Every breath counts: Healing through breathwork

27 January 2023
Victoria Fernandez Written by Victoria Fernandez
Victoria Fernandez

Victoria Fernandez

Victoria is a writer, a psychology enthusiast and also loves working with animals. She has also...

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Ankita Magdani Reviewed by Ankita Magdani
Ankita Magdani

Ankita Magdani

Ankita Magdani is a Mental Health Therapist, Career, and Mindset Coach based in Dubai. She...

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Anxious? Stressed? Time to take a deep breath and a long, slow exhale. 

The power of healing is closer to you than you may think. Welcome to the power of breathwork. 

A Rakuten Insight study showed that more Indians reported feeling more stressed or anxious in 2022. While Covid-19 lingers on, long-term questions will arise over the pandemic’s sustained impact on mental health. We are anxious, worried, and stressed. Now more than ever before. 

Therapy is a great tool to manage symptoms of stress. And so is breathwork. 

Healing through breathwork

Breathwork is a conscious breathing practice that is gaining more and more popularity as a healing strategy for both the mind and the body. Breathing is more complex than just inhaling and exhaling air; it’s an intricate system that affects all parts of the body.

The air you breathe courses through your entire body and supplies your biological systems with oxygen, and takes away carbon dioxide. Consciously focusing on your breathing can alter the levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen in your body, having a physiological and psychological effect.

The practice of conscious breathing isn’t new or limited to one culture. For example, in Japan, there’s a breathing technique called Nishino, which is a combination of movements and slow deep breaths. In this story, however, we will focus on Indian breathing practices. Yogic and Tantric scriptures have illuminated the energizing and healing properties of breathing for the mind and body. The practice of pranayama, which focuses on conscious breathing through body movements, has been known in India to promote good mental and physical health. Researchers worldwide are studying the various health benefits of breathwork and are applying it to clinical practices.

Dysfunctional breathing practices can negatively affect the body, and breathwork techniques can help correct how you breathe. Improper breathing habits can affect behaviors, attitudes, physiology, and mental states. Dysfunctional breathing refers to having a disturbed flow of air into and out of the system or interference in the rate of breathing. Breathwork can correct your breathing to promote a better quality of life.

Types of breathwork

1. Dirgha

This pranayama (breathwork) also goes by the name three-part breath. This technique consists of taking slow deep breaths and utilizing the full capacity of your lungs. The lung is sectioned out into three parts, and each inhalation fills the three parts with air. The idea is that filling your lungs with more air means more oxygen courses through your body, enriching all your organ systems and giving your organs an energy boost.

Steps to follow

●  Find a comfortable place to sit and settle down with your back straight

●  Relax your face and abdomen.

●  Keep your mouth closed, but your jaw should remain loose

●  Rest your hands on your abdomen and breathe in deeply; you should feel the air filling up your lungs (make sure your belly protrudes outwards as you inhale)

●  For the middle part of the lung, gently place your hands on the side of your rib cage and breathe deeply

●  Concentrate on how your ribs move, you should feel them moving up and down

●  For the last section, place your fingers beneath your collar bones and breathe deeply and feel the movement of air

●  Combine the above 3 steps to create one inhalation and ensure that all three parts of your lungs are expanding with air

●  Exhale slowly and empty all the air in your lungs before inhaling again

●  Repeat this pranayama several times during each session

2. Ujjayi

This breathwork is also called the ocean-sounding breath because of the hissing sound you make when inhaling and exhaling. By gently applying pressure on your voice box at the back of your throat, you can mimic the sound of a windy day by the ocean.

