How many times have you been told to “just breathe”? If you’ve been to a yoga class, you’ve probably heard your instructor tell you to “listen to your breath.” And although it at first seems pretty “woo woo,” or plain old obvious, after time (and with proper instruction) it starts to make sense.
Our breath is like a metronome for life. When it stops going at the right pace, things don’t go as planned. This is the basis for breathwork, or a form of energy work that involves different breathing techniques to help ground, center, and release energy. Much like a yoga class, these sessions are led by trained professionals whose goal is to help you experience presence, oneness, and healing. For those who deal with anxiety, breathwork offers a safe and healthy option for learning to handle emotions.
Fortunately, we have the 411, from two breathwork instructors, on how to use it to help cope with anxiety so you can breathe your way to bliss.
Meet Erin Telford: Breathwork coach, acupuncturist, reiki master.
HelloGiggles: How would you describe breathwork to someone who’s not familiar with what it is?
Erin Telford: The type of Breathwork that I work with is an active meditation technique that uses the breath to move stuck emotional energy in the body. You breathe with an open mouth into the emotional center in the belly, oxygenating and breathing new life force into old stories and limiting beliefs. You draw the breath up to the heart to purify and wash these emotions with love. You breathe out of the mouth to release.
The experience helps you let go of strong emotions like anger and grief. It leaves you feeling softer, open, and less burdened. Our breath seems so simple, but it is a high form of technology for self-healing. The breath can help you to stay grounded, stay in your heart, and stay present. Breathwork can be a cathartic, heart-opening, intuition-enhancing, psychedelic experience.
HG: How does breathwork help you become aware of your emotions?
ET: Breathwork helps you bypass your intellect and your thinking brain to go into the intelligence of your body. When you let go of the control of your mind, you can just experience your emotions without needing to rationalize them or criticize them.
It’s natural to put the brakes on your emotional experience by judging it. I hear people all the time saying that they shouldn’t be feeling a certain way or that they should be over something by now. Breathwork can help you just feel and release. When your heart is open, you have more compassion and tenderness for yourself, and you can just feel your feelings without needing them to be different. Breathwork also helps increase your connection to your intuition so you can interpret your emotions with a lot more ease.
HG: Personally, how do you use breathing to cope with anxiety?
ET: I am a highly sensitive person and an empath, which created a lot of stress for me until I learned how to deal with it. I had to learn how to identify what was my energy and what was other people’s energy, so that I could know when my energetic boundaries were being crossed or pulled on. Breathwork helped me to identify my own energetic frequency. It also helped me get comfortable existing in my own body as a safe space. It helped me learn how to ground myself and pull my energy back in so it didn’t feel diffused and scattered.
Anxiety is a hot emotion in that it generates unrest inside, a feeling of having one foot all the way on the gas and one foot simultaneously on the brake. It can also be a way to outrun your fear of your future by trying to “get ahead” of things that might go wrong by controlling them. Anxiety can become a habit, a default setting, or a way of life where we get stuck on an adrenalized loop that requires support and a conscious, committed choice to detach from it. With Breathwork, you can work to create safety and support in your own body so that you can comfortably contain your emotional experience.
HG: What are some breathwork exercises to help deal with anxiety?
ET: My favorite Breathwork exercise for anxiety is called 2/4 breathing. If you are feeling stressed or nervous or anxious or on the edge of a panic attack, you can practice this breath.
You simply inhale for a count of two and exhale for a count of four. When you double the length of your exhale, it signals to your body that you are safe and it turns off the fight or flight response. When you start to get a little more relaxed, you can increase your inhale to a count of three and your exhale to a count of six.
I love this exercise because you can do it anywhere — in a meeting, on a date, in your car, on the subway, with your family, at your desk. No one will know you are doing it but you!
HG: What’s your suggestion for someone looking to start a journey with breathwork that doesn’t know where to start?
ET: It’s always great to have some sort of guidance with the breath because it can be so powerful. Most people are introduced to some sort of Breathwork through yoga classes. Breathwork is becoming more popular and there are a ton of different kinds. I would look around and see what is happening in your local community to find a group or practitioner to work with. I have virtual groups, guided recordings, and offer Skype sessions on my site as different ways of easing into the experience.
