The Power of Breathwork for Mental Health

Learning to breathe has been one of the most impactful tools for my healing.

When you experience trauma, on any level, the last thing you want to do is intentionally unite your body and mind. Stillness is scary; being present is scary. It is easier to run away, literally and figuratively, which sometimes can only lead to further dysregulation and disconnection between body and mind.

The connection is in the breath. Bringing balance to your breath impacts just about every single function of your body. For some reason, though, this tool goes underutilized by most people. Maybe it’s not “hard enough.” Maybe we don’t want to slow down long enough to try it. The excuses vary, but the takeaway must be – learn to breathe!

Top benefits of breathwork:

  1. It takes you out of fight/flight/freeze. It resets your nervous system, taking your body from a sympathetic state to a parasympathetic, “rest and digest” state. Most people are living in a rushed, anxious state all the time, when our bodies were designed to be in balance. We were designed to recover from fight or flight, not stay trapped in it. Deep breathing resets the balance. In fact, each of the following benefits will all come back to balancing the autonomic nervous system in some way.
  2. It eliminates toxins. In fact, 84% of fat lost is exhaled through your breath, something I recently learned from my friend, Chelsea Blackbird. When you are breathing through your nose and exhaling through your mouth, you rid your body of waste and buildup.
  3. It tells your body it’s safe. When we are taking quick, shallow breaths through our mouths all day long, we keep our body in a stressed out state. Your body will respond to these cues by activating protective mechanisms, like shutting down digestion, changing blood pressure, affecting blood sugar issues and fat storage, among other important changes.
  4. It changes brain waves. When you breathe through your nose, it creates coherence between different parts of your brain. We need that balance to make good decisions, slow down our impulses, remember and retain information, and create empathy for others.
  5. It boosts the immune system. Nasal breathing helps reduce the load of pathogens that are inhaled. But more importantly, your immune system cannot work effectively in chronic sympathetic (fight or flight) state.
  6. It improves digestion and optimizes nutrient absorption. What do I always say? A body in stress won’t digest. When breathing is slowed, the body can calm down in order to use all the information received by food and nutrition, in order to process and convert that information into useful neurotransmitters, hormonal changes, and just about every function in the body. So instead of “you are what you eat,” you are actually what you think when you eat.
  7. It improves stress resilience. It’s one thing to be able to calm down and regulate yourself in stressful situations. But because our bodies are designed to work in balance between distress and recovery, we need to be able to create reslience so that when we are stressed, the effects are minimal and temporary. One way we can learn to do this is by creating a higher heart rate variability. And you create a higher heart rate variability by… you guessed it. Learning to breathe slowly and intentionally.

Clearly, breathing has an impact on so much more than mental health. But because the health of your brain affects everything, the health of your breath also affects everything. I encourage you to take time this week to slow down, take a deep breath, and let it all out.

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