The practice of bringing awareness into breath and modulating respiration, also known as conscious breathing or breathwork, is an ancient technique. From the day we are born until the day we die, humans breathe throughout our entire lifespan. In both sleep and waking life our lungs constantly oscillate between inhalation and exhalation. Most of the time we don’t make any effort to regulate this process. Instead we subconsciously draw and expel breath while other activities occupy the foreground of our awareness. The following article covers the history of breathwork, as well as four practical benefits that breathing exercises bring our bodies.

History of breathwork techniques

As early as the 5th century BCE, the study of breath as an integral life force was undertaken by scholars in the Indus valley. They theorized an energy that flows through all living things, and they understood that it can be redirected to achieve different corporeal effects. Around the same time in China early Taoist philosophers described a force that animates all living things and can be skillfully manipulated, known as “Qi.” Both in China and India, breath was seen as a tool to help master the force of life. In the ancient civilization of Kemet, pictographs showing the gods Heru and Sebek tying ropes around the spine, lungs, and hips represented the use of breath to open gates of energy located along the vertebrae.

Modern lab research is now vindicating the knowledge systems of these early civilizations. Studies have shown the physical benefits of practicing control over the respiratory system and diaphragm. In fact, data shows that a multitude of systems within the body have positive outcomes after breathing exercises. Breathwork educators like Wim Hof and Jesse Coomer are combining ancient techniques with new scientific methodology. Their work is helping to deepen our understanding of what breath means to the body. We are only beginning to rediscover the transformative power it holds — especially in its connection between psychology and physiology.

We put together a list outlining some of the most important physical benefits that come along with breathwork. Keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive, the scope of breathwork study is too wide to cover in a single article. If you want to expand your comprehension further, a good choice would be to book one of Recal’s trips. We work closely with breathwork experts to develop programs that cover theory and practice in an immersive multi-day trip in nature.

Woman practicing breathing exercises and mindfulness with hand over her heart in black swimsuit and white jacket
Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash

1. Connect with your heart

Breathing is intrinsically connected to heart rate. The faster we breathe, the faster our heart beats. With breath control it’s possible to establish a connection to the heart and blood flow. A study of patients suffering from hypertension found that breathing exercises are an effective non-pharmacological method of lowering blood pressure. Undoubtedly, breathwork has a myriad of other potentials as a wellness boosting medicine. The ability to connect with your heart, breath, and mind opens up a portal to new experiences and sensations within your body

2. Oxygenate and alkalize your body

The main function of breath is to transport oxygen into the lungs where it is absorbed into the bloodstream with every inhale, and expel CO2 with every exhale. Deeper, fuller breaths allow your body to rid itself of CO2 more quickly, essentially cleaning acidic compounds from the bloodstream. 

Of course, there is a balance to all things. Simply hyperventilating as much as possible is dangerous. Yet, quality breath allows for the rapid flushing of lactic acid from muscles during physical exertion. With practice, you can use sensory cues to discern an alkaline tonic in the bloodstream – an ideal amount of oxygenation that is conducive to rest, recovery, and performance.

3. Release epinephrine and reduce inflammation

Researchers have demonstrated that breathing and meditation can activate the release of chemical compounds necessary for curative processes in the body. By practicing breathwork exercises, volunteers were able to significantly boost their production of epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. Using these techniques in a controlled way does the body a lot of good. This means that breathing actually has anti-inflammatory properties, and can protect against harmful immune responses.  

4. Strengthen your diaphragm and core

When people think about core exercises, they often think of movements like crunches or leg lifts. While these exercises do contract the abdominal muscle group, they will not engage them in the most holistic way possible. 

Using the power of breath, we can contract and enlarge the diaphragm through various rhythms and postures. This in turn gives a massage and release to the visceral and deep fascia which nest your muscles and organs. The abdominal wall braces from outside and stretches around towards the thoracic spine, stabilizing your torso. 

By learning how to control the way you breathe, you can reach a much deeper activation of core group muscles otherwise impossible to access with classic workout routines. Studies even show that breathing exercises facilitate the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid throughout the body.

The takeaway of breathwork and its benefits

Breathwork has something to offer all kinds of individuals, whether you’re an athlete trying to push physical capacity, someone who suffers from chronic pain and needs relief, or anyone in between. Think of it as a practical method of grounding yourself in the physical realm. Once you learn breath control techniques you can utilize them at any time for the rest of your life. Perhaps the best way to embark on a journey towards developing a lasting breathwork practice is by surrounding yourself with nature, where wind mimics the fluctuating rushes of respiration. At Recal we offer outdoor experiences with trained breathwork educators, in order to create an environment optimally conducive to learning. We have built everything around the idea of helping you to lay the foundation of a life long discipline.