As part of sharing my 12 Daily Intentions for High Performance, I am moving to the #2 Daily Intention, breathwork. As I have mentioned previously in my thoughts on journaling, these are the 12 habits that I try to incorporate into each day of my life. These intentions not only help me operate as my very best self but also provide me with the best chance for optimal health. These intentions/habits are the basis of the template that I often share with many others including personal clients. The idea is to help assure them of maximal physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
With full disclosure, I can tell you that I am far from an expert when it comes to breathwork However, there are many individuals that you can research who can provide additional and in-depth knowledge. One of these experts is an interesting individual by the name of Wim Hof. You can find plenty of information about him and his breathwork practices on his website.
Let me start by saying, it is much like the fact that I have very little knowledge of a combustion engine and how it works, I can still drive a car and gain all of the benefits of the vehicle and travel. Breathwork is very similar, as we can all recognize tremendous benefits without having a deep understanding of how or why it does what it does.
From a very basic perspective, breathwork allows us to go from a sympathetic, “fight or flight” to a parasympathetic “rest and digest” state. This is so important because our lives are generally and often artificially placed in a sympathetic state. It is over time in a chronic state that this override of the sympathetic becomes dangerous to our health. These dangers include weight gain, inflammation, and even heart disease. Functioning in a sympathetic state is not necessarily a bad thing, it is just that it needs to be balanced with the parasympathetic.
One of the simplest ways to counteract this stress and balance the sympathetic and the parasympathetic is to use a daily program of breathwork. This can be as easy as setting aside 5 minutes each day and pursuing one of a few basic breathwork strategies.
One of my favorite methods is often referred to as a 4/7/8 routine. During this time, “approximately 5 minutes” you would inhale for 4 counts, hold for 7, and then exhale for 8 counts, then repeat. Doing this for periods of 5 minutes or a specific number of repetitions can move you from a sympathetic to a parasympathetic state. Without overstating the obvious, you have not only lessened the stress, and become more mindful, but you have also strengthened your immune system and overall health!
I would suggest you begin this practice in the beginning when you are “not” in a stressful state. Over time, you will be able to use this strategy during higher-stressed life situations to calm yourself and gain all the health benefits of your practice. But, just like any skill, your abilities will change with additional and intentional practice. So, to start, consider just practicing the skill of using the 4/7/8 routine.
Another one of my favorite breathwork methods is called “box breathing.” This method has 4 steps and is easy to remember because you are just working your way around the 4 corners of the “box.” It is accomplished with 4 counts on the inhale, 4 seconds of breath hold, 4 seconds on the exhale, and finally 4 seconds of hold. You would again repeat these 4 steps for 5 minutes of a specific number of repetitions. I prefer to not attempt to count these reps because I often lose count and find it somewhat distracting to my practice. And, this is the last thing I want to feel during a time of breathwork or meditation. Additionally, if these numbers of either 4/7/8 or box breathing of 4/4/4/4 don’t allow for comfortable breathing, you can reduce these numbers to accommodate your best breathing sequence. I find the 4/7/8 routine pretty comfortable, however, I have had others tell me that they are challenged with the amount of time for the hold and exhale.
In conclusion, I realize it is hard to imagine how doing one session of 5 minutes per day of breathwork has such positive health implications. However, as I mentioned before, you don’t need to know all the complexities of “how and why” these routines work, you just need to know they “do” work.