An Introduction To Breath Work: How I Accidentally Cured My Anxiety And Cyclical Depression By Breathing

Being in a perpetual state of stress and anxiety is lame. I tried it for years. An ongoing cycle of run run run, followed by a crash and depression. No structure. Just stress. I'd go until I couldn't handle it anymore, and then I'd breakdown. I'd go days and weeks without checking any of my accounts or my phone. I'd just vanish and be depressed. This would make me more stressed out. I'd procrastinate. Blow off commitments. Avoid everyone. I would simply hide. Then I learned how to breathe. Then all that stuff magically went away.

Well, it's not quite magic. I guess it did take some time.

On day 1, I noticed immediate improvement.

On day 14, I could tell things were different.

On day 100, my natural state of existence was unrecognizable to myself.

No more burnout. No more anxiety. No more depression. It all just sort of melted away for me.

It's not an unbroken boulevard of rainbows and handjobs though. I backslide. I fall out of practice. But now days, me stressing is the extremely rare scenario (so rare in fact that I always notice it and get confused). Rather then 95% stressed, 5% cool. I'm 95% cool, 5% stressed.

I credit it all to breath work. So here's how I do it.

Source Citation: Dr. Andrew Weil M.D. He is the author of a lot of awesome books on health. I got this audio program on my iPhone. It's where I learned everything I know about breath.

Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing

Introduction To Breath Work

My goal is not to give you "my version" of breath work. It's to give you Dr. Weil's version. But regurgitated through my lens of doing it, as a generally unhealthy person. To key in on any struggles or confusion I ran into and the benefits I saw. I hope that hearing it from me, rather than from an authority, causes you to actually buy the audiobook and do it.

Overview: My breath work routine consists of about 15-20 minutes of focused breathing exercises. Think of it like weight lifting, using sets and reps. In between each set of breaths, I breathe normally for 5-10 breaths.

I think it might be the case that the order is actually very important. So follow it while doing the full routine.

The 4 Keys To Great Breathing: Deeper, Quieter, Slower, More Regular. Make this your mantra :).

Breath #1. Focus Attention On Breath. (1 x 20)

This is like shifting your brain into neutral. It's the simplest form of meditation. On your first attempt, assuming that you've never done breath work or meditation practice before, it will seem difficult.

Your attention will slip away from your breath and onto other things. You'll want to beat yourself up for, "doing it wrong." Don't. That's just how it goes. Simply nudge your attention gently back to your breath and keep going.

As time goes by your ability to focus attention on your breath will improve. Your mind will become more calm and quiet.

This is also a good time to take a baseline mental note of how your breathing is going. Where in your body are you breathing (nose, mouth, chest, gut). Is your breath regular or irregular. You can then check in at the end of the exercise to notice how your breath has changed (it'll probably be pretty dramatic your first time).

Why this breath is awesome: It teaches you to control your attention and quiet your mind. Begins relaxing you immediately. Talent with this breath will noticeably improve over time.

Other times to use: Anytime I am feeling a bit stuck, slow, sluggish, or dull. If I have writer's block. If I'm in an afternoon lull. To shift gears from one mode to another (work to play for example).

Breath #2. Begin With Exhale. (1 x 20)

Rather than breathing in and then breathing out, reverse it. Breathe out and then breathe in.

This will feel weird the first few times you do it and again your attention may slip onto something else, just casually bring it back to your breath.

Why this breath is awesome: It is a lot easier to control your breath on the exhale than on the inhale. By using this breath you start to practice that control and can lead your breath to being deeper, quieter, slower, and more regular.

To take deeper breaths it's much easier to just breathe a lot more air out. This will naturally make your entire breath deeper.

Breath #3. Hard Exhale. (5 x 1)

This is where things get fun. If you're anything like me, breaths 1 and 2 were either difficult (because your thoughts kept distracting you) or boring (because you didn't have anything cool to think about).

The hard exhale is where things get a little more intense. It's also where I first start to notice physiological changes and what I imagine to be endorphins, dopamine, and other happy chemicals getting released.

Process: Exhale for a long time, try to squeeze every last molecule of air out of your lungs. You should continue exhaling until the muscles around the sides of your rib cage start to tremble and shake (and then push a little further). Then stop and let your lungs fill with air and breathe normally for a few breaths. Then repeat. Do this 5x.

At the end of it you should be taking noticeably deeper breaths and you'll feel a noticeable shift in your body/mind.

Breath #4. Universe Visualization Breath (1 x 20)

I label this breath as a bit "woo woo" and silly. But... When I do it, I feel good. So I do it.

Process: Inhale through your nose and imagine that the entire universe is forcing the air through your nose and into your lungs, full of positive vibes and happiness. As you exhale imagine that the universe is sucking all of the air out of your lungs, extracting any negative ju-ju and bad vibes.

