You’re probably pretty used to taking a deep breath whenever you’re feeling stressed out or overwhelmed, so it should make intuitive sense that there's an entire practice behind using the breath to calm our minds and ease anxiety, amongst a whole slew of other benefits.
I first learned about the magic our breath holds at a wellness retreat earlier this year and instantly became enamored with its therapeutic results. Wanting to learn more, I reached out Siri Rishi Kaur—yogini, meditation facilitator, and KRI Kundalini teacher, who has 26 years of experience in breathing exercises and awareness of the breath under her belt (erm, perfectly flowy jumpsuit)—to show me the ropes.
Despite what you may think, breathwork is a lot more than just taking a few deep breathes to calm your nerves—much more. “The quality of breath directly effects the quality of our life, our health, our emotions, our mind, and our ability to feel connected,” says Rishi. “When we practice breathing exercises, we are relaxing the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing built-up toxins in our lungs, stimulating endorphins, stimulating our pituitary gland which will activate our intuition, cleaning our blood, strengthening our electromagnetic field, expanding our lung capacity, and balancing our brain hemispheres. The benefits are truly endless.”
Breathing exercises, referred to as Pranayam in the yogic tradition (meaning the science of breath, with “prana” standing for our life force or highest quality of energy), dates back to the beginning of civilization. “The oral teachings of yoga were codified and written several thousand years ago by Patanjali. The breath is the foundation of our life and of every yogic practice. No matter what style you’re teaching or practicing, it all begins and ends with the breath,” says Rishi.
According to Rishi, you can easily incorporate breathwork into your day by creating a simple routine of sitting and practicing long, deep breaths first thing in the morning or before going to bed to center your energy. Better yet, you can bring it right to your work or school day. In fact, as Rishi explains, some breathwork exercises are simple enough to do at our desks—or anywhere. “You can work on it by applying your awareness to your breath anywhere and anytime. It can be as simple as taking 10 long deep breathes, three times a day.”
“One thing we can all do is set aside small periods throughout the day where we practice a breathing technique for one to three minutes and observe how much more aware we are and how much easier it is to practice being mindful. The more mindful we are, the more compassionate we will be as a society.” If you’re someone that barely gets up from your desk, think of it as the perfect way to clear your mind in the middle of a hectic day.
Of course, you can aim for a deeper, more intensive practice, such as sitting for an hour and taking only one breath per minute. According to Rishi, there are hundreds of breathing exercises just in Kundalini yoga alone that work to do everything, from cleansing the breath and balancing the glandular nervous system to assisting in meditation.
Breathwork helps us become more present and aware, which, as Rishi explains, allows us to use our “neutral brain,” which makes us less likely to react to stressful scenarios. “Breathing exercises reduce anxiety and fear, which stems from the fight-or-flight part of our brain,” she says.
Why should we try it? “Because it’s the coolest thing on the planet to be centered, mentally stable, mentally flexible, sharp, open-hearted, in touch with our emotions in a balanced way, calm, and aware—in other words, mindful. Breathing exercises can give us an awareness that changes our whole vibrational field, and it’s easy, accessible, and free. It’s your breath!” Well, we can’t argue that.
Another reason to practice breathwork? We’re probably already breathing incorrectly. “Most people breathe short and shallow breaths, which means that our digestive system is not being stimulated correctly,” says Rishi. “If the digestive system, eliminatory system, liver, kidneys, and adrenal glands are not being stimulated and balanced, then we are more likely holding onto our ‘shit’ in more ways than one. I always like to let people know, if you breathe deep, you will be able to literally let go of the physical and mental ‘shit’ you’re holding onto in life. So, that includes physical toxins, old stories, and old patterns that are no longer serving you.”
Above, watch as Rishi takes us through five different breathing exercises to help do everything, from focusing harder to dispelling our “imaginary disabilities.” Whether you make them a part of your at-home morning or before-bed routines or use them as a midday quick fix in the office bathroom (hey, no judgment), treat the above as your intro to the healing world of breathwork. “The most important thing to remember is that your breath is the only element that your mind will obey. If you learn how to control your breath, you will be able to control your mind and your emotions. You’ll be able to stay in your venter in the midst of chaos,” says Rishi. Sounds good to us.