As we all know, Macleans can be quite stressful at times. So what can we do to reduce our levels of stress? Listen to music? But we can’t listen to music during school! Scream? We’re all gonna get sent to SAS immediately! How about meditating? In a busy classroom? I don’t think so. We need something that will help reduce our stress levels without the use of additional tools, or a certain environment.

So… why don’t we try breathing? Okay, I know that sounds absurd. You may not notice this but your breathing tends to become fast and shallow when you’re stressed. This is the stress triggering your body’s fight-or-flight response. By taking the time to breathe deeply and slowly, you tell your brain that everything is okay and it passes the message throughout your body that it’s safe to relax and the fight-or-flight response decreases allowing your body to begin  working normally again. But I’m not talking about just breathing normally but being aware of your breathing and controlling it through breathing exercises and techniques. Read through this article to understand what breathwork is and learn a few beginner’s breathwork exercises.

Breathwork is any breathing done in a conscious and systematic way; any breathing techniques or exercises can be referred to as breathwork. Breathwork is an active form of meditation that helps the body disconnect from the mind. Breathing in helps to nourish the mind and body  while breathing out helps to release toxins, stress and even negative thoughts that do not support your growth. By intentionally changing your breathing pattern, it may help improve all four aspects of your hauora (health and well-being). 

Now that you know what breathwork is… let me just casually name a bunch of benefits:

  • Aids in positive self-development
  • Increases joy and happiness
  • Elevates your mood
  • Helps you overcome addictions
  • Releases negative thoughts
  • Reduces stress and anxiety levels
  • Boosts immunity
  • Helps process emotions and heal emotional pain/trauma
  • Develop life skills
  • Develop or increase self-awareness
  • Increase confidence, self-image, and self-esteem
  • Enrich creativity
  • Improve personal and professional relationships
  • Alkalizes your blood PH
  • Anti-inflammatory effect

And there you go, a bunch of reasons why people practise breathwork.

Here’s 3 good beginner’s breathwork exercises you can try:

1) This first one is for when you feel overwhelmed, anxious, angry, simply triggered or have trouble sleeping. It’s called ‘The Relaxing Breath’ a technique developed by Andrew Weil, M.D., it’s also known as 4-7-8 breathing. This breathing technique slows your heart rate and nervous system to help bring you a feeling of peace and calm.

How to do it:

The traditional way of doing 4-7-8 breathing is to empty the lungs of air, then to breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and finally to exhale out of the mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat  this at least 4 times.

2) This next one is for when you’re having trouble sleeping, or when you need a little energy boost because you still couldn’t sleep the night before school. It goes by many names: Box breathing, Square breathing, 4-4-4-4 breathing, tactical breathing, or the Navy SEAL breathing technique. Try this one in the morning to wake up, or in the middle of the day during school, or before doing something important that requires your focus. Give it a go anytime, anywhere from when you’re overly distracted in class or exercising so hard in PE that you can’t talk.

How to do it:

To practise this technique, start by releasing all of the air from your chest, and hold your breath for 4 seconds, then breathe through the nose for 4 seconds, then hold your breath for 4 seconds, then exhale out of the nose for 4 seconds. Repeat this cycle for 5 minutes to feel the effects.

3) The last one is for when you feel yourself getting worked up and you’re feeling upset, nervous, or anxious. It’s called the 5-5 or 5-5-5 breathing technique. You can use this particular breathing technique to calm yourself down, it helps by triggering your parasympathetic nervous system (the part of your nervous system that relaxes your body after periods of stress or danger). 

How to do it:

To start, focus on the natural rhythm of your breath in order to obtain a baseline length of each inhale and exhale. Then for 1 minute, breathe in for 4 seconds, and exhale for 4 seconds. Then repeat for 5 seconds, then repeat for 6 seconds, and if you want to, gradually expand to 10 seconds. Start with 5 minutes total and work your way up over time to 20 minutes (if you’re feeling really upset).

Give any of these three techniques a go when you’re feeling stressed and see which one works for you. If you want to read more on these techniques you can go to the website I summarised this information from Remember to take care of yourself, something as simple as breathing could help you with your future endeavours at Macleans and afterwards.

Written by Kelly Li and edited by Adelina Jones. Published on 16/5/2023. Header image by Sophia Pu.

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