March 21, 2021, Publisher: Lee Mendeloff
Breathwork is proven to be extremely beneficial to both mental health and immunity. Now more than ever, your breath is your superpower. It can heal and it can transform. Once you become aware of your breath’s potential and the many benefits of breathing exercises, there’s no going back.
The pandemic had an unprecedented effect on the mental health of the general population. This resulted in a sustained lack of access to mental health professionals and mental healthcare in general. Although there is no substitute for professional intervention if it’s required, many are simply overwhelmed and struggling to cope with the enormity of the current global situation. Of course, it’s only natural to feel anxious when the future seems so uncertain. However, sustained time spent in a stress response can have a lasting negative impact on the immune system and even impede brain function. Breathwork can help deal with these effects and even improve immune response.
Research shows that by simply slowing down the rate of your breath, you can dramatically reduce the effects of stress. By breathing at a rate of 6-8 breaths per minute, you can tap into the “rest and digest” response of the body, controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system. This means getting out of the “fight, flight or freeze” response induced by the sympathetic nervous system, which is activated under stressful conditions.
In addition to staving off stress, deep, diaphragmatic breathing has been scientifically proven to help manage symptoms of mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression. Your breath is always with you and can be a powerful tool in combating mental health problems. Integrating a regular breathwork practice into your daily routine is one way to cope with, and even reverse the negative effects of modern life and help you feel your best again.
Breathwork not only helps to cultivate calm, but a regular practice also contributes to greater immune response. This was evidenced in a now famous study involving the extreme athlete and breathwork legend, Wim Hof.
In the study, healthy participants were divided into two groups - one half learned breathwork techniques from Hof over four days and the other half did not. Both groups were then injected with a bacterial endotoxin, which should have made them ill. Those who had trained with Hof showed a significantly reduced response to the endotoxin, which led the researchers to conclude, “(t)he present study demonstrates that, through practicing techniques learned in a short-term training program, the sympathetic nervous system and immune system can indeed be voluntarily influenced.”
In a further study, which examined the relationship between the respiratory system and the vagal nerve, it was found that by practicing slow, deep breathing with extended exhalations, respiratory vagal nerve stimulation (rVNS) could be achieved.
Through rVNS, it is possible to promote what is called “vagal dominance,” which is when the parasympathetic nervous system is more active than the sympathetic nervous system. It is in this state of vagal dominance that “better immune functioning and attenuation of inflammatory conditions” were observed.
These results are certainly encouraging and support what ancient civilizations have known for centuries: Breathwork is a holistic practice that supports all aspects of your personhood - mind, body, and soul. By tuning into your body’s natural functions, you have the ability to achieve greater health outcomes for yourself. By simply harnessing the power of your breath you can soothe your mind, improve immunity and increase overall wellbeing.
Your breath really is your superpower, and there is no better time to start using it than now. Join the Breath Hub community to learn more about your breath and how to reap its many benefits.