75% of employees believe that workers have more on-the-job stress than a generation ago. For this reason, many employers complain about the unproductivity of their employees more than ever. This, in turn, impacts the business operation and the bottom line: revenue.
Thus, it is vital to invest in their mental wellbeing, so that the organization could flourish at the hands of productive people.
One of the proven ways to manage stress at work is breathwork.
What is Breathwork?
Breathwork is a set of different breathing exercises that one practices to achieve physical, and emotional stability. This technique comprises of controlling your breathing patterns intentionally.
According to a report published by Insider, Richie Bostock, known as the Breath Guy regards breathing as “the body’s very own Swiss Army knife,” as it affects many aspects of your life. People feel relaxed and energized after the systematic and conscious breathwork. Simply put, breathwork is conscious breathing that teaches you how you can control your breathing rate.
For better understanding, practice it with me.
Breath in; simply relax your muscles so that your belly goes out. Hold it for a count of four. Now breathe out; tighten your muscles so that your belly goes in. That’s breathwork! As simple as that.
Why is Breathwork Beneficial at Reducing Stress and Increasing Productivity?
Breathwork is one of the most effective ways to boost productivity for the following reasons.
Super Quick Way to Reduce Stress
Studies show that different emotions induce different types of breathing. For instance, you breathe deep, slow, and regular when you are joyous. Conversely, your breathing pattern will be shallow, fast, and irregular when you are stressed.
Research published in the Frontiers in Psychology in 2017 found that the specimen (the test subjects) who finished 20 breathwork sessions over 8 weeks had experienced lower cortisol levels than those without any training.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that is released when you feel tense, stressed, etc.
“Conscious breathing heightens awareness and deepens relaxation.”
Dan Brule, Breathwork Expert
Breathwork has a direct correlation with consciousness and awareness of your surroundings. It also affects the way your conscious and subconscious brains function. Moreover, it makes room for your creative mind to come into play and allows mindfulness on deeper levels. As in, you live in the present moment with full-fledged consciousness.
A study published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition in 2018 showed that breathwork-focused practice increased the attention span of the research participants.
Another research conducted by Trinity College Dublin found that regulated breathing balanced the amount of noradrenaline (nor-ad-rena-line). Noradrenaline is a chemical messenger in the body that influences attention span and some emotions and eventually improves focus.
Many factors are affecting our sleep patterns. The overuse of mobile phones, social media, stress, the intake of hot beverages (coffee/tea), and sugar consumption, act as stimulants for sleep deprivation.
But thanks to the breathwork, it could now control the negative impact of these stimulants. It helps calm down the nervous system, which then minimizes the effect of these stimulants. This reduction, in turn, allows you to fall asleep faster and enjoy a sound sleep as well.
How Does Breathwork Create a Relaxation Response?
Let’s dig deep into how breathwork creates a relaxation response.
Reduces Levels of Stress Hormone
Cortisol is a stress hormone that is responsible for your body’s response to physical and emotional stress. Too much stress causes a surge in cortisol levels, which is a potential candidate for causing diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.
When you act calm and inhale deeply, cortisol production decreases, and your body state goes back to normal.
Releases Toxins from the Body
Your body is programmed to expel about 50% of the toxins from your body through deep breathing. One of the prime toxic substances released this way is carbon dioxide. (We release carbon dioxide during exhalation).
Carbon dioxide is acidic in nature. With faster breathing, you get rid of more and more of this acidic molecule. Therefore, your blood pH shifts from acidic to alkaline.
With deep breathwork, your diaphragm expands. (Diaphragm is a sheet of muscle underneath the lungs responsible for controlling the movement of lungs). This expansion relaxes the body and massages your lymphatic system. Which, in turn, facilitates the elimination of toxins.
With continuous and regular exercise, your body eradicates the toxins more often. The more toxins are expelled out of the body, the more oxygen-rich blood will be circulated throughout your body.
Breathwork increases Muscle Tone
Muscle tone is the tension or stiffness observed in the relaxed muscles. Or the resistance felt in stretching a joint when muscles are at rest.
There are a few things to notice when blood becomes alkaline after releasing carbon dioxide through exhaling. Up first, free calcium ions roaming in your body bind onto big protein molecules called albumin (al-bu-min). This protein prevents fluid leakage from the bloodstream to other body tissues.