Steps to follow

●  Be seated with your back straight and relax your tummy

●  Regulate your breathing by repeating the dirgha pranayama a few times

●  Then, with your mouth closed gently, contract your throat muscles. This will cause the air to vibrate when you breathe, reproducing the sound of a conch shell

●  Continue for several minutes while focusing on the sound

3. Kapalabhati

Kapalabhati is a breathwork that focuses on clearing the nasal passage. The translation for the Sanskrit word “kapala” refers to the skull and, in this particular inference, the cavities in your skull. The word “bhati” means polish. This pranayama helps clear the sinus by pushing air through it rapidly.  There is a variation of this breathwork known as alternate-nostril kapalabhati where you close your nostrils alternatingly while exhaling. Remember to keep your hand in Vishnu mudra –fold only your index and middle finger– and use your thumb to cover the right nostril and index finger to cover your left nostril to do this pranayama.

Steps to follow

●  Sit down with your back straight

●  To get in the zone, do a couple of dirgha or ujjayi pranayama

●  Then place the palm of your hand above your belly button and inhale deeply through your nose.

●  Make sure your mouth is closed. as you inhale

●  Flex your abdominal muscles as you exhale through your nose, increasing the speed and pressure of the air as it is expelled

●  Release your abdominal muscles and inhale again

●  Start slow and don’t exert yourself too much when you are learning this breathwork

Healing through breathwork

4. Nadi shodhana

The word “nadi” refers to the flow of energy, and “shodhana” alludes to the process of purifying this energy. This pranayama helps to cleanse your body’s vital energies by improving both air circulation and the circulation of blood in your body.

Steps to follow

●  Sit with your back straight and legs crossed before you begin.

●  Bend your index and middle finger of your right hand while keeping the rest of your fingers straight (Vishnu mudra)

●  Inhale normally using both your nostrils

●  While exhaling, use your ring finger and thumb to close your nostrils alternatingly.

●  Gradually slow down your pace as you repeat this process several times. This will ensure that you ease into a meditative state

5. Circular breathing

Circular breathing is a breathwork practice that aims to clear your chakras or energy centers. There are 7 chakras in the body- crown, third eye, throat, heart, solar plexus, sacral, and root- which are associated with psycho-spiritual qualities. Through circular breathing, it is said that you can achieve cognitive clarity and mindfulness. It’s recommended not to practice circular breathing more than once a day if done without supervision. 

Steps to follow

●  Sit down with your spine straight and eyes closed

●  Take a deep breath in and visualize it coming from your first chakra, which is located at the base of your spine

●  Keep imagining the breath going through each of the 7 chakras up to the crown chakra

●  Exhale and picture the air going back to the beginning of the cycle– your pelvic region– and breathe in deeply again

●  Repeat this several times

Note: For those who are practicing circular breathing without supervision, limit your practice session to only once a day. You may experience an overwhelming tingling sensation that can be quite scary to deal with on your own.

Benefits of breathwork

Breathwork practices have many positive physiological and psychological effects. Research has shown that the functions of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) can be improved by using breathwork. 

The ANS controls your fight-or-flight responses and your body’s functions during resting or digesting periods. Pranayama helps with digestion as the movement of your lungs gently massages your abdomen. It also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and helps you reduce stress and relax. As an additional stress relieving factor, breathwork practices have been found to alleviate stress by decreasing stress hormones. Other hormonal changes as a result of conscious breathing techniques can affect neurogenesis positively, which means it keeps your brain healthy. 

Some breathwork practices can also positively impact your blood circulation. Breathwork could be a mindful way to approach self-care and practice a healthy lifestyle.


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Caldwell, C., & Victoria, H. K. (2011). Breathwork in body psychotherapy: Towards a more unified theory and practice. Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy, 6(2), 89–101. doi:10.1080/17432979.2011.574505

Carroll, Y. M. (2014). 11.6 basic pranayama techniques. In Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training Manual 200-Hour Training (pp. 11.6–11.15). essay, Kripalu Schools of Yoga and Ayurveda.

Kinabalu, K. (2005). Immediate effect of ‘nadi-shodhana pranayama’ on some selected parameters of cardiovascular, pulmonary, and higher functions of brain. Thai journal of physiological sciences, 18(2), 10-6.

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