Summary & Q+A: The Art of Breathwork: How Breathing Affects Your Health and Mental State

A note from Philippa: Learn how your breath is your superpower – and lucky for you it’s right under your nose! If you want to relax or gain more energy – your breath is your most powerful ally. In the video I explain in simple terms how your nervous system and your breathing are related – and how you can hack stress out of your system to create calm and relaxation whenever you want. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what is possible when you start to explore the powerful practices of breathwork. Change your breath, change your life!

What Did I Miss? 

Everyone breathes. We do not even notice we are doing it, that is how intuitive it is. However, many of us are not breathing WELL. Phillipa Wilkins, a breathwork facilitator, has made it her purpose to help individuals improve their breathing. She believes that breathing is a key player in your health and mental state, and proper breathing can help people awaken their potential. 

phillipa-wilkins-breathwork-facilitator

She compares it to driving. We live life as though we are “jamming the gas pedal in a car.” She wants us to hit the brakes and take a moment to relax. She remarks that stress can help us get things done, but we need to be able to relax, to maintain our potential. Her seminar discussed ways to start breathwork and different techniques to employ.

Breathwork is the act of intentionally changing your breathing to change your mental state.  It is a natural way to help reduce stress and release emotion. It is thought to be thousands of years old, having originally been practiced in early yoga traditions. More recently, in the ’60s and ’70s, the practice was isolated and established as its own practice.

The basis of each technique is breathing in for some time and then exhaling. Wilkins recommends starting slowly with a double inhale through the nose/sigh out of the mouth or a deep inhale/sign cycle. These breaths signal to the body that it is time to relax and prepare your lungs for more elaborate cycles. She recommends keeping the cycle going for a few breaths and trust your breath’s flow. Wilkins presents the 4-7-8 breath and the Box breath to advance to after the basic cycle has been employed. 

*Do not do breath holds if you are pregnant! Simply breathe through the cycle in its entirety.

The 4-7-8 Breath is as follows:

  1. In through the nose for 4 seconds
  2. Hold your breath for 7 seconds
  3. Breath out through the mouth for 8 seconds

Wilkins advises us to focus on the exhale – it will relax your body. This is one exercise that can be done at any time of day but is especially helpful before bed as it puts your body into a loose, relaxed state. 

The Box Breath is as follows: 

  1. In through the nose for 4 seconds
  2. Hold in the nose for 4 seconds
  3. Out through the nose for 4 seconds
  4. Hold for 4 seconds

A box has equal sides, and this technique draws from that. Wilkins emphasizes the importance of focus – she recommends placing one hand on the navel and one on the abdomen. You will feel your abdomen expand when you breathe in. Focusing on the movement will help dissipate feelings of panic. 

Each session was followed by an open Q&A. The discussions are summarized below.

Q: How does breathwork separate itself from meditation? Or is it considered a form of meditation?

A: Now, that is a great question. For me, often people that struggle to meditate find breathwork a really, really helpful practice, and they’re like “Oh, now I get meditation!” right, so breath work in a sense, is separate, but it causes the same effect, if that makes sense. So whether we are focusing on our breath, whether we are focusing on counting, whether we are focusing on the sensations in our body, when we meditate, often we’re doing something similar when we’re doing breathwork. So, breath work can induce a state of meditation. It’s not meditation per se. But the state is the same as far as I’m concerned. So, is it separate from meditation? No, because I don’t believe that anything really is separate from the other thing. But it can definitely help you. If you have a really, really busy active mind and you find meditation difficult, for example, some of the breathing exercises that we’ve just done, will really help you to bring your energy and your focus back to your body, which is a form of meditation in itself, right? Just this kind of relaxed awareness and focus on your body and being in your own space and creating this state of calm and peace that you might be experiencing after trying some of those exercises now, so great question.

Q: Is it normal to feel a bit lightheaded after these exercises?

A: Yes, that’s why I’d say stay in a comfortable position, find a resting place. Because when we start to work with our breathing, often we can find that we’re not necessarily breathing that deeply, or we’re not used to playing with oxygen and our carbon dioxide balance. So some of these exercises can leave you feeling a little bit lightheaded. That’s why it’s always great if you’re starting out to find a comfortable position, whether it’s seated on a chair, whether it’s lying down, so that you can kind of fully relax. Yeah, totally normal. Totally normal.

