With everything you've got going on, it can be easy to forget and neglect one of the most basic and essential functions necessary to stay alive: breathing. At some point, you've probably had someone tell you to focus on your breath, but you may be wondering what exactly that means, and why it's important.
From a scientific perspective, "Diaphragmatic breathing may trigger body relaxation responses and benefit both mental and physical health," according to a 2017 study in Frontiers in Psychology. Breathwork can also improve your heart rate variability (the variation in time between each heartbeat), which as a result can improve your mood, health, and how you adapt to stress. If you're thinking now is a great moment to take a full breath, you're right.
"I define breathwork as reframing the nervous system's response and triggers," Jasmine Marie, breathworker, mindfulness expert, and founder of Adulting With Ease and Black Girls Breathing, told POPSUGAR. "In my practice, we focus the breath by being very intentional on where we may have stored energy, stress, and anxiety in our body, and then focusing in the breath to help release that stress," she said.
Additionally, she explained that when you take fuller breaths, you're also increasing the amount of oxygen going to your body, "so there's going to be a response to your nervous system and your mind is slowing down." No matter how you look at it, breathwork is beneficial to your well-being. There are a variety of breathing techniques you can follow, but Marie prefers using a subtle, intentional technique in her practice, especially during times when the body is stressed and needs to be soothed and calmed.
"It's not the typical superdeep, superfast breaths that breathwork is known for, but it's very subtle in the fact that it's just like, 'I'm aware that I'm doing this same breathing pattern that I would normally, but I'm just keeping in mind I want to be gentle on my body,'" she said. Marie also prefers subtle breathing over deep breathing because deep breathing increases the amount of oxygen in the body, which can lead to people experiencing lightheadedness and feeling faint.
To practice subtle breathing, Marie said to first inhale, breathing into your stomach. Then inhale, again, bringing the breath up to your chest. From here, exhale the breath. "You're filling your lungs with as much air as possible but it's more gentle," she said. Because our bodies and systems are typically in overdrive, she prefers this soothing methodology, which is just as beneficial as deeper breathing, she explained. At the end of the day, she recommends finding a breathing technique you like and exploring the tools that work best for you to help alleviate stress and anxiety.