The Link Between Breathing and Mental Health

Breathwork, the practice of focusing on your breath and breathing with intention, can help those who suffer from chronic stress, anxiety, and depression.

At a time when rates of mental illness continue to rise, and many are looking for ways to cope, breathwork may just be an accessible, effective solution.

The concept of breathwork is far from new and has its roots in Eastern traditions such as yoga and Buddhism, but it’s becoming increasingly popular as many discover its powerful mental health benefits.

“By bringing awareness to how we are breathing and modifying our breath, we are able to create shifts in our mental and emotional state; how we breathe informs how we feel,” breathwork facilitator and Kundalini Yoga teacher Vivian Rosenthal, who runs a breathwork company called Frequency Breathwork, tells Healthnews. “It’s a mindfulness practice that is gaining in popularity because its benefits are immediately felt.”

There are numerous types of breathwork, which is a form of meditation — all of which involve different ways to control, modify, and focus your breathing pattern. Rosenthal specializes in cyclical breathing, which emphasizes prolonged exhalations and was recently shown to lower anxiety, improve mood, and increase feelings of energy, joy, and peacefulness.

“After a long battle with Lyme disease, gut, and autoimmune issues, I was struggling with depression and anxiety and was searching for something that would help me,” Rosenthal tells Healthnews of how she discovered the practice. “I went to a workshop on breathwork and after just one session, I felt an incredible sense of relief. I knew immediately I wanted to study it.”

Deep rhythmic breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, a key part of the parasympathetic nervous system which makes us feel calm. The practice signals to the body that we are safe, Rosenthal explains, helping us shift from the fight or flight response to rest and enter the parasympathetic state.

Breathwork has also been shown to boost the immune system, increase energy, help manage and sometimes mitigate chronic pain, lower blood pressure, improve circulation, and strengthen the lungs.

A 2023 Scientific Reports study linked breathwork to preventing Alzheimer's disease. One hypothesis for the reasoning is that deep breathing may clear neurotoxic waste products from the body, which may cause Alzheimer's.

However, other 2023 research in Nature said more research is needed to ensure the connection and that there may be miscalibiration between "hype and evidence."

Nevertheless, Rosenthal says it works for her. “Breathwork has helped me in countless ways, but the most pronounced way is by reducing my overall anxiety and stress and helping me to release a lot of the trauma I’d been holding in my body from years of chronic anxiety, panic attacks, and a hyper-vigilant nervous system,” Rosenthal says. “It’s also helped me with sleep and with digestive issues.”

Learning how to deeply breathe doesn't come cheap, however. Some companies charge upwards of $2,600 while others charge $400 a session. For some, the price is worth it.


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