Our innate ability to breath is essential for survival. Learning how to tweak this simple (but not really) process, however, makes for many added health benefits. Breathing with intention reduces anxiety, lowers your blood pressure and heart rate, helps with insomnia, decreases stress hormones, improves immune function, makes you more energetic and alert… the list goes on. And, it can be done in as little as one minute. So, ladies, instead of a meaningless scroll through Instagram while you pee, try taking some mindful deep breaths––you’ll see what a difference it makes.
Breathing techniques exist for sleep and anxiety, for alertness and energy, even for hiking Mount Everest in your skivvies (if you’re into that sort of thing). Read on to find out which techniques do what and how they elicit the desired results.
The 4-7-8 Method (Best for relaxing)
The 4-7-8 is one of the most popular current breathing techniques right now because it promises to reduce anxiety, calm the body and help you fall asleep. Here’s how you do it:
- Breathe in through your nose for four seconds
- Hold your breath for seven seconds
- Actively exhale through your mouth for eight seconds; purse your lips while you exhale, making a “whoosh” sound
The founder of the 4-7-8 method, Dr. Andrew Weil, suggests repeating the above steps for four cycles at least two times a day to distract the mind and reduce anxiety. Counting while breathing helps you “forget” your worries, and holding your breath increases the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream, and parasympathetic nervous system, which is our rest and digest system (not to be confused with our sympathetic nervous system, which controls our “fight or flight” response). Holding your breath also increases our system’s production of GABA, which helps calm the mind and body.
You may feel a bit lightheaded during your first few goes at it, but this is completely normal.
The Ha Method (Best for energy)
The Ha is great for when you need that extra bit of energy to make it to margarita night with your coworkers (just don’t let them see you doing it or you may not get another invitation).
- Stand with your elbows bent and palms facing upward
- Inhale through your nose for a count of three or four while drawing your arms back (palms should remain facing upward)
- Exhale through your mouth for six to eight seconds, making a soft “ha” sound
- While you exhale, straighten your arms and turn your palms so they’re facing the ground
- Repeat for 10 to 15 quick cycles
The Ha method (also known as the Huna method) comes from the Hawaiian belief that the earth, and we, by proxy, possess an endless amount of energy that’s just waiting to be refilled whenever we feel depleted (does anyone know if the earth also possesses and unlimited supply of wine? Because that would be nice). Ha breathing opens the flow of energy between us and the earth.
… Sound hokey? There isn’t a lot of science to back up this claim, but it sounds very similar to Earthing, which does have merit. So, if you’re feeling that mid-afternoon lethargy, stand up and huff and puff until you’re buzzing again!
The Wim Hof Method (Best for extreme Arctic adventures and general well-being)
This method was developed by Wim Hof—also known as “The Iceman”—a Dutch athlete who touted the practice of three pillars to harness the body’s inner power (yes, my first questions definitely were 1) Does it include getting naked, and 2) Is the instructor cute).
The three pillars are:
Proper exposure to too-cold temperatures
Practicing the Wim Hof breathing method:
- Sit comfortably and take 30 breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth, expanding your belly with each inhale
- On your next exhale, hold it for as long as you can without force
- On the following inhale, hold it for 10 to 15 seconds
- Exhale and repeat the entire sequence from the beginning for four to six cycles
Commit to the Wim Hof breathing method and the practice of cold exposure
The science behind Wim Hof’s method is backed by some research. One study demonstrated that if properly trained in the method, one can voluntarily activate their sympathetic nervous system, which influences our immune response without pharmaceuticals. Hof also promises increased energy and willpower, improved focus and performance, better sleep, reduced stress, greater tolerance to cold, enhanced creativity, and more. He believes that the resultant increase in oxygen can make the body more alkaline, which has its own health benefits. The Iceman himself has been studied for his ability to run an Arctic half–marathon barefoot and in only shorts, and swim under ice water for prolonged periods of time.
Many, many, many more breathing techniques exist, so it’s important to find one that works for you. If I find one that promises instant weight loss and toned thighs, I’ll be sure to share it.