Breathwork For Mental Health

Often in times of stress or chaos, we are told to “just breathe”.  Whether or not this is meant with sincerity, we can probably all agree it is quite unhelpful and makes us want to breathe less.  Often times in my work with clients, I find that they are resistant to trying breath work until they are desperate. And while breathwork can be an invaluable tool it is not a cure all. Instead of only considering breathwork  during times of stress or anxiety, I invite you to consider making it a regular part of your wellness routine. Creating the space and time for this practice on a regular basis, will help you soak up all of the amazing benefits it has to offer. 

How can Breathwork help your mental health?

Research shows that when you mindfully move your breath, it can enhance immunity, increase a state of relaxation, support your emotional, mental, and physical health (1).   Typically, we are breathing unconsciously, it is our body’s way of maintaining functioning.  However, we can also shift our breath to be more intentional. The term pranayama itself means “conscious breathing”.  When we are conscious, or mindful, we are able to connect with our nervous system. In doing this we can create a better connection between our mind and our body.  

When we remain connected to our breath, we also remain connected to our brain.  Think of your brain as a muscle. You can train to strengthen this muscle and connection through many different practices.  The invitation today is to consider pranayama as your next workout for strengthening your brain.  The more you “work it”, the stronger it becomes.  The stronger it becomes, the more regulated your nervous system will be.  And when our nervous system is functioning properly, we are able to meet challenging experiences with more clarity and calmness.  We are able to find more joy in our day to day lives.

So, where do we even begin? 

Below are five breathing practices that only require a minute or so, and can be utilized anytime, anywhere.  Find what resonates with you, cultivate a practice, and see just how powerful this practice can be! 

Lion’s Breath

  • Sit on your knees, or find a comfortable position for your body.
  • If it feels safe to do so, close your eyes.
  • Take a deep, cleansing inhale through your nose.
  • Exhale through your mouth. Repeat if that feels good.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose, try to aim for 4+ seconds.
  • Open your mouth wide and stick your tongue out.
  • Exhale through your mouth. (If you want to tap into your inner child, feel free to let out a loud ROAR!)

Lion’s breath has added benefits of reducing anger and tension in your body.

Seated Twist

  • Finding a comfortable seat either on a chair or the ground on your knees.
  • Take a deep, cleansing inhale through your nose.
  • Exhale deeply through your nose.
  • Place both hands on your shoulders, with your thumbs behind your shoulders and the rest of your fingers resting on top of them.
  • As you inhale, twist your upper body to the right (left elbow will be facing the front of the room, right will be facing behind you).
  • As you exhale, twist your upper body to the left (right elbow to the front, left to the back).
  • Inhale to the right.
  • Exhale to the left.
  • For the first 5 twists, practice slowly and mindfully.
  • As you continue to find deep breaths, speed up the practice.
  • Inhaling to the right.
  • Exhaling back to the left.
  • Practice this for 20-30 twists, or whatever feels comfortable for your body.

This is another practice that can help alleviate tension and stress from your body. 

Cooling Breath: 

  • Finding a comfortable seat wherever you are.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose.
  • Exhaling through your mouth.
  • On your next inhale, curl your tongue and inhale through your curled tongue.
  • If you are unable to curl your tongue, you are invited to inhale through your teeth with your lips parted and tongue behind your teeth.
  • Exhale through your nose. If you feel called, during each exhale you can meet your tongue with the roof of your mouth.
  • Practice this deeply and slowly for several minutes if the time allows.

Cooling breath can help refresh the body and mind.

3 Part Breath: 

  • Feel free to lay on your back on the ground. You can also practice this seated as well.
  • Close your eyes or lower your gaze.
  • Take a deep, cleansing breath through the nose, inhaling and exhaling deeply.
  • Connect to your entire body, repeating the cleansing breath for as long as you need to.
  • When you are ready, slowly inhale, filling the belly with your breath, allowing your belly to expand.
  • As you exhale, release the air from your belly and releasing your navel towards your spine.
  • Practice part one for a few rounds.
  • Next, inhale slowly filling the belly. When the belly is filled, continue to inhale a little more to fill up the rib cage.
  • On your exhale, release the breath from the rib cage first, and then from the belly. Releasing your navel towards your spine.
  • Practice part two for a few rounds.
  • Finally, inhale slowly filling the belly. Expanding the breath into the rib cage. Sipping in a bit more air to fill the upper chest all the way up through the collarbone.
  • On the exhale, release first from the upper chest, second from the rib cage, and finally from the belly.
  • Practice this final step for a few rounds.
  • Close with a deep inhale through the nose.
  • Exhale through the nose.

This practice has many benefits, and one of the most important being the connection between your breath and your body.   

Alternate Nostril Breathing: 

  • Find a comfortable seat with a straight spine.
  • Relax your left hand with your palm faced down to stay grounded.
  • Using your right hand, rest your pointer and middle fingers on your eyebrows. You will use your thumb and ring finger during this practice.
  • Close your eyes and take a deep, cleansing breath. Inhale through your nose, exhale through your nose.
  • Using your right thumb, close your right nostril and inhale through your left nostril.
  • Using your right ring finger, close your left nostril so both nostrils are closed. For just a second, retain your breath.
  • Release your right thumb, exhale through your right nostril.
  • Inhale through your right nostril. Using your right thumb, close your right nostril so both are closed. For a second retain your breath.
  • Release your right ring finger, exhale through your left nostril.
  • Continue to repeat for 5 to 10 cycles.

Alternate nostril breathing supports the connection of the two hemispheres of the brain.  In doing so, we can witness a reduction in anxiety and improvement in focus! 

*It is important to allow yourself a moment or so after practicing any pranayama exercise.  This allows your mind and body to reintegrate to your environment.

*All of these practices are rooted in the ancient traditions of Yoga. We honor and thank the ancestors and traditional teachers that have brought this knowledge to us.  

*If you have any underlying health conditions, please contact your medical doctor before practicing these exercises.


That's So Well Therapist Arielle

It's me, Arielle!

Holistic Therapist, Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and Yoga Instructor in Elk Grove, California.

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