Consequently, your body feels calcium-deficient for some time. This low-calcium state triggers tingling sensation, contraction of smooth muscles, and an increase in muscle tone.
According to a report by Penn Medicine, your diaphragm’s muscle is responsible for 80% of breathing. So, this breathwork will exercise and strengthen your diaphragm, which facilitates deep breathing.
Promotes Anti-inflammatory Activity
Neurons are the signaling cells that send and receive a message to and from the brain, respectively.
During hyperventilation (when blood pH goes up from acidic to alkaline during exhale), neurons also get more stimulation. This stimulus releases more epinephrine (epi-neph-rine) – commonly known as adrenaline. Adrenaline is a hormone that increases blood circulation, relaxes the muscles, and regulates carbohydrate metabolism.
Research shows that this surge in epinephrine levels boosts the innate immune system’s anti-inflammatory activity (a response against the infectious agents). The study’s findings revealed that the test subjects’ bodies who had breathwork practice demonstrated a low inflammatory response after exposure to bacterial toxins compared to those without breathwork practice.
Improves Blood Pressure and Blood Circulation
Maintaining blood pressure holds great significance for everyone. However, people struggling with stress and anxiety attacks need regulated blood pressure as continuous stress is a prominent risk factor for hypertension.
Breathwork is renowned for regulating blood pressure and overall blood circulation. According to a study performed by the International Journal of Pharma and Bio Sciences, people with high blood pressure benefit most from breathwork. The results demonstrated lower blood pressure and improved blood circulation in research participants.
Breathwork Elevates Mood
The upside of taking long, deep breaths is mental wellbeing. Yale University conducted a study wherein the test subjects participated in the breathwork program. Later, they reported improved overall mood and a significant reduction in depression, stress, and anxiety. This development manifested in positive outcomes like mindfulness and socializing more often.
The more you breathe, the more oxygen you inhale, and thus the more your body cells are energy-rich. With daily breathwork practice, your body provides you extra energy. The long, deep, and regular breaths lend a helping hand in reducing stress in the event you are sleep-deprived or have an exhaustive day.
This stress reduction puts cortisol to rest and activates the sympathetic nervous system (coming later). The usual, regulated body functions work towards boosting your immunity.
In a nutshell, breathwork strengthens immunity by reducing stress.
Besides that, with improved stamina, you can also take your workout sessions to the next level as your blood is beaming with oxygen and your body with energy.
Helps Ease Anxiety Levels
“We try all these different things for stress, but if you’re not breathing in a way that tells your nervous system that it’s time to relax, you won’t get there.”
Belisa Vranich, Clinical Psychologist
Long, deep breaths originating from the abdomen induce calmness. The science behind it is the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system and the deactivation of the sympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system exposes you to fight or flight mechanisms and is activated during emergencies. The heart rate escalates, pupils dilate, and blood vessels persistently raise pressure.
On the contrary, the parasympathetic nervous system takes you to rest and digest activities. It’s associated with lowering the heart rate and decreasing blood pressure to normal. Therefore, you feel better, and your ability to think decisively and rationally returns.
In addition, neuroscientists have observed a link between the reduction in the symptoms of depression and a rise in alpha brain waves.
Types of Brain Waves
There are five types of brain waves that your brain produces throughout the day. These waves can shift the negative thought patterns to the positive ones. Therefore, they help reduce stress and depression.
For your understanding, let’s now briefly learn when these brain waves are activated.
Alpha – activated after ensuring your mental well-being
Beta – when you are attentive, in deep thoughts, making decisions, solving problems, etc. Besides that, these waves are also induced when agitation, stress, fear, obsession, or an emergency shows up.
Gamma – occurs in the prime of consciousness. As in, during heightened perception learning, high cognitive processing, and problem-solving tasks
Theta – activated in the next level mental silence, inducing deep insights and creativity boosters
Delta – when you are enjoying a sound sleep and lose conscious awareness of your body and surroundings.
Being an employer, your priority is making sure your employees are mentally and physically stable. If they are under stress- specifically chronic stress- quite often, they will be unable to pull off their tasks at work. While, with reduced stress, they will be more energetic, more productive, and more efficient, which will yield positive outcomes for your business.
How are you going to ensure their mental wellbeing? Eager to read your comments.