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Breathing Your Way to a Healthier Life

Breathwork is an ancient practice that can help overall health, reduce stress and improve mood

More restful sleep, better oxygen flow in the bloodstream, less anxiety, and improved mood... all these effects and more have been attributed to a very old practice that has found its way back into popularity: breathwork.

Many of us give little, if any, thought to our breath throughout the day. But what if by breathing mindfully we could improve some of our most common and uncomfortable ailments? Breathwork is the practice of focusing on your breath and learning to manipulate and control the flow of air within the body.

“When you focus on your breath, you will start to notice where it goes within your body,” Cori Hoefner, a local fitness instructor and personal trainer with a degree in Community Health and Kinesiology, says. “With enough mindful practice, you’ll start to learn where it goes within your body and how you can send it to different places. Breathwork helps bring you into your body.”

Hoefner says some of the earliest benefits she has noticed when practicing breathwork is a reduction in stress and anxiety because of its ability to bring you into the present, in a somewhat similar way to how meditation works. Breathwork sessions can last anywhere from one to 30 minutes, depending on your experience level. The flexibility of the practice, and the versatility of being able to use it where and how works best for the individual, is perhaps part of why it has gained popularity.

“You can practice it even when you start to feel overwhelmed throughout the day by pausing what you are doing and taking five deep, mindful breaths,” Hoefner suggests. “While a true session should last 15 to 30 minutes, beginners can start by practicing for 1-2 minutes multiple times throughout the day and build their stamina.”

There are many variations of breathwork including box breathing, nostril alternation, belly breathing, and more. Hoefner advises starting with something simple like focusing on the flow of the breath and breathing deeply.

“Focusing on taking an inhale that lasts the same amount of time as the exhale is a great beginner move,” she says. “Breathing is important in almost all exercise, and you may already be doing certain activities that involve controlling the breath like yoga and swimming. Breathwork is separate from physical activity, and it helps you learn that breath itself is a tool. You generally practice breathwork sitting down or even lying on your back."

“You want to be cautious that you don’t push yourself too far too quickly, as some of the techniques can be a little tiring on the nervous system. By starting small and building, you can feel positive effects right away, but be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any practice with the body.”

Breathwork can be practiced by just about everyone and you’ll get the biggest benefits if you practice it daily.

“You can practice it... when you start to feel overwhelmed throughout the day by pausing what you are doing and taking five deep, mindful breaths."

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