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Breathwork 101: Benefits & Techniques

Young woman with brown hair wearing black top and shorts doing yoga breathing excercise

Breathwork is the practice of controlling your breathing through various techniques to promote feelings of relaxation. If you are unfamiliar with breathwork exercise, you might recognize some techniques from popular meditation or yoga practices.

However, there are many applications for the breathwork technique, with modern practices that can be done with or without yoga. These techniques offer a variety of benefits to improve your wellness.

So what is breathwork and its benefits? In this article, we’ll explain how breathwork benefits your body and what techniques you can employ in your daily routine, along with how functional mushrooms can support it.

Origins of Breathwork

Breathwork is not a new concept. For thousands of years, ancient practices have used breathwork as a part of spiritual, meditation and healing practices. Notably, a breathing practice called Pranayama or “controlling the breath,” in Sanskrit, is a core component of yoga.

Pranayama originates from ancient India and is still used today. With over 50 techniques, each breathing pattern can be used for a different purpose. You might even recognize some of these common breath forms:1Ujjayi breath 

Ujjayi breath 

This type of breathing practice aims to calm your mind by inhaling and exhaling through the nose while keeping the mouth shut.

Fire breathing 

This method involves inhaling passively and exhaling so forcefully that you contract your abdominal muscles. It's believed to boost brain function and support healthy digestion. 

Belly breathing 

This technique can help those who experience shortness of breath. Those who practice belly breathing inhale deeply through their nose, filling their stomachs with air so that their bellies noticeably extend outward. 

Today, breathing techniques have been modified into a set of exercises that can be performed separately from yoga. Like yoga, each of these techniques can improve or pinpoint certain aspects of your health to support full-body wellness and relaxation.

3 Breathwork Techniques and Their Benefits

Generally, you can think of breathwork practices as a library that you can access and use at any given moment. Each book in this library provides you and your body with certain benefits that can help to improve vital system functions or manage the daily symptoms you’re experiencing.

These techniques can be easily broken down into two basic categories:1

  • Slow breathing – Slow breathing is intended to lower your heart rate and slow down your rate of breath, leading to calmer moods and lower levels of cortisol the body’s stress hormone.
  • Fast breathing – Fast breathing is intended to quicken your normal pace of breath, promoting adrenaline production by increasing cortisol levels and stimulating the body's natural responses. 

#1 Box Breathing

One slow breathing method you can employ is box breathing, also known as square breathing. The practice involves taking in slow, deep breaths for four counts each. This technique can benefit anyone: it is used by everyone from athletes to Navy SEALS to nurses to recenter their breath and refocus their minds. 

To begin, grab a comfortable chair to sit in. Place your feet flat on the ground and put your hands in your lap with your palms facing up. You should focus on straightening your posture as best you can. This breathing exercise also works best if you are in a relaxing environment:2

  • Step 1: Slowly exhale – Maintaining your straight posture, exhale all the air out of your lungs slowly. Focus on this for four counts.
  • Step 2: Hold breath – While all the air has been expended from your lungs, hold this position for four counts.
  • Step 3: Slowly inhale – Slowly inhale for four counts. As you do, you should fill your lungs to the point where you feel the air in your abdomen.
  • Step 4: Hold breath – Hold your breath for another count of four.
  • Step 5: Repeat – Repeat the steps above for the remainder of your allotted breathing exercise time.

Box breathing comes with a variety of benefits. Deep breathing like this has been shown to calm and regulate the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS controls the body’s involuntary processes, like lowering your blood pressure.

When you practice slow breathing, you build up more carbon dioxide in your bloodstream. With more CO2 present, your vagus nerve activates a cardio-inhibitory response that then stimulates the parasympathetic system, producing a relaxing sensation throughout your body.2

Do you want to learn more about how to support your lungs? Read our articles on lung cleansing herbs and poor air quality symptoms

#2 Alternate Nostril Breathing

This practice comes from yoga and is known as the Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, which means “subtle energy clearing breathing technique.”3 Alternate nostril breathing is another slow breathing technique that works similarly to box breathing, stimulating the ANS to prompt a relaxed response.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to practice alternate nostril breathing:3

  • Step 1 – Sit in a comfortable position with a straight back and legs crossed.

