The Benefits of 7 Days of Breath Work

I was walking back home two weeks ago. As usual, I was walking at a fast pace. I noticed my heart rate pumping fast, I could feel it in my chest. I wondered, what would happen if I slowed down my breathing, would it slow my heart rate? It did. I immediately wanted to know more than just the basic stuff about breathing, what benefits could it bring to the mind and the body and the science behind it all.

The way you breath affects the way you feel

Short ragged breath rhythms will both reflect our emotional state and cause us to grow frantic, stressed, and unfocused. Slow, even breathing, on the other hand, will signal that we are calm and relaxed, therefore slowing our heart rate and allowing us to more easily focus our attention (Rebecca Moses, groomandstyle.com).

Think about it. When you are relaxing in your couch, you breath slowly and deeply, you feel calm. Slow breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is in charge of helping our bodies relax. On the other hand, when you are into the “fight or flight mode” (another name to the stress response) you breath quickly. It activates the sympathetic nervous system, the one that accelerates your heart rate and increases your blood pressure (Harvard Health).

Here’s how researchers think it works: With each breath, millions of sensory receptors in the respiratory system send signals via the vagus nerve to the brainstem. Fast breathing pings the brain at a higher rate, triggering it to activate the sympathetic nervous system, turning up stress hormones, heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, sweat production, and anxiety. On the other hand, slowing your breathing induces the parasympathetic response, dialing down all of the above as it turns up relaxation, calm, and mental clarity. (yogajournal.com)

What I found interesting in my research is that not only our breathing reacts to our bodies, but our bodies also react to our breathing. That said, if we control the way we breath, we could manage to change our mood.

Mouth breathing is a no-no

We do it daily (breathing) without thinking about it, it is an automated process. Just because you know how to do something doesn’t mean it is the right or the best way to do it, right? — at least I like to think that way.

Chest breathing is something I didn’t know was wrong until I was 14. For 14 years of my life I was breathing through my chest and a vocal coach on Youtube was the one that told me it was not good. It doesn’t fully inflate your lungs and it strains the muscles around the neck and shoulders. Simply: if you inhale and your shoulders go up, you are breathing with your chest.

On the other hand, mouth breathing sums up a lot of bad things. Breathing through your mouth will bring less oxygen into your body, which causes your blood pressure and heart rate to elevate in an attempt to make up for the inefficient breathing performed. It will make your more likely to hyperventilate and more prone to experience allergens. It also causes you to expel too much carbon dioxide from your body and it even alters the facial structure of children, causing their faces to be longer, which provokes even more problems.

Please, for your own sake, don’t mouth breath.

The right way is to breath through your nose and with your belly — using the diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle sitting at the base of your lungs — that’s what the science has demonstrated.

The mouth is for talking and eating, the nose is for breathing.

I decided to give it a shot

After doing my research, I opted for the “365 Method.” It is quite simple, you sit down, 3 times a day, doing 6 breathings per minutes, for 5 minutes. I did two of these during the day, after my workout and after my work/study time. For the third session, I changed to the 4–7–8 method before going to sleep, its biggest benefits are: to make you fall asleep faster and improve the quality of your sleep.

The other thing I did was to change each session’s length from five minutes to ten minutes. Why? On day two I skipped the first session of the day and tried to cheat by doing two sessions in just one. The ten minutes passed, I opened my eyes and I felt this great sensation of calmness and focus, I wanted to repeat it for the rest of the week.

Basically, yeah, I changed a lot of details but I still mention the 365 method because I believe the most important thing has not been the length of the sessions or the technique itself rather it was the repetition of the exercises throughout the day. It kind of became a habit to do it, specially the sessions before bed that were the most consistent in terms of time across the week.

To avoid counting using just my head, I downloaded an app that I had used before, it’s called Tide. It is a timer in essence, it has a section for breathing sessions, meditation, focus and something for sleeping. What I like is that you can modify the breaths per minute, the length of the session and even swap to the 4–7–8 method. In addition, it has guided sounds for inhales and exhales and a variety of background noises to help you focus.

Before advancing I want to point out some of the benefits of both methods.

The 365 method is best for:

  • Pain management.
  • Relieving stress.
  • Phobias.

