Breathwork for Mental Health

Breathwork, or the practice of intentionally controlling your breath, has been widely recognized for its positive impact on mental health. It’s an important part of mindfulness and meditation, and is a simple yet powerful tool that can help you manage stress, anxiety, anger, and other emotional challenges. It’s also something you can do anytime, anywhere, for free - so it’s a technique worth exploring!

The Mental Health Benefits of Breathwork

Breathwork engages the body's natural relaxation response. Deep breathing techniques can help regulate your nervous system, reducing symptoms of anxiety, improving mood, and enhancing focus. By practicing breathwork, you can experience a sense of calmness and clarity, which can help you maintain emotional balance and overall mental health. Plus, it just feels good!

Understanding the Mechanics of Breathwork

Breathwork functions by influencing the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary bodily functions such as heart rate and digestion. This system is divided into the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for the "fight or flight" response) and the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for the "rest and digest" response). Deep, controlled breathing can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation and reducing the effects of stress. Simply put, when you take slow, deep breaths, your body sends your brain signals that it’s ok to calm down and relax.

Breathing Techniques for Mental Health

Many specific breathwork techniques have been developed to support mental health, so try out different ones to find what works best for you. Here are some of the most popular ones that are relatively easy for beginners:

Diaphragmatic Breathing (Abdominal/Belly Breathing)

Belly breathing is a simple technique that reduces stress and promotes relaxation by encouraging full oxygen exchange and slowing the heartbeat. Here’s how you can practice it:

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. 
  2. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. 
  3. Inhale deeply through your nose, allowing your abdomen to rise while keeping your chest still. 
  4. Exhale slowly through your mouth, feeling your abdomen fall.
  5. Repeat 3-10 times.

4-7-8 Breathing Technique

This technique involves counting your breath. The pause in between your inhale and exhale helps to slow things down so you can relax. Making your exhale longer than your inhale naturally calms the body and mind by stimulating the vagus nerve, which plays a key role in activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Try it out:

  1. Inhale quietly through your nose for a count of 4. 
  2. Hold your breath for a count of 7. 
  3. Exhale completely through your mouth for a count of 8. 
  4. Repeat this cycle four times.

Box Breathing

If you’re prone to overthinking, you might worry that you’re not practicing breathwork correctly. This can create extra anxiety, which defeats the entire purpose. Instead, try box breathing (also called “square breathing”.) This is a simple, easy-to-remember technique that can activate your parasympathetic nervous system to calm your mind and decrease stress. A square has four even sides, so just remember 4-4-4-4:

  1. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4. 
  2. Hold your breath for a count of 4. 
  3. Exhale through your mouth for a count of 4. 
  4. Hold your breath for a count of 4. 
  5. Repeat for several cycles.

Resonance Breathing

Resonance breathing, also known as coherent breathing, involves breathing at a consistent, steady rate while aiming for 4.5-7 breaths per minute (to simplify this, you can go by counts of 5 to achieve 6 breaths per minute). This technique helps synchronize the heart rate and respiratory system, promoting a balanced state of mind and aiding in emotional regulation and resilience. Give it a try:

  1. Inhale for a count of 5 
  2. Exhale for a count of 5 
  3. Continue this pattern for several minutes, maintaining a steady rhythm.

Practical Tips for Incorporating Breathwork into Daily Life

Creating a regular breathwork practice can significantly enhance your mental health. Start by setting aside a few minutes each day to practice breathwork. Integrate breathwork into your daily routine, perhaps first thing in the morning or before bed. A regular midday deep breathing session might be beneficial in helping you reset if your days are typically stressful. Once you’re practiced it enough, breathwork can become a tool that you naturally reach for in times of high stress, anxiety, or overwhelm. By making breathwork a part of your daily life, you can reduce stress, enhance focus, and promote emotional balance. 

Holistic Mental Health Care at Medens Health

Breathwork is a powerful and accessible tool for improving mental health, but it is just one of many possible tools. At Medens Health, we embrace a holistic approach to mental health, recognizing the interconnectedness of mind, body, and environment. In addition to traditional mental health care such as therapy and medication, we support integrating practices like breathwork and meditation into your life for greater overall balance, harmony, and wellbeing. If you’re interested in working with a mental health provider that takes this approach, reach out to our team today. 

Call or text (833) 624-5400, fill out our contact form, or get started here!


The information provided in this blog is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Reliance on any information this blog provides is solely at your own risk. Always seek the advice of your physician or a qualified mental health provider with any questions regarding your medical or mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who is qualified to give you safe, professional, and ethical advice regarding your mental health.

If you or someone you are responsible for is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should call 9-1-1 and/or take them to the nearest emergency room.