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3 Reasons Breathwork Can Be a Step Up From Meditation

Here's how to crank up your meditation practice through intentional breathing.

Key points

  • People often overlook the power in the simple act of breathing.
  • Breathwork and mindfulness meditation are not the same.
  • Consciously choosing to take deep, slow breaths can help counter stress.
Source: Max Van Den Oetelaar/Unsplash
Source: Max Van Den Oetelaar/Unsplash

“Breathwork” is an umbrella term encompassing a range of intentional breathing exercises designed to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and improve overall mental and physical health. Yet people often overlook the profound power hidden in the simple act of breathing.

In fact, a study published in Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback proposes that instead of targeting neurotransmitters with medication, reversing homeostatic imbalances through meditation involving breathwork may be a more effective approach to address the comprehensive physiological changes that occur in stress, anxiety, and depression. It also suggests that these breathing techniques could serve as primary and complementary treatments for these conditions.

Here are three things you need to know about breathwork and its therapeutic benefits.

1. Breathwork and Mindfulness Meditation Are Not the Same

We might easily confuse breathwork with other well-known practices like mindfulness and meditation, as they can all involve working with the breath. However, there are distinct differences between them.

To understand meditation and mindfulness, think of your mind as a TV with many channels. When you meditate or practice mindfulness, you act as a calm viewer. You watch thoughts and feelings without getting too involved. Happy thoughts are like funny shows; you smile but stay calm. Sad thoughts are like sad scenes; you notice them and let them go. It’s like being an impartial TV watcher, not controlled by your emotions.

Now, envision a remote control for your breath in breathwork. You use this remote to alter how you feel. To relax, you slow your breath, much like gently inflating a balloon. For more energy, breathe faster and deeper, like swiftly inflating a large balloon. It’s like having a specialized remote to fine-tune your emotions by adjusting your breathing.

In short, meditation offers a variety of tools in a big toolbox, some involving breath. Breathwork, on the other hand, is a super-focused approach to your breath, using specific techniques or breathing patterns for specific goals.

2. It’s a Reliable Stress-Buster

Psychologists have long recognized the connection between our mental and physical states. Breathwork taps into this connection by using conscious breathing as a bridge. When we intentionally alter our breathing patterns, we actively influence our emotions and cognitions.

Consider a stressful situation like a big presentation or an important exam. Our body naturally responds with the “fight or flight” reaction: heart racing, muscles tensing, and cortisol surging. It’s a natural reaction designed to prepare us for immediate action.

Here, by consciously choosing to take deep, slow breaths in such situations, we initiate a powerful counter-response in our body. This specific breathing pattern triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, often referred to as the “rest and digest” system. When activated, it sends signals to our body that it’s safe to relax, reducing stress hormone levels like cortisol.

This is supported by research that states that breathwork acts as a switch in the mind-body connection. It allows us to move from a state of heightened stress and tension to one of relaxation and calmness. This not only soothes our immediate emotional distress but also has a long-lasting impact on our overall mental and physical well-being.

3. It Functions as an Emotional Regulator

Research reveals that breathwork not only leads to reduced levels of perceived stress and psychosomatic complaints, but also enhances confidence in regulating emotions, including emotional awareness, access to regulation strategies, and emotional clarity.

Emotional regulation is vital for managing challenging or emotionally charged situations, where emotions tend to run high, potentially leading to overwhelm. Through the practice of “breath awareness,” we can learn to pay close attention to our breath—a simple yet impactful technique aiding emotional regulation.

Here’s how it works: When we consciously focus on our breath, we create a pause to distance ourselves from the immediate emotional intensity of the situation. Controlled breathing, such as slow, deep breaths, calms the nervous system and helps reduce feelings of anger or anxiety.

This practice helps us regain composure, think clearly, and control emotions, equipping us to respond rationally to challenges. Breathwork thus serves as a buffer, facilitating graceful navigation through emotional moments, ultimately enhancing overall well-being and resilience in the face of life’s trials.


Breathwork and breathing exercises can be transformative. Whether you are seeking relaxation, emotional balance, or improved performance, breathwork offers a valuable tool for enhancing your well-being. So, take a deep breath and explore the world of conscious breathing—it may change your life for the better.

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