  • Step 2 – Place your left hand on your left knee.

  • Step 3 – Exhale and close your right nostril with your right-hand thumb.

  • Step 4 – Inhale through your left nostril then pinch your left nostril closed with your fingers.

  • Step 5 – Release your right nostril and exhale through the right nostril.

  • Step 6 – Inhale through the right nostril, close the nostril, then exhale through the left.

  • Step 7 – Once you’ve completed these steps this counts as one cycle. Repeat this cycle for up to five minutes, always finishing by exhaling through the left nostril.

Most notably, alternate nostril breathing has been shown to improve cardiovascular processes like your heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. Like other slow breathing techniques, focused breathing stimulates your blood vessels and lowers your heart rate to manage the ANS response and your stress levels.

#3 Breath of Fire Technique

This method is a fast breathing technique that’s used in Kundalini yoga. The main focus of this technique is on your abdominal muscles, which are used to contract and exhale your breath quickly.

If you’d like to practice breath of fire, here’s how to practice:4

  • Step 1 – Sit up straight in a cross-legged position.

  • Step 2 – For beginners, place one of your hands on your belly to focus on your breathing and the other on your knee, palm up.

  • Step 3 – Inhale through your nose and feel your belly expand.

  • Step 4 – Contract your abdominal muscles and exhale the air forcefully at the same interval.

  • Step 5 – Repeat this interval several times until you’re comfortable with the result.

  • Step 6 – Speed up the inhales and exhales, feeling your exhales get stronger with each new speed.

  • Step 7 – Continue for 30 seconds.

When you breathe quickly using the breath of fire technique, it reduces the activity of your sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which is responsible for your flight-or-fight response. This method also activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is your resting nervous system response. 

In other words, this fast breathing technique helps lower your stress responses through the nervous system and activates relaxation responses, overall improving the following:4

  • Lung function
  • Concentration
  • Digestion
  • Abdominal muscle strength

6 Benefits of Breathwork and How to Incorporate Herbs and Fungi

The concept of modern breathwork exercise is more like an umbrella term for a multitude of exercises. Think of breathwork techniques like yoga practices, where each method offers a unique benefit for your mind and body. This means that depending on the breathwork technique you employ, alongside specific mushroom supplements used, you can work on targeted areas of wellness improvement.

Over the years, these improvements have been shown to support a variety of the body’s systems. Implementing regular breathwork practice may help to:4

Manage stress 

Breathwork can help complete the body’s stress cycle by sending signals that inform the nervous system that a fight-or-flight response is no longer needed. Breathwork can also mitigate shortness of breath that might be brought on by unease or nervousness. In addition, integrating adaptogenic mushrooms like reishi, lion’s mane, and Cordyceps into your breathwork practice may help to reduce the negative effects of stress within your body. 

Strengthen lung capacity 

Healthcare professionals have recommended breathwork routines for patients with asthma, COPD, and chronic conditions. Based on a 2016 study, these exercises have been shown to improve the strength of the diaphragm and help promote greater oxygen intake.5 Many fungi and herbs like reishi, platycodon, and thyme have also been shown to support lung function, and you may benefit from an herbal treat before your breathwork practice. Cordyceps may also increase your body’s oxygen availability to help improve your breathwork technique.

Increase your energy 

Focusing on breathwork allows you to make a conscious effort to take in more oxygen with each breath. This can help target bad habits like shallow breathing, which leads to less energy and a weakened immune system over time. You can also incorporate mushrooms that tout energy-boosting benefits, including chaga mushrooms and Cordyceps mushrooms, which may also support immune functions and improve endurance.

Improve circulation and blood flow 

As you practice breathing techniques, the body begins to relax, allowing your heart to slow and your blood vessels to dilate. Increased circulation from a now controlled sympathetic nervous system leads to lower blood pressure. Mushrooms high in vitamin D, like oyster mushrooms, may also enhance heart health, affecting blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and cholesterol.6 So before you sit down, dine on oyster mushroom risotto or ravioli to pack your day with wellness and vitality.