Q: What’s the relation between breathwork and alkalizing the body? 

A: So one of the fastest ways, and I kind of alluded to this when I’m speaking about our focus on what we eat, and what we drink, one of the fastest ways to alkalize your body is to be working with your breath. So if we’re looking at alkalizing our body through diet, and through hydration and all of that, it can take a little while to actually change our diet and the results of that. Whereas breathing and changing your breathing is one of the fastest ways to alkalize your body directly. So great question. Thank you. That’s why I say breathing is more effective and more efficient, in many ways than what we eat and what we drink. Albeit that’s that’s super important too, right? But this is just like another hack. 

Q: I love the 4-7-8 technique. Couldn’t get on with a box breath. Is this normal to get on with some techniques and not others?

A: Yeah, great question. Absolutely. Sometimes, like I was saying we get into a place where it feels maybe strange with our physiology, to do some of the things like breath holding, or breathing out for longer than we inhale. Typically we’re breathing in for longer than we exhale, right. So when we start introducing some of these different, different things into the mix, then it can feel a little bit challenging, and 4-7-8, as I said, is really, really good for relaxation, or before you go to bed, the calming, with the box breath, it’s a little bit more balancing, but it’s also longer for each of the sides. So what you can do is if you find it difficult to get on the box breath counting for four, for example, you can just lower that to count for either three on each side of the box, or two on each side of the box, and then just build it up. So just start with what feels comfortable. And as you practice over time, you will find that your tolerance to these types of exercises goes up, which is actually what we want to do. It’s kind of like building our muscle and building our breathing muscle, because often many of us are struggling to deal with a buildup of co2. So that when we’re doing the holding, for example, when we want to breathe in, this is often triggered by a buildup of carbon dioxide in our system, not the need for oxygen. That’s kind of a common misconception. Often we think we need to breathe to get the oxygen in when actually we need to breathe to let the carbon dioxide out. So this is often the signal and the trigger in our body for the next breath is a buildup of the waste product which is carbon dioxide in our system coming out of our blood through our lungs, and that’s our signal to the body to inhale or to breathe in again. And so when we’re working with these exercises we’re playing with these balances. And for many of us, we’ve become, as a term, like “over breathers”, which means often we’re breathing through our mouth, and sometimes we’re almost gasping for air because our body isn’t used to having this potential buildup of carbon dioxide. It makes us want to breathe so we can work with these exercises to stretch our capacity. But that’s something you can do with box breath is just start on a lower number, and then build up your tolerance. You’ll find [that] you’ll be able to get better and better as time goes on. 

Q: Can breathwork detox my body?

A: Yes! Yes, absolutely. As I just said, we’re breathing out carbon dioxide and this is one of our waste products of our energy production in our body. So carbon dioxide is a toxin, and so in that sense when we’re breathing out, we’re actually detoxifying. And one of the little known things and this amazed me when I found this out a couple of months ago, because I didn’t even know this is that when the body breaks down fat, part of the breakdown of that fat actually gets exhaled. So if we’re losing weight, on our bodies, if our body is shedding extra weight or fat, part of the waste product, the detox that’s happening is through our respiration. So that was just an interesting fact that you might not know. But yeah, absolutely, the way that we breathe, and our awareness of our breath can have such a positive impact on how we show up in the world and the physical health of our body because also, when we’re activating our diaphragm, the muscle under here, right, when we’re activating and breathing with our diaphragm, then we are taking deeper breaths. And what this is doing is causing the action of the diaphragm is actually squashing or pushing down on the organs in our abdominal cavity. So in that way, whenever we breathe in, we’re giving our organs a massage. So this is also detoxifying our organs because they’re getting this kind of a squeeze and a release, squeeze and a release. And this is what keeps moving things like our lymph fluids as well throughout our body. So our diaphragm is a pump for our lymphatic system. Again, our lymphatic system is all of the waste products from our body from our digestion or from our metabolic processes, should I say, and that doesn’t have its own pump. So the diaphragm is a pump for that, so if you’re practicing breathwork regularly, it’s also going to have a beneficial effect on your body’s ability to detox in the circulation of that fluid.

