Breathing is something we as humans take for granted - something we do without ever thinking about it. However, learning to breathe consciously is not as easy as you would think, and it comes with huge benefits to health, wellness, and general employee wellbeing.
Work-related stress is a large contributing factor to mental health issues, and can be caused by long hours, a heavy workload, in-office conflicts, or difficulties with work-life balance. Symptoms of stress include depression, anxiety, changes in digestion or sleep, and a downturn in motivation and therefore work performance. Offering your employees access to breathing classes might not only help manage workplace stress but also improve energy and productivity.
While it is important to include healthy habits in your daily life, such as good nutrition and plenty of cardio and strength training exercises, learning how to utilise your breathing effectively has great benefits to both physical and mental health. Breath control has been incorporated into stress reducing exercises such as yoga and meditation for centuries.
Practicing mindful deep breathing improves lung capacity and therefore oxygen intake, which is crucial for the production of energy.
Mindful breathing also causes the vagus nerve to send a message to the brain to lower the heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels. Cortisol is your body’s natural stress hormone, so lowering cortisol levels, in turn, improves mental health by reducing anxiety and the risk of burnout, whilst at the same time giving you increased capacity to manage chronic pain and your body’s reaction to stress and fatigue.
There are plenty of different breathing exercises to consider, so send out a survey to your employees to find out which one is the most popular before researching which breathing classes to add to your employee benefits. Give them the option of attending in person classes or participating it online, particularly if part of your workforce is working remotely.
Here are some options:
Pranayama translates from Sanskrit to ‘prana’ - life energy, and ‘yama’ - control. It is the ancient practice of controlling your breath, and often goes hand-in-hand with yoga or meditation. The technique is to control the frequency, duration and timing of every breath, and then hold it for a few seconds.
The aim of Pranayama is to connect your mind and your body, removing toxins through increased oxygen intake, providing physical and mental healing.
Different Pranayama breathing techniques include:
Alternate nostril breathing is an excellent method for relaxation and is best done on an empty stomach, and is not recommended if you are feeling ill or congested.
This technique has been shown to lower your heart rate and improve cardiovascular function, so it is ideal for reducing stress and anxiety. Alternate nostril breathing is particularly useful in the workplace as it is an easy tool to teach your staff to help them manage their employee wellbeing.
This can be a difficult technique to master, as you may feel like you aren’t getting enough air at first as it’s done entirely through the nose with a constricted throat, but it becomes easier with practice.
Victorious breathing improves mental and physical balance, allowing for calm and peace to aid your employees with the stress of everyday life.
This type of breathing helps calm and soothe, which is particularly useful if you are angry, frustrated or anxious. As the name suggests, you will make a humming noise so it is useful to practice this in a class where everyone is joining in, or a quiet more private place.
The humming breath method is ideal for beginners as it is easy to master. The humming blocks out internal noise and releases tension in the body, improving concentration and lowering stress, particularly after a difficult meeting or confrontation.
This is the most energetic of the Pranayama techniques, as it requires you to breathe quickly in and out as though your lungs are a pair of bellows blasting air into a fire.
Bellows breath is a simple exercise aiming to energise the body and clear the mind, creating general balance and wellness and is easily practiced at one’s desk.
Tummo breathing has its origins in Tibetan Buddhism, and translates to ‘inner fire’. It uses a specific pattern of breathing together with imagining a flame going up your spine, aiming to increase energy levels, so it is not recommended that you practice this before bedtime, nor without consulting your doctor.
Tummo breathing is particularly useful before a big presentation or meeting as it literally sparks your ‘inner fire’, preparing and energising your employees both mentally and physically for the task ahead, as well as modulating cognitive function, essentially giving you a brain boost.
This will allow your employees to not only warm up in colder weather, but also to feel mentally focussed and ready to face any challenges that lie ahead. It is a trickier exercise to master though, so it is recommended to learn this technique through a breathing class.
Offering your employees access to breathing classes as one of your where they can learn mindful breathing techniques can only benefit by lowering stress levels and therefore improving happiness and productivity.
This is an easy and simple method to learn, and it is recommended that you practice after walking or before a meal, as it is not comfortable on a full stomach. The aim of this method is to breathe deeply without using force.
This method releases inner tension, and may lead to light-headedness and tingling in your extremities, so it is recommended that you practice it sitting or lying down. The Wim Hof method aims to teach your body to respond to stress whilst releasing energy in the process, helping your employees become more resilient and in control of their physiological and mental response to stress.
Adding breathing classes and techniques combined with meditation and mindfulness to your employee benefits can help your employees to reduce their stress levels and give them the tools they need to manage both their physical and mental health not only in the work environment but also at home.