Broadly speaking breathwork refers to any type of breathing exercises or techniques that draw your conscious attention to your breath. As a practice it is thousands of years old.
There are all sorts of reasons for including breathwork as part of your day to day routine, including to improve your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. When you practice breathwork, you intentionally change your breathing pattern with different patterns offering different benefits.
As a means to help your personal wellbeing, the benefits of breathwork are vast and can vary from person to person. You may find that it reduces your stress or anxiety levels, that it clears your mind, that it enhances your connection to the space around you. Many people find that, in times of trauma, depression, fear, grief or anger, breathwork enables them to regain a sense of calm.
Adrenal fatigue and sustained periods of chronic stress can take a toll on your body. When you intentionally practice breathwork, you stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and take energy away from our adrenaline fuelled fight or flight reactions.
In their 2012 book, The Healing Power of the Breath, doctors Richard P. Brown and Patricia L. Gerbarg write: “Studies are revealing that, by changing the patterns of breathing, it is possible to restore balance to the stress response systems, calm an agitated mind, relieve symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), improve physical health and endurance, elevate performance, and enhance relationships.”
Recommendation: Breathwork can have a powerful impact on the body so, as with any new activity, it is advisable to seek professional advice and to speak to your doctor before embarking on breathwork practice.
So, let’s take a look at three benefits of breathwork in later life.
As we age we often start to experience aches and pains, they may start gradually but, especially if accompanied by chronic health conditions, they will gradually increase and eventually impact on our mobility and flexibility.
At first you may instinctively try to ignore the pain, however this rarely works in the long term as you don’t give your body the chance to heal. In fact, it’s highly likely that you create more strain on your body and, in time, actually increase the pain you experience.
Incorporating breathwork as part of your daily routine allows you to reconnect with your body and learn how to help it heal. Deep breathing has been proven to release endorphins which reduce your body’s sensitivity to pain and enhance feelings of wellbeing. Breathing exercises like deep belly breathing promote muscle relaxation, which helps to reduce pain.
Throughout life, we all experience situations and events that provoke emotional responses; grief, anger, depression, stress, anxiety - to name just a few.
As we age, we are more likely to experience events that adversely affect our emotional health through events such as the loss of lifelong partners, significant ill-health, loneliness or leaving our home to live in residential care.
For most people, when they experience those emotional states, their breathing will become rapid or shallow and they increase the stress their body is under. By contrast, long, controlled, deep breaths have the opposite effect, enhancing feelings of calm and focus.
Breathwork helps to regain feelings of peace and calm, reducing the effects of emotional stress both physically and emotionally.
Initially it might sound like a bold claim that you can boost your immunity by the power of your breath, but the science is sound. In fact, scientific research shows that 2/3 of our energy comes from our breath and 70% of toxins are eliminated through the breath.
Regular breathwork improves blood oxygen levels which results in you feeling more energised and having more stamina. Boosting oxygen levels bolsters your immune system - a key factor in preventing, and aiding recovery from, illness in later life.
If this article has left you curious to know more, there are many different ways to incorporate breathwork in your daily routine.
A simple but effective technique for stress relief and relaxation is ‘Box Breathing’ and involves consciously breathing in four stages. You inhale deeply for four seconds, hold for four seconds, fully and deeply exhale for four seconds and then hold for a final four seconds before repeating the process. There are lots of resources online about this and you can find demonstrations of how to do this on YouTube.
You can also use apps like Headspace or follow the work of renowned experts like Stuart Sandeman (Breathpod.me). Three activities that incorporate breathwork whilst being accessible for most older people are Yoga, Tai Chi and meditation.
As mentioned at the start of this article, it’s important to seek professional advice before embarking on any new wellness activities.
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