The 4–7–8 method aims to:

  • Relax the body.
  • Make you fall asleep in a shorter time.
  • Improve the quality of your sleep.

There are many other techniques, these are couple of the most science-backed of the bunch.

I was very skeptical. I tried meditation in the past and it was a pain in the ass, a total failure. However, I decided to give it a chance, the most important results for me were to see if it could help me by easing the pain in my lungs, if it improved my focus and if I could fall asleep faster — that last one I didn’t believe was possible.

On day two, I was annoyed by how much time I spent in my bed — after doing my breathing — awake. I calculate that around two hours went by before I finally crossed to dreamland. On the other hand, day three was the first day I fell asleep like a flash and wondered what was the reason. I looked back and realized that on the second day, I had dinner around 11 pm and the digestion process takes time and it can mess with your sleep cycle — specially if your food is heavy on carbs. Reminder #1: don’t eat too close to your bedtime.

On day four something similar happened, I drank two full glasses of water — to meet my goal of 7 glasses/day — before bed. I wasn’t able to sleep very well that night due to my body needing to do a stop at the bathroom. #2: Avoid drinks before bed.

These past days, I can say with all honestly that I have fallen faster than usual. The “usual” for me is one hour at least. The time that takes me to fall asleep has reduced for about 30 to 45 minutes, that is a total win for me.

Thinking about it right now, the phrase “easing the pain in my lungs” sounds like a terrible medical condition. The truth is that right now I have a light case of pneumonia — meaning I need to be extra careful with the COVID — that is under treatment. I was looking for an extra help for my treatment as the lung pain has been the most annoying symptom.

Day one was a mess, a beautiful disaster. I went to my “office” (my dad’s other house) and noticed I left my face mask, yes, totally stupid and unbelievable. I ran back home just to realize that I left my keys at the office. I returned to the office quickly and while jogging my way back, my heart rate was up and the pain in my lungs appeared. It normally appears when my heart rate accelerates.

You might be thinking, “dude, you just need some exercise”. I thought about it too and tried it in a couple of opportunities prior, it did not help and it stressed me out. However, I began to workout this week too. Earlier today, before writing this I did my endurance workout, consisting of 3 sets of only burpees. I picked burpees as it is one of the most oxygen-demanding bodyweight exercises. I had not made 1 single burpee in months. After finishing my workout I realized that I had no pain, not as before. It has reduced around 85–90% in intensity, which is another win.

Lastly, breathing has indeed improved my focus while working and doing other activities. One thing that I wasn’t consciously expecting was the betterment of my ability to be present. The breathing exercises require you to be constantly aware, focusing on the respiration, the flow of air, your posture and the contractions of your muscles. Being present in the now is something I have striven to achieve, it is actually one of my resolutions for this year and I believe I’ll get better at it by continuing to do these exercises on a daily basis.

I won’t leave it as just one week experiment, I’ll carry it on my day to day to get better at it and see what benefits in brings. This week has just been the beginning.

You can try it too, you don’t need to modify it like I did to see the benefits. The how to the 365 breathing method is quickly explained in this video: https://youtu.be/ze_PUahl7LE

I’ll also leave here a couple of steps and tips from Harvard Health to practice breath focus:

First steps. Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down. First, take a normal breath. Then try a deep breath: Breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out slowly through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural).

Breath focus in practice. Once you’ve taken the steps above, you can move on to regular practice of controlled breathing. As you sit comfortably with your eyes closed, blend deep breathing with helpful imagery and perhaps a focus word or phrase that helps you relax.

- Choose a special place where you can sit (or lie down) comfortably and quietly.

- Don’t try too hard. That may just cause you to tense up.

- Don’t be too passive, either. The key to eliciting the relaxation response lies in shifting your focus from stressors to deeper, calmer rhythms — and having a focal point is essential.

- Try to practice once or twice a day, always at the same time, in order to enhance the sense of ritual and establish a habit.

- Try to practice at least 10–20 minutes each day.

End Note: if you cross upon an article or a blog post claiming that there’s a breathing technique able to cure anxiety, ignore it. If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, depending on the type, it may help you or make the situation worse (specially with panic disorder). Reach for medical expertise and don’t rely on the web.

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