Last Updated: November 15, 2023

Featured Image

Table of Contents

Breathwork includes multiple types of breathing exercises and techniques which provide many benefits, including reducing stress, decreasing blood pressure, increasing focus, and improving mood. Some people may incorporate breathwork into their everyday routines or use it to prepare for stressful events.

What is Breathwork?

Breathwork encompasses many exercises focusing on controlling one’s breath and breathing pattern. People have practiced breathwork and breathing techniques for health and spiritual wellness for many years.

Breathwork includes a variety of breathing techniques, which generally focus on modifying breath length and pattern. They also can incorporate imagery and specific inhalation and exhalation techniques.

People may use breathwork for stress relief, to improve focus, to work on emotional processing, or improve mental and physical health.

While breathwork has been around for centuries, recently, there has been an increased interest in how breathwork techniques, incorporated into one’s everyday routine, can enhance one’s mental, physical, and emotional well-being.

Benefits of Breathwork on Mental Health

Breathwork can be a beneficial tool for enhancing mental well-being. Breathwork is an effective relaxation technique that reduces stress and anxiety, improves sleep, and enhances attention and focus.

Anxiety Relief

Breathwork reduces the physical effects of the body’s stress response by lowering respiration rate, heart rate, and blood pressure.

Research shows that some forms of breathwork stimulate the vagus nerve, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system response. The parasympathetic nervous system calms the body and counters the fight-or-flight response.

Some forms of breathwork also decrease cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is one of the primary stress hormones. Often people experiencing chronic stress have elevated cortisol levels.

Breathwork also relieves stress and anxiety by bringing people’s attention to the present moment and their breath. Increased attentional focus on the breath helps reduce racing and ruminating thoughts.

Better Sleep

Some people find that breathwork’s calming and stress-relieving effects are helpful for those who have trouble getting to sleep.

A breathwork session before bed can help reduce anxious thoughts and increase relaxation preparing one for sleep.

Emotional Regulation and Mental Health

Breathwork positively affects mood and emotional regulation. Breathing patterns and breathing rates are highly connected to emotions.

Therefore consciously changing breathing patterns to ones that the body produces when relaxed and happy can elicit positive emotional changes connected to:

  • negative thinking
  • depression
  • self-image issues
  • addictions
  • attention deficit
  • hyperactivity

Studies also show that regularly practicing breathwork can reduce amygdala activity, an area of the brain associated with negative emotions.

Benefits of Breathwork on Physical Health

Breathwork has several physical health benefits, including improving cardiac health, pulmonary health and strengthening the diaphragm.

Pulmonary Health

Deep breathing exercises such as diaphragmatic and pursed lip breathing slow the breathing rate and deepen one’s breathing, increasing the amount of air that enters and leaves the lungs.

This slowing and deepening of breaths and strengthening of the diaphragm helps the lungs better exchange gas, providing the blood with oxygen and releasing waste gas, primarily carbon dioxide.

Studies also show that people practicing controlled slow breathing techniques had improved exercise performance, gas exchange, and O2 delivery to muscles.


The diaphragm is the primary muscle that supports breathing—breathwork techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing help to strengthen the diaphragm to support respiration better.

Breathwork helps to improve the body’s ability to coordinate breathing and allows the body to breathe more efficiently and smoothly.

One can also improve abdominal muscle activation and core stability by activating the diaphragm muscles during respiration.

Breathing methods, including diaphragmatic breathing, increase awareness of one’s posture, improve breathing and provide other physical benefits, such as supporting the spine.

Cardiac Health

Breathwork can positively impact cardiac health as breathwork can decrease blood pressure and heart rate.

Studies also show that breathwork improves vagal tone and increases heart rate variability.

Improved vagal tone results in the body activating the parasympathetic nervous system quickly after a stressful event, calming the body.

High heart rate variability increases one’s body’s ability to respond and adapt to stressful situations.

Types of Breathwork

Box Breathing

Box breathing, or square breathing, uses the imagery of a box to help one control and regulate their breath pattern.

Box breathing promotes relaxation and calms the body by slowing the breathing rate. It helps reduce stress response symptoms, including muscle tension, heart rate, and blood pressure. Here is how to perform box breathing:

  • Visualize a square or box with four equal sides
  • Follow one side of the box while breathing in for a count of four
  • Follow the next side of the box, holding your breath for a count of four
  • Along the next side of the box, breathe out for a count of four
  • On the fourth and final side of the box, hold the count of four

Repeat these steps for the duration of the breathing practice.