Q: Could you provide some insights into the origins of breathwork? Is this more contemporary practice? Additionally, I’m going to quit smoking soon: will breathwork aid in the recovery of my lungs?

A: So I’m not a medical practitioner. But as you will appreciate, I’m a bit evangelical about breath work. So I believe that it can help with everything. So the origins of breathwork are varied. If you look at the yogic traditions, Yoga has a limb called pranayama, which is all about breathing exercises. The Indians, you know, they were onto something. And so breathwork in that sense, has been around for a very, very long time, thousands of years. In the modern context, we’ve adapted it, and there have been certain, I guess, breakthroughs or awarenesses, that happened in the 60s and 70s in the US that have adopted some of the more conscious breathwork techniques. The technique that I deal with, and work with in a very deep level, which is a conscious connected breathwork practice, breathing with no pauses, that technique was really isolated and developed further in the 60s and 70s, and really gave rise to some of the therapeutic techniques that are now out there using a conscious connected breath. But breath work is age old. You know, now we’re just adopting it for our modern needs, our modern values, and it’s really, really beneficial for us to be aware of this tool that, as I’ve already said, is literally right under your nose. You know, this is the secret, the secret superpower that you didn’t even know that you have and so having that awareness and that recognition means that you can tap into this tool at any point in time, right? Whether you’re in the office and you just take a quick break, whether you’re with friends and family, whether you want to teach some of these techniques to your kids. These new skills that you’ve learned today, you can use anywhere. So it’s a contemporary practice. Definitely it has ancient origins. Because, first of all, we’ve all been breathing for all of our lives as all humanity before us. And like I said, the Indians were, I guess, some of the pioneers of these techniques. And yes, good luck with quitting smoking.

Q: So I often find myself holding my breath without realizing. How can I avoid doing that?

A: This is so common and relatable. For me, our breathing and our emotions are related, but often we find that it can be difficult to express our emotions. Sometimes this is related to breath holding, or we don’t want to feel something so we can hold our breath. But really the key to that is just becoming more and more aware. So if you implant the idea in your mind that, “okay, I’m just going to notice more about my breath” and so when you’re doing some of these exercises, you will be bringing that awareness already. So that would be my encouragement: continue with some of these exercises, find some more other breathwork exercises that you might like, and you’ll find yourself noticing more and more during your day to day, where you’re holding your breath, and you’ll be like, “Oh, I just caught myself, I’m holding my breath. I don’t need to do that.” Often, the worst time we do that is like if we’re scrolling on the internet, or we’re looking at emails, or we’re a bit stressed, often those are the times when we’re holding our breath. So bringing that just that awareness and “oh, okay, now I notice I’m not holding”, “now I notice I’m holding my breath and now I notice I’m not breathing. Why is that? Oh, I can take a breath, I can take a breath now.” So just bringing that awareness is going to start to shift things for you, and it’s also going to bring you a greater awareness and connection with your body and just feeling more in tune with what’s going on with your body in any given moment.

Q: I’m a very emotional person; does breathwork tend to bring out people’s emotions during sessions?

A: So as I mentioned, I work with a lot of therapeutic breathwork: Absolutely, breath work for me is the key to resolving the emotional stuckness and stuff that we’ve been holding on for most of our lifetime. Definitely, definitely breathing and emotions are related and we can use the breath to resolve our emotional stuff and process it.

Q: Is breathwork the same as pranayama?

A: Yes it is! Breathing exercises and pranayama have many of the same origins. The ancient practice of manipulating breathing to create different energetic states is part of the yogic tradition. Many of the modern practices are also commonly found in the breath control practices of pranayama. Ancient practices for modern times.

If you are interested in learning more with Wilkins, you can check out the links below. 

Live Course: NEW NORMAL – 11 DAYS OF BREATHWORK TO REALIGN YOUR LIFE AND YOUR DREAMS

Breathwork Challenge: breathworkchallenge.com (use coupon: plantie)

Philippa’s website: www.breathworks.co

Philippa’s Instagram: @breathworks

Philippa’s Facebook: Breathworks Coaching

Free Breathwork 4 part mini series – Facebook Group: www.freeyourselfwithbreathwork.com

Also, check out the Summary + QA of other Mentors from the Inaugural Virtual Wellness Summit – Powered By Plantie