I don't know why this breath is awesome. It might be simple NLP or placebo or the universe actually forcing your breath. But I feel happier when I do it. I never do this breath outside of the routine however.

Breath #5. Stimulating Breath or Bellow's Breath. (2 set for 15-30 seconds)

This breath is the most powerful and intense breath in the bunch. It is the first breath that scared me. I don't have any idea what's really going on when I do it. But it shakes things loose for me. What things? I don't really know. Stress maybe. Negative thoughts. Unconscious stuff. It's brought up some weird emotions at times for me. I love it.

Here is a demonstration video from Dr. Weil. 

Process: To begin, close your mouth, and inhale through your nose. Then begin to breathe in and out as quickly as you can through your nose. You aren't taking full breaths, it's a rapid in and out. You should be able to get 2-5 in and outs per second. Continue this for 30 seconds (ish). It'll be scary after about 10-15 seconds. Push it. At the end take a big breath in and exhale fully, then breathe normally.

Why this breath is awesome: Huge physiological shift. Warms you up. Calms you down. Clears your mind.

Other times I use this breath: Anytime a thought is bothering me that I just can't let go of. Or if I find myself dwelling on something. I do a 30 second bellow's breath, usually it's gone. If not, I repeat. It can move me from stressed to chill in 30 seconds. It's the most powerful mental tranquilizer I have in my tool belt.

Breath #6. 4 7 8 Relaxation Breath. (4 x 4, 7, 8)

This breath is the breath I use the most frequently throughout the day. I do it at least 2x daily (the full 4x of 4,7,8 cycle). I do it before bed. I do it in the shower.

Here is a demonstration video from Dr Weil.

Process: Breathe in for a 4 count through your nose (mouth closed). Hold for a 7 count. Exhale through your mouth for an 8 count. Throughout this entire breath keep your tongue pressed against the roof of your mouth, just behind your teeth. Do 4 full breaths maximum.

Why this breath is so awesome: Because the ability to relax myself is probably the most valuable thing that I've ever learned. The only thing I need to be completely relaxed is 20-30 seconds of having my eyes closed and doing this breath. It causes me to feel at least as relaxed as a 60 minute relaxing massage would. I still go in for physical relaxation and massages, totally. But this breath is the only thing I need and it's always available to me for free.

Finale: up to 60 second Bellow's breath, transitioning instantly into 4 7 8 relaxation breath for 4 breaths.

After this finale I either meditate or finish and go back to my day. I feel incomparably better after than I do before. My brain fires more smoothly. I feel more resilient. I make better decisions. I'm more creative. I enjoy the day. I feel relaxed.

It's pretty awesome.

I spent a long time thinking that to be an entrepreneur and earn my keep I had to work my face off every day and suffer. That's what the lifestyle had to be. I had to be exhausted, stressed, and in a constant state of panic and fear.

I don't know why I believed that. But since I've experimented with the possibility that, "maybe that's not an absolute truth" my life has gotten better. The tool I've used most to work on myself is breath work.

My results at work have improved dramatically. I'm sleeping and eating better. I'm getting more done in less time. I'm enjoying more relationships with more people, and actually enjoying them, not just waiting until they leave so that I can work more.

It's hard for me to overstate the benefits I experience by doing this routine every day. It's hard to reflect back on what life was like before I started doing it. I know I was a lot more stressed out and unhealthy. But I don't know why, medically speaking. Things that might have caused me stress in the past no longer do, it just wouldn't make sense to me to be anxious. So I really do mean that it's hard for me to overstate it. I don't know the words to use.

I was really excited about it after a few times doing it (and seriously noticing lower anxiety throughout the day) but ongoing it just became the thing I do. It's less of a huge score and more of a gentle nudge in the direction of positive mental and physical health.

Breath work is one of those things like saving money. You do it a little bit at a time, over and over again, with unfailing consistency. It's never a huge thing. But when you have it happening regularly, over a long period of time, amazing things happen.

If you're neurotic, stressed, anxious, depressed, nervous, or experience any of the common symptoms of these things (poor sleep, unhealthy coping mechanisms, low energy, unhappiness) then try breath work. Try it for a few days, as a bet. If you notice any positive changes commit to doing it for 6 weeks, once per day. Even if you don't get through the full routine every day. The stopping for 60 seconds to do a relaxing breath or hot breath will be another deposit in your mental health account.

I think it is the most valuable habit that anyone can have, period. I'm also not a doctor.

The title of "accidentally" is totally true. I never had an outcome in mind with breath work. I thought maybe I would relax a bit. I did it one day, following Dr Weil's program because I was feeling particularly unhealthy. After 1 session I felt better. So I tried another one later on, I felt even better. Then the next day I did it again. There was never a big commitment or learning a new habit. I did something, it felt good, so I kept doing that thing.

It was only looking back after continuing to do the good feeling thing for quite a while that I was thought to myself, "holy shit."

Just breathe yo.