Any work you do with your breath is going to help you feel more present and at ease in your body. It’s all beneficial, so have fun and experiment with anything you are curious about!
Madeline Giles: Founder of Angelic Breath Healing
HelloGiggles: How would you describe breathwork to someone who’s not familiar with it?
Madeline Giles: Breathwork is a form of active meditation. It’s great for people who have trouble quieting their minds through traditional forms of meditation because the nature of the technique is active and gives the mind something to do (focus on rhythm of breath, listen to the sound of breath, notice how energy is moving through the body as a result of breath). It helps release stress and anxiety, while releasing endorphins, which gives us a happy/high feeling and makes it easier to connect to our heart and intuition.
How do you work with the angelic realm through breathwork?
MG: Connecting with the angels through breathwork occurs largely through intention. The angels cannot intervene into our lives unless we consistently ask because we have free will (aka choice!). So we start every Angelic Breath Healing class or experience with a short meditation to drop into our body, connect to the earth, and call in the angels for assistance through the experience.
Angelic Breath Healing offers breathwork as a tool to connect to our energy and have a tangible experience of angelic intervention. The angels are always around us, yet we don’t always feel or sense them — not because they aren’t there, but rather because we are not sensitized to it. Breath helps us sensitize to the vibration of angels.
HG: How do you find breathwork helps you become aware of your emotions?
MG: Breathwork connects us to our energy, and our emotions are energy. Most people think about their emotions rather than feel them. Breathwork gets us out of our mind and into our body, where our emotions are stored. We use the breath as a tool to access buried emotions, such as at times when we wanted to laugh, but didn’t — or felt like crying, but held it in.
The breath has an intelligence to it and goes to areas of our body where energy is stuck, it wants to help us free the energy, and often that experience translates to pent-up emotion rising to the surface. It can be intense, yet as we surrender and stick to the rhythm of our breath, it can ultimately bring relief and healing. This is why some people say breathwork is like 10 years of therapy in one session.
HG: What’s your own experience with using breathwork to help anxiety?
MG: Anxiety occurs when we are living outside of the present moment. We feel anxious when we’re thinking about the past or future, and are unclear about our direction here and now. Breath brings us into our body, into the present moment and helps us delve a little deeper into what may be present for us.
I have a daily morning breath practice where I’m connecting to my energy, calling in the angels, and setting clear intentions for the day ahead. Usually, this sustains me throughout the day, though there are occasions and times of the month when I feel anxious and off. If I lay down and listen to a song while engaging with the breath technique — it always shifts my energy.
HG: What are some breathwork exercises to help deal with anxiety?
MG: Aside from the technique used in Angelic Breath Healing, there are many amazing yogic breathing techniques that help shift anxiety. One of my favorites is a kundalini yoga breathing technique called alternate nostril breathing. Yogi Bhajan, who brought kundalini yoga to the west, says that the energy of our nervous system is directly related to our breathing. When we breathe long and deep through alternate nostrils, the whole nervous system is soothed, calmed, and energized simultaneously. I practice it whenever I need a mental reset and don’t have time to lay down and do breathwork.
- Chant Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo 3x (this is done before every kundalini yoga exercise)
- Sit cross legged, in a chair, somewhere you feel comfortable.
- Using the thumb and index fingers of the right hand, make a “U” of the two fingers, using the thumb to close off the right nostril and the index finger to close off the left nostril. You can rest your left hand on your knee or on your lap.
Close the left nostril, inhale deeply through the right nostril. At the end of the inhale, close the right nostril and exhale through the left nostril. Now inhale through the left nostril fully and deeply, then close the left nostril and exhale through the right one. Again, inhale through the right nostril and continue alternate nostril breathing. The breath must be complete and full on both the inhalation and exhalation cycles.
Practice for 3-5 minutes.
To end: Inhale deeply, hold the breath a few seconds, lower the hand, and exhale.
HG: What’s your suggestion for someone looking to start a journey with breathwork, but doesn’t know where to start?
MG: I have a free resource and meditation on my website for people looking to start a journey with breathwork and angels. This is for those who don’t know where to start, but would like to start somewhere! That can be found by signing up to receive the “Meet Your Angels” meditation. I also highly recommend resources and meditations offered by my breathwork teacher David Elliott, particularly the “Introduction to Breathwork” meditation. That can be found here.