During her electric set at Glastonbury this year, Billie Eilish asked the crowd to do something unexpected: calm down. Raving about de-stressing miracle that is breathwork, the singer took the assembled thousands through how the practice works.
We're all in search of that elusive zen-feeling, but imagine if the key to living a calmer life was already part of our default way of operating? Breathwork allows us to tap into and change our breathing patterns to shift feelings of stress and anxiety. It has been touted as the way to live a healthier and peaceful life both by scientists and its growing community of fans.
Rebecca Dennis, best-selling author of Let It Go and international breathwork coach, offers guidance on how to use breathwork to enter a different state of consciousness. She took us through the benefits of the practice and how to actually incorporate it into our lives.
What is breathwork?
“Breathwork is the active form of consciously changing the rhythm, rates and depth of your breath to access and process mental, physical and emotional tension and enter a higher state of awareness,” Dennis tells GQ.
If that sounds too good to be true, hold fire on the cynicism. Behind many people's enjoyment of yoga and meditation is a desire to relax, and breathwork can “fast track you to that place", she adds.
How important is breathwork?
In short: breathing is hugely important and leads us into anxiety. But it can also lead us back out. “The way you breathe affects your physical, mental and emotional state,” she explains. “Our physiology and psychology are intrinsically connected, and how the body releases hormones depends on the communications being sent around the body to the brain and directly connected to your breathing.”
Dennis believes that by understanding the innate power of your breath, you can therefore improve your quality of life. “Breathing is directly linked to your autonomic nervous system – your stress (or ‘fight-flight’) response, and your rest response,” she explains. When you'e in a state of heightened stress, your breathing changes but you can therefore use this to move in and out of those states.
“If you need to turn anxiety into calm, you can use your breath. Likewise, you can improve your recovery, sleep and digestion through breathing," she says.
Our breathing mirrors our internal state i.e. when we don't feel okay, it's not unusual for our breathing to quicken. “This is because we tend to hold our breath to control emotions and pain,” Dennis explains. “This may be something we are conscious of, like holding our breath to hold back tears or even laughter, or something we do unconsciously.”
How do I do breathwork?
Breathwork for stress:
Why not use Box Breathing? This comes through the Navy SEAL lineage and is also known as 4-4-4-4 breath.
“This breathwork technique slows the heart rate and deepens concentration,” says Dennis, who recommends using it in the morning to wake up, or before a stressful event like a big project or meeting which requires your focus.