How to Harness Your Breath for Healing

By Nicolle Mackinnon | October 13, 2021

Take a deep breath and count to 10. Breathe into a paper bag. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. These are just a few of the common—and cliché!—examples of breathwork that belie just how powerful mindful breathing can be to both our everyday wellbeing and long-term healing.

“I’ll take a risk and say the majority of us are not educated on the importance of mindful breath from a young age or possibly ever within our lives,” says Vanessa Quarantello, Certified Usui Reiki and Breathwork Facilitator. “And that’s just a gross societal oversight in self-healing awareness.”

Sabrina Rollo, a yoga instructor, Reiki practitioner and breathwork facilitator, says that because breathing is an involuntary function, we don’t need to think about it to survive. But if we never focus on our breath, “we miss out on the opportunity to connect with ourselves and learn about how we can better respond to internal and external triggers.”

It’s not just about emotional health either, says Rollo: “When we are aware of our breath, we are able to use it effectively to help regulate our nervous system and emotions, reduce stress and anxiety, improve our immune system, sleep and digestion, increase mental clarity and energy levels and so much more.”

Any time you bring awareness and intention to your breath, you are practicing breathwork. 

What Is Breathwork?
While it sounds like quite an official practice, breathwork doesn’t have to be complicated. “Breathwork refers to any conscious or intentional breathing exercise,” says Rollo. “Any time you bring awareness and intention to your breath, you are practicing breathwork.”

Quarantello seconds that simplicity can make a significant impact. “A simple shift from rapid, shallow chest breathing to slower, deeper belly breathing can lower heart rate and blood pressure and give us the physiological relief we need in a very short amount of time,” she says. “I see the breath as a shortcut to healing and expanded restorative function.”

Breathwork can also include guided work, like types of Pranayama, which is the yogic practice of controlling the breath to expand prana (energy). Quarantello’s active, three-part guided Pranayama sessions are hour-long journeys set to music that “allow people to share intentions, do the work and feel supported in a safe container,” she says. “We get to scream, laugh and move our bodies to shift our energy around—it’s illogical, joyous and doesn’t gloss over the dark places.”

Rollo, who has learned many different types of Pranayama through her experience as a dancer and yoga instructor, also trained as a breathwork facilitator with David Elliot, a well-known intuitive and healer. This technique is an active meditation that involves a two-part cyclic breathing pattern “intended to move stuck energy, release emotional trauma and deepen your intuition,” says Rollo.

I can see a difference in my face after breathwork, and less tension in my temples, jaws and shoulders.

Two Breathwork Exercises You Can Do Right Now
Breathwork is a practice that can take you deeper into healing, and it can be a stop-gap, need-it-right-now solution to calming anxiety or stress in the moment. Try these two exercises next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, anxious or in need of a break.

1. Elongate Your Exhale
Inhale deeply through your nose and release your breath through your mouth as slowly as you can. By slowing down and lengthening the exhale, you are stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the ‘rest and digest’ functions, decreasing your heart rate and calming the body and mind. Rollo recommends placing a hand on your belly or heart to help you stay present and grounded in your body as you begin to bring yourself back to a place of balance.

2. Inhale for Five, Exhale for Five
Quarantello picked up this technique from the book Breath by James Nestor. It’s meant to increase our intention when we breathe to a five count nasal inhale followed by a five count nasal exhale. Use this cycle, which works out to six breaths per minute, for five minutes a day (or as often as you need it). “I can see the difference in my face afterward and less tension in my temples, jaws and shoulders,” says Quarantello. “I love it!”

One Final Breathwork Tip
Breathwork of any kind is a beautiful way to do a full system check, return to our bodies and relax, says Quarantello, but it is work. “The brain doesn’t give in so easily, so it may send false distress signals like cramping, tingling and temperature change when you first begin.”

While some people can easily engage and become devout in their practice, others might not feel a connection right away—and that’s okay, she says. “But I encourage everyone to try it because the opportunity to heal with breathing is so available to us and can truly save lives.”

Rollo agrees: “Conscious breathing helps us thrive, not just survive.”

Find a Breathwork Teacher

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This article mentions: Breathwork, Healing, WellSet 101

About the Author:

Nicolle Mackinnon

Nicolle Mackinnon has worked for nearly a decade with wellness and beauty brands that are creating change in their industries. Along the way, she’s become a trusted voice in the self-care category, all while learning to trust herself, too. She lives in Minneapolis with her 70-pound rescue poodle Sam.

Read more articles by Nicolle Mackinnon
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Meet the first digital holistic studio

Access thousands of live and on-demand classes for mind, body, and emotional wellbeing with a WellSet membership.

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Support your team’s wellbeing with WellSet

Bring WellSet to your workplace and decrease employee burnout with the first digital holistic solution backed by insurers.

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