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When In Doubt, Breathe It Out: Using Breathwork to Navigate Common Stressors

Updated: Apr 14

You've been breathing your whole life, right? You may think you've got a pretty decent handle on it.

But, you may have just barely scratched the surface, if you're anything like I was before Yoga. Or, worse yet, you may be doing it wrong.

Ouch, right? How could you be breathing wrong? The majority of the time, it's a fairly automated process. The first step here is to begin to bring more awareness to how you're breathing, or more importantly, where you're breathing.

What is Diaphragmatic Breathing?

Most of the answer is right there in the name. Actively engaging the diaphragm allows you to access the lungs' full capacity. It's deeper breathing than the average shallow breathing that occurs automatically.

So, take a breath right now. Notice what body parts are moving as you inhale and exhale. If most of the movement is in the shoulders and chest, you are very likely not engaging the diaphragm. If you are getting noticeable, visible movement in the belly, and feeling the sensations of expansion and contraction, you are on the right track!

For a more in-depth look at Diaphragmatic Breathing, check out this page.

Learning how to bring awareness to your breath is only the first step. There are so many techniques out there that allow us to utilize the breath to improve our health and everyday lives. But before we dive into a few of these methods, how about a quick rundown of the benefits?

It improves Lung Function

I realize that seems obvious. But it's more than just fully utilizing the lungs during each breath. The strengthening of the muscles used for active breathwork can actually benefit those suffering from afflictions such as asthma, or pneumonia.

It lowers Heart Rate & Blood Pressure

If you are one of the millions who own Fitness Trackers, odds are you know your Resting Heart Rate. In this moment, if you were to look at your current RHR, and then were to take 3 long, slow, deep breaths, you would see the instant decline in beats per minute.

It can improve Cognitive Performance, Focus and Mindfulness

This can get pretty science-y, so if you are into that kinda stuff, have at it. The quick and dirty is this:

  • Increased Oxygen Uptake = Better Brain Function

  • Increased Self-Awareness (and Presence) = Better Ability to Focus & Concentrate

It can lower Stress & Anxiety

As you learn to slow down and/or control the breath, you simultaneously develop the ability to activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which is responsible for the "Rest & Digest" activities of the body. You effectively stop the release of the cortisol that flows freely during the "Fight or Flight" Response and instead trigger the release of hormones such as dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin.

And as a result...

It improves Sleep! And Boosts Immunity! Are you feeling more at ease, already??

The real benefit I want to talk about is this: I LOVE and adamantly advocate for practicing meditation, BUT in a true moment of perceived stress, I am not always able to properly engage with my meditation practice. And in those cases, I use breathwork first.

So, onto a few Techniques:

Box Breathing

This breathing technique is appropriately named as it includes four equal counts: one set for each phase of the breathing process. The following visual is helpful.

Imagine tracing an outline of a box in front of you.

  • You would float your finger up in the air during your inhale,

  • Then float your finger horizontally to one side as you hold the inhaled air in your lungs,

  • Float your finger back down as you exhale

  • And then float your finger horizontally to the other side as you hold your breath, lungs emptied

How to do it:

Inhale through the nose for a count of 4* seconds. Hold the inhale for a count of 4 seconds.

Exhale through the mouth for a count of 4 seconds.

Hold the exhale for a count of 4 seconds.

*Or 3, or 5, or 10. Just keep the count the same for all 4 phases.

WebMD's breakdown of Box Breath

Three-Part Breathing

Here we have a more involved version of basic diaphragmatic breathing. In this method, we aim first to "fill the belly" with air, then "inflate the ribs" and then breathe into the chest. The goal again is to experience the full capacity of the lungs. It can be done seated or lying down.

How to do it:

Inhale through the nose, focusing on the "inflating" of the belly.

Exhale through the nose, focusing on the "deflating" of the belly.

Inhale through the nose, fill the belly, and then also allow the ribs to expand with the breath.

Exhale through the nose, allowing the ribs to contract with the breath and the belly to empty.

Inhale through the nose, fill the belly, then the ribs, and then allow the chest to rise with the breath.

Exhale through the nose, allowing the chest fall, the ribs to contract, and the belly to empty.

For a whole lot more of Three-Part Breath, check this out.

4-7-8 Breathing

I discovered Andrew Weil during my IIN course. He demonstrated this advanced breathing technique during a lecture he gave and I was quite impressed by the myriad of health benefits he cited.

How to do it:

Inhale through the nose for a count of 4 seconds. Hold the inhale for a count of 7 seconds.

Exhale through pursed lips for a count of 8 seconds. See him explain and demonstrate the breathwork here.

And there are so many more, y'all!

I encourage you to play around with these or other techniques and please, let me know how it's going!

So, yea... When in Doubt, Breathe it Out!

Want to know more about Breathwork? These articles are a great start:


Healthline: 10 Breathing Techniques for Stress Relief and More

Yoga Journal: BEGINNER YOGA HOW TO - What is Pranayama?

Big Love, Bright Light, and Purely Positive Vibes,


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