Pursed Lip Breathing

Pursed lip breathing is a technique that slows one’s breathing rate, especially exhalation time, and increases oxygen intake into the lungs.

Pursed lip breathing helps people experiencing shortness of breath or shallow breathing by increasing their oxygen intake and slowing their breathing rate. Perform it as follows:

  • Inhale through the nose for a couple of around three seconds
  • Purse the lips as if blowing out a candle
  • Exhale slowly through the pursed lips over four to six seconds

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Alternate nostril breathing is a technique that involves breathing through one nostril at a time by blocking alternate nostrils.

It is a common pranayama practice. Therefore many people learn this breathing method from a trained yoga teacher.

Alternate nostril breathing reduces blood pressure and heart rate and improves pulmonary functioning.

It is helpful for stress reduction producing calming effects and is shown to improve cognitive function. Here is how to practice this method:

  • While sitting, bring the right hand to the forehead, resting the index finger and middle finger on the forehead between the eyebrow
  • Closing the right nostril with the right thumb, take a deep breath through the left nostril
  • Close the left nostril using the right ring and pinky finger and hold it there briefly
  • Opening the right nostril, breathe out slowly through the right nostril
  • Then inhale through the right nostril and repeat the pattern

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is a deep breathing exercise people may also call deep abdominal breathing or belly breathing.

A type of controlled breathing technique that involves consciously activating your diaphragm, and it is one of the best relaxation techniques available to the wider public.

Diaphragmatic breathing can also help people activate their abdominal muscles and strengthen the diaphragm, decreasing the use of accessory muscles for breathing. This helps improve the efficiency of the lungs for respiration.

Diaphragmatic breathing is commonly taught to people post-surgery for proper coughing and lung clearance techniques. Diaphragmatic breathing can occur while lying on the back or sitting up:

On The Back

  • Place the left hand on the upper chest and the right one on the belly
  • Breathing slowly in through the nose, focusing on letting the belly rise on the inhale and keeping the chest still.
  • Exhale slowly through pursed lips, focusing on bringing the belly down to a neutral position


  • Sitting with a neutral spine, placing hands on lower ribs
  • Breathing in slowly through the nose, feeling the ribs expanding
  • Breathing out slowly, feeling ribs move inward

Holotropic Breathing

Uses rapid breathing patterns to achieve a form of altered consciousness.

It allows people to reach a type of meditative state where people can achieve benefits, including mental clarity, self-awareness, personal development, decreased stress and anxiety, and spiritual awakening.

Holotropic breathing should not be attempted alone and should be led by professionals trained and certified in this practice.

Risks and Recommendations

It is generally recommended that anyone with cardiovascular or pulmonary conditions consult a health professional before performing breathwork to see if it is safe and suitable for their condition.

Most breathing techniques are safe when performed correctly, but holotropic breathwork has greater risk, especially for those with cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and mental health conditions.

This risk is due to its incorporation of rapid, deep breathing and its ability to put a person in an altered state of consciousness. Speaking to a health professional before trying holotropic breathing is always recommended.

Where to Learn How to Practice Breathwork

If one is new to breathwork, it can be hard to know where to start. There are many ways to learn breathwork, such as in a class, through a guided breathwork session, or written resources.

Breathwork is a foundational component of yoga practices, and many people learn breathwork through pranayama-focused yoga classes. Breathwork is also commonly incorporated into many meditation practices.

When is The Best Time to Practice Breathwork

Breathwork can be practiced easily throughout the day, just for a few minutes. Many people incorporate just a few minutes of breathwork throughout their daily routines.

Many people practice breathwork before attending a stressful event to prepare their body and mind.

Breathwork can also easily incorporate into one’s morning or nighttime routines. This can help prepare the mind and body for the day ahead or help to calm the mind and body for a night of sleep.


Effect of breathwork on stress and mental health: A meta-analysis of randomised-controlled trials | Scientific Reports

Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response - Harvard Health

Research: Why Breathing Is So Effective at Reducing Stress

Brief structured respiration practices enhance mood and reduce physiological arousal - PMC

Pursed-lip Breathing - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf

Review and meta-analysis suggests breathwork may be effective for improving stress and mental health

Pursed Lip Breathing - Physiopedia

Nadi Shodhana: How to Practice Alternate Nostril Breathing


The contents of this article are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is always recommended to consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making any health-related changes or if you have any questions or concerns about your health. Anahana is not liable for any errors, omissions, or consequences that may occur from using the information provided.