Is Breathing Well More Important Than What We Eat?
Breathing is one of the most unique biological functions we have—as humans, we can participate in our breath and immediately affect the way we feel. At revitalize, our annual summit and biggest wellness event of the year, mindbodygreen's founder and CEO Jason Wachob spoke to leading voices in the breathwork movement to understand this up-and-coming trend. Andrew Huberman, Ph.D. is a neuroscientist and studies breathing and its relationship to stress response with VR equipment, Brian Mackenzie is a athletic performance coach, and Ashley Neese is a spiritual counselor, meditation guide, and breathwork teacher.
Here's the insider scoop on why breathwork is the next frontier of the wellness movement, straight from the revitalize stage:
1. Breathwork is a shortcut to a meditative state.
This was a unanimous agreement among all three panelists. Working with the breath in a daily practice helps you control your mental, physical, and emotional state. While you're able to feel the effects of breathwork almost immediately afterward, doing it daily helps you see results over time just like you would with a diet or exercise program.
2. You can live without food for 30 to 40 days, but without breath you'll die in minutes.
This fact isn't groundbreaking unto itself, but in the context of evaluating what's best for our well-being it begs the question: why haven't we considered the way we breathe to be as important (or more important) as what we eat? Mackenzie, who works with athletes to improve performance, aptly pointed out that we have mastered cardiovascular training, strength and muscular training, but at present there's no standardized pulmonary training—not just for athletes, but for anyone. "You can't out-fitness this thing," he said when speaking about a recent project working with NFL players to increase their pulmonary capacity—it goes to show that even the most athletic people in the world need direction with their breathing.
3. We now have the ability to study the way breath affects autonomic arousal in the body, and vice versa.
Dr. Huberman (and the other panelists) asserted that breathwork is unique in that the "biohacking" and spiritual approaches, although different, actually have significant overlap when it comes to new research. There are two main advantages to being able to study this practice: first, it validates the spiritual work people have been doing for centuries, and second, it helps us identify a common denominator between practices like breathwork and yoga nidra, meditation, flow state, and more so we can better understand how to optimize and heal our bodies.
4. Too many of us are mouth-breathing.
Breathing through the mouth keeps the breath in the chest, which is not where it is most effective at oxygenating and removing carbon dioxide from the body. One simple change we can all make today is to start breathing more through the nose. Noted!
5. Our breath gives us immediate access to our intuition.
Spiritually speaking, Neese explained that the breath is where our consciousness and subconscious meet. This resonated both with Huberman's scientific research that examines how breath interacts with our ability to alleviate the fear state, and also the concept that breath is the one physiological system we can control.
6. By focusing on lengthening your exhale, you automatically increase the richness of your inhale.
In addition to nasal breathing, Neese said that lengthening your exhale is one of the easiest things we can do to change our mental state, ground ourselves, and experience a deeper and more fulfilling breath.
Lindsay Kellner is a freelance writer, editor and content strategist based out of Brooklyn, NY. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism and psychology at New York University and earned a 200-hour yoga certification from Sky Ting. She is the co-author of “The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide to Ancient Self Care,” along with mbg’s Sustainability Editor, Emma Loewe.