Breath as a Tool to Aid Healing
Last updated: October 2023
Breathing...it’s something we all do without even thinking. We trust that our breath will happen naturally, and without thinking, we accept the oxygen that our breath carries into our cells. It’s a necessary, but simple, part of every human’s daily existence. But now more than ever, people are learning to utilize breathing as a tool for healing. And the best part? It’s free and available to all of us!
Breathing to calm and relax
I started using breathwork in my physical therapy practice over the years as a means of relaxation and body awareness.
But it wasn’t until I received a leukemia diagnosis that I started learning how it could help me through neutropenic fevers, managing anxiety during bone marrow biopsies, and just generally calming me before treatments and office visits with my doctors.
When I was newly diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia, I experienced a lot of fevers. I checked my temperature regularly and started to play with the idea that breathing with my diaphragm (deep belly breathing) could help bring my fevers down.
I’m not going to say that the fevers were completely eliminated with breathing alone, but I was very pleased to see that my breath work actually did make a difference.
Breathwork used as a healing tool
In the time since then, I have learned to utilize and teach breath work techniques as a means of self-healing. It helps me to clear big emotions, evoke calmness, bring awareness to what I am feeling in my body, and sometimes increase energy, depending on the type of breathing exercise I perform. There are so many possibilities, and most of the breathing techniques can be done no matter where I am.
The easiest breathing technique I use is diaphragmatic breathing. I do this when sitting in my hematologist’s office, in bed before falling asleep at night, and I often just check in during the day to notice if I am breathing with my belly instead of my chest. It’s really that simple! If I notice chest breathing, I remind my shoulders to relax, and I try to bring in deeper breaths through my diaphragm. I have read that this type of breathing will bring more oxygen to the cells of our bodies, so as I inhale, I imagine the oxygen circulating through and nourishing my blood and body.
When I need a feeling of alertness, I simply close off my left nostril and take deep breaths through the right nostril only. I studied Kundalini yoga years ago where I learned that this type of breathing brings feelings of being alert and ready to go, and it really works for me. Just a couple of minutes breathing through only the right nostril helps to perk me up a bit, especially if I am doing things that require brain power.
I use what they call box breathing for a general somatic release during regular activities like taking a walk, watching TV, and driving/riding in the car. This technique involves inhaling for a count of 4 (or any number), holding for the same count of 4, exhaling for a count of 4, and holding for another count of 4. This is a very calming and relaxing type of breathing, and it helps me to bring awareness to anything I am feeling.
Breathing as healing has become a popular trend. There are many resources readily available that teach different methods, and some are even guided. The ones I have tried and am most familiar with are :
- Wim Hof breathing -Googling his name will bring up his website and YouTube videos.
- Othership -this is a subscription app I downloaded on my phone, but there are free guided breathing exercises as well.
- David Elliott on Spotify -there are both free and guided exercises here too.
There are many other ways to use breath as an aid in our general health and wellness. The best part is being able to change it to fit my needs, and I’m always in control. It is probably the best and easiest thing I have done to improve and maintain my health.
How do you feel about your support system?