Manage physical discomfort 

Breathing exercises may provide some relief when it comes to physical aches you may be experiencing throughout your body. A 2011 study found that controlled breathing techniques supported subjects in processing and managing their discomfort.7 A variety of fungi have also been found to aid inflammation and recovery, including Cordyceps, reishi, Antrodia Camphorata, and King Trumpet, which are packed with antioxidants.8

How Functional Mushrooms Support Breathwork

Ancient medicinal practices have implemented adaptogenic herbs and fungi for thousands of years. In addition to their nutrient-packed benefits, functional mushrooms are also loaded with antioxidants, which may reduce the risk of certain diseases like heart disease and certain cancers.9

When starting your breathwork journey, these functional fungi—which are often grown in dense forests or remote Himalayan peaks—can be helpful tools when releasing stress or physical discomfort from your body. Functional mushrooms include:

  • Reishi
  • Chaga
  • Cordyceps
  • Lion’s mane
  • Shiitake
  • Turkey Tail
  • Maitake
  • Enokitake
  • Oyster mushrooms
  • Tremella

Studies have shown that regular consumption of functional mushrooms can support immune functions and stress-relief to help you improve mind-body balance.10

If you’re not in the mood to couple your breathwork with a soul-finding trek to the Himalayas, you can often find functional mushrooms at local farmers markets, specialty wellness stores, or in a variety of practitioner-grade supplement solutions.

Manage Stress and Support Your Lungs With Plant People

Incorporating box, nostril, and breath of fire breathwork into your daily routine can help ease your mind and promote full-body circulation to bolster your wellness. 

If you’re looking for ways to boost your lung power in addition to breathwork, consider Plant People. Our Advanced Lung Guard, a regenerative mushroom supplement, can help unlock your lung capacity, boost your breathwork, and empower your immune system.

At Plant People, our supplements are organically grown and made with quality ingredients and researched-backed formulas to help you live happier and healthier. Breathe new life into your wellness routine with Plant People.

Reviewed by Gabe Kennedy

 Co-Founder of Plant People, Gabe Kennedy is an acclaimed chef and entrepreneur. Growing up in a house of healers and herbalists, he is passionate about the power of food as a tool for health, and actualized this passion and belief system into his company, Plant People. Named to Forbes 30 under 30 Gabe has shaped menus and cooked his way around the world with his mission to promote a more communal, green and healthy world.

 Gabe is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. You can learn more about his work at his website.


Sources: 

  1. Medium. What is Breathwork and Why is Everyone Obsessed With It? https://medium.com/@taraviswanathan/what-is-breathwork-and-why-is-everyone-obsessed-with-it-adb17c7aa97 
  2. Healthline. Box Breathing. https://www.healthline.com/health/box-breathing 
  3. Healthline. What Are the Benefits and Risks of Alternate Nostril Breathing? https://www.healthline.com/health/alternate-nostril-breathing 
  4. Healthline. The Benefits of Breath of Fire and How to Do It. https://www.healthline.com/health/breath-of-fire-yoga
  5. Healthline. What Are Adaptogenic Mushrooms? Benefits, Risks, and Types. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/adaptogenic-mushrooms
  6. Harvard School of Public Health. Mushrooms. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/mushrooms/ 
  7. National Library of Medicine. The effect of deep and slow breathing on pain perception, autonomic activity, and mood processing--an experimental study. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21939499/ 
  8. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Cordyceps militaris improves tolerance to high intensity exercise after acute and chronic supplementation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5236007/ 
  9. Better Health. Antioxidants. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/antioxidants 
  10. Healthline. What Are Chaga Mushrooms and Are They Healthy? https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/chaga-mushroom 
  11. Othership. 15 Breathwork Benefits: The Science Behind Breathing Practices. https://www.othership.us/resources/breathwork-benefits 

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