuvering your air intake to achieve improved breath patterns.
Introduction to Breathwork
Breathwork refers to different styles of manipulating the rhythm and depth of the air you take in and let out to produce healing in the mind and body.
This practice is considered a form of therapy or even active meditation by many, with different breathing techniques linked to positive and transformative changes in the body.
Our ancestors unlocked the powers of this process early, with breath exercises dating back millennia. Pranayama, one of the earliest forms of breathwork has been observed for close to 5000 years, and is still in popular practice today. Tibetan Buddhists honed the craft of vase breathing, where periods of breath holding are alternated with contractions to the abdominal and pelvic muscles until the lower belly juts out like a vase or pot. Likewise, conscious connected breathing was commonly found among psychedelic communities—here, participants would inhale and exhale without the usual pause to stimulate consciousness and ease the mind.
In more recent times, scientific and medical research have evolved a technique known as coherent/resonant frequency breathing, where breathing is slowed to around five or six breaths per minute to increase heart rate variability.
Within these options, simply adapting different forms of breathing patterns and techniques have led participants to enjoy heightened control over their consciousness and well-being. However, these are only a few of the known approaches to breathwork. The question is, what form of breathwork is best suited for you?
Types of Breathwork
Breathing is a standard practice, easy enough to do in your sleep. But by being mindful and making variations to the pace or force of breathing in and taking air out, you can begin to consciously observe breath-centered meditations.
There are quite a few different techniques to this process, such as:
To practice holotropic breathing (HB), you’ll need one instructor, an open mind, rhythmic music, and a sketch pad.
HB is practiced by alternating breathing at a fast rate for anywhere between minutes to hours. Translated to “moving towards wholeness,” holotropic breathwork combines faster and deeper breathing to unlock a higher state of consciousness.
Music is usually a key feature of this session, with the experience followed by a period of self-discovery where participants draw mandalas about their session, and narrate how the exercise impacts their outlook.
There are an increasing number of workshops being held in various locations worldwide, and being surrounded by others doing this same practice guided by a master can be beneficial.
If you’ve ever practiced yoga, your routine was likely supported with breathing exercises, otherwise known as pranayama. This technique is the core component of yoga exercises, and is the combination of two Sanskrit words ‘prana’ and ‘ayama’ meaning expansion, regulation, and control.
There’s no one way to carry out pranayama. You can choose rapid diaphragmatic breathing, slow/deep breathing, alternate nostril breathing, and breath holding/retention exercises, usually while seated. Remember to relax the muscles in your belly, letting your stomach puff out with each breath, and to relax your shoulders.
This yogic breathing has been found to strengthen a deeper link between the body and mind, with added holistic benefits for emotional and physical well-being.
The Buteyko method is a trusted approach for managing some chronic breathing challenges, especially those brought on by exercise. This method adopts different techniques to reconfigure established breathing patterns.
By partaking in Buteyko breathing techniques (named after the Ukrainian doctor, Konstantin Buteyko), you can learn more efficient breathing patterns. This approach teaches different breath retention exercises that help to retrain the speed and volume of your breath.
In a study carried out on 32 children with a chronic respiratory condition, researchers discovered the addition of Buteyko breathing techniques to complement treatment strategies led to improved outcomes.
Box breathing is so effective at managing stress, members of the military often adopt it to manage tense encounters.
Also known as square breathing, this is a deep breathing technique that regulates air intake by slowing the pace of the breath. It is essentially a distraction technique, tricking your mind into a different, calmer narrative by requiring a count to four while practicing the breathing method. Some scientists assert that it moves your body from a state of sympathetic dominance to parasympathetic dominance, from stressed fight or flight to rest and digest, and that’s something we can all benefit from more of.
Benefits of Breathwork
Breath techniques are some of the easiest, most effective means of improving your well-being and your longevity. Not only do these breath patterns have little barrier to entry—you can do them standing, lying down, walking, etc.—these exercises do not require equipment, and can be practiced at no cost in high or low energy periods.
Beyond the ease of carrying out breathing techniques, these exercises have a direct impact for improving physical and mental wellness, both of which impact your ability to increase your lifespan.
Breathwork boosts physical health
In stressful situations, it’s common to hear recommendations to breathe or relax through the process. This is great advice as breath control is proven to manage stress and anxiety.
Regular pranayama for instance, is known to decrease sympathetic activity, otherwise known as your body’s fight or flight response. These breathing structures increase parasympathetic tone which restores the body to a calm state.
Yogic breathing has also been proven to boost immunity by prolonging white blood cell lifespans through its efficient regulation of the lymphatic system. Patients with cardiovascular diseases are also encouraged to practice breathing techniques because of the impact in reducing stress and anxiety levels.
Your breathing can improve sleep patterns
If you struggle with getting rest at night, deep breathing exercises can help you relax and place your body in a tranquil state.
Slow breathing can induce you to sleep, thanks to the melatonin produced from this action. Added to the fact that slow breathing decreases sympathetic arousal, this effect contributes to sleep-improvement benefits.
Breathwork for cognitive benefits
We’re still unlocking the potential powers of altering our breathing patterns, but one key benefit coming to light is the impact on complex processes like memory.
By using simple, deep breathing practices, you can improve your working memory, strengthening your ability to build and retain motor skills.
This practice can also improve your verbal performance and limit the course of negative emotions.
Breathing patterns can deepen meditation practices
Breath patterns form the basis of many meditation and mindful practice systems. By focusing on every breath taken and let out, these techniques help to boost concentration and focus on the present moment.
Your breath can anchor the connection between body and mind, intensifying the meditative experience.
Breathing exercises for longevity
Your breathing can impact mood, physical well-being, and as research is discovering—raise your chances of increased longevity.
To understand how, early analyses suggest increased oxygen levels in the lungs made possible via alterations in breathing patterns can boost metabolic pathways in the body and strengthen respiratory facilities. These features can lead to increased lifespan.
The accuracy of this theory was observed in patients with lung growths over the course of 10 years. By practicing morning breathing exercises, scientists found improved oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in patients helped to improve survival outcomes in participants.
Breathwork, an age-old practice with deep roots in ancient traditions, remains a powerful tool in our modern toolkit for wellness. From the fast-paced rhythms of holotropic breathing to the steady ebb and flow of box breathing, each technique serves a purpose, offering a unique pathway to enhanced mental clarity, emotional balance, and physical vitality.
Through intentional manipulation of the breath, you’ll tap into a reservoir of potential benefits, ranging from improved sleep and cognitive function to improved longevity. While breathing may be an involuntary act we often take for granted, the act of conscious breathing is a transformative one. By embracing breathwork, we don't merely sustain life, but we elevate the quality of our existence, grounding ourselves in the present moment and unlocking the profound potential within each inhalation and exhalation. Embracing breathwork means embracing a life of heightened awareness, serenity, and vitality. Your breath is not just a testament to life; it's an avenue to an enriched, purposeful, and harmonious existence.
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