It turns out that the most natural solution to a gamut of health concerns has been literally right under your nose. Yes, breathing—the simple act that gets us through every moment of every day—actually offers a list of additional health benefits (beyond keeping us alive). "Breathing is massively practical," Belisa Vranich, Ph.D., a psychologist and the author of the book Breathe, told The New York Times last year. "It's meditation for people who can't meditate." Controlled breathing practices, or breathwork, as it's often called, can have transformative effects on our physical well-being, as evidenced by a number of studies. In case you're not yet on board with breathing as a way to boost your health, we've highlighted just a handful of the reasons you should give it a go.
Keep scrolling to discover five science-backed ways breathwork can transform your health.
Studies have found that breathing correctly can provide an instant mood boost and regular practice can even help to alleviate depression. One study led by Chris Streeter, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University, found that after just 12 weeks of daily yoga and coherent breathing, individuals diagnosed with major depressive disorders saw their depressive symptoms significantly decrease. Conversely, their levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid—a brain chemical with calming and anti-anxiety effects—increased.
Your body uses oxygen to create energy. If you feel fatigued or simply worn down from life, breathwork can provide a natural boost of energy that won't cause you to crash later. Valerie Hunt, Ph.D., of the University of California Los Angeles has pioneered research surrounding the electrical energy—or human aura—emitted from the body's surface. Hunt asserts that we can create bioscalar energy to promote health and healing "by consciously manipulating the environmental electromagnetism in the air we breathe."
Several studies have found that controlled breathing exercises change the response of the body's nervous system, Richard Brown, MD, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and co-author of The Healing Power of the Breath tells The New York Times. Breathwork has been shown to promote feelings of calm and help to activate the sympathetic system, which controls the release of stress hormones like cortisol.
More and more physicians are turning to breathwork as a way to help with physical ailments in patients. "You can influence asthma; you can influence chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; you can influence heart failure," Mladen Golubic, MD, a physician in the Cleveland Clinic's Center for Integrative Medicine, told NPR in 2010 when explaining the profound physiological and health benefits of breathing.
Just as breathing adjusts the body's response to stress, it also improves reactions at the gut level, aiding in digestion. The increased energy and circulation brought about by deep breathing helps to eliminate waste products and toxins so your metabolism can work more efficiently. If you suffer from stomach ailments caused by stress, the stress-reducing benefits of breathwork can help rebalance your gut.