This post is the first in a six-part series of blog posts on lifestyle factors (other than diet) that affect the skin. This series covers breathing, hydration, mindset, environmental toxin consumption like water quality, air quality, pesticides, and herbicides, sleeping, and alcohol consumption.
I decided to kick this series off with the foundation of life, breath. Breathing is something we often take for granted because it's something we do all day, every day. It is both non-voluntary but can also be voluntary. It's the one thing that we can't go for more than just a few minutes without doing! But, as most of us have started to see over the last few years, breath is so much more than what we previously thought it was. Controlled breathing indirectly stimulates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that connects our brain to almost every organ in our body. Breathwork has many scientifically-backed benefits, including reducing anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and more! Studies show that breathwork reduces the stress hormone cortisol levels; it can lower blood pressure, improve brain focus, and support pain management! Breathwork is also a great practice to take up if you want to support your skin's health. Check out any professional breathwork facilitator on google, and you will notice they all have freakishly good skin.
My journey with breathwork related to the skin began with a breathwork workshop I went here in Denver. Immediately after, my skin felt ALIVE. It felt so healthy and looked glowy. I have had eczema on and off throughout most of my life. At this time, I was having a severe bout of it. The next day, my skin looked better, and I saw a massive decrease in the inflammation. Since then, I have incorporated some controlled breathing almost every day in my meditation practice because I truly believe it makes me feel and look my best.
Breathing helps you release trauma and pent-up emotions. Here's where I am going to get more woo-woo. Based on my decade and a half of working directly with folks as they try to wrangle their skin issues, emotions manifest in many ways physically. One of these ways is on the skin. One of the many reasons I dealt with eczema was that fear is a driving emotion for me. Long story short, after doing some intense inner work (including breathing exercises), I started addressing the underlying fear, which helped heal my eczema.
Breathing increases blood flow to the neck and the face. Breathing improves digestion. It also helps support improved lymphatic flow. Of course, as previously discussed, deep breathing reduces cortisol (an increase in cortisol can negatively impact acne). Through all of these benefits, we see a significant glow-up for the skin!
It is essential to note that there are two types of breathing; chest breathing and abdomen breathing. Abdominal or diaphragm breathing is the type of breathing we want to strive for. Belly breathing starts in the nose, moves to the abdomen as the belly rises, then falls as the breath exits the nose or the mouth. This type of breathing is where we receive the benefits. Shallow chest breathing is restrictive and can increase the stress response. So aim for that deep belly breathing.
Some of my favorite breathing exercises include:
Begin each breathing technique by finding a comfortable spot to sit with an alert but relaxed posture. Begin by noticing the breath where it is—inhaling through the nose, exhaling through the mouth. Start to deepen the breath, feeling the rise and fall of the belly. Bedding with a deep exhale through the mouth.
Equal breathing: Inhale 1,2,3. Exhale 1,2,3. Repeat three times.
Triangle Breathing: Inhale 1,2,3. Suspend your breath 1,2,3. Exhale 1,2,3 Repeat 3 times.
Box Breathing: Inhale 1,2,3,4. Suspend your breath 1,2,3,4. Exhale 1,2,3,4. Repeat four times.
4-7-8 Breathing: Inhale 1,2,3,4. Suspend your breath 1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Exhale 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. Repeat 4 times.
Alternate Nostril Breathing or Nadi Shodhana: Place the middle finger of the right hand between the brows. Exhale 1,2,3. Use your right thumb to close your right nostril. Inhale through the left nostril 1,2,3. Close your left nostril with your right-hand ring or pinky finger. Open your right nostril and exhale 1,2,3. Close the right nostril. Open the left nostril inhale through the left 1,2,3. Repeat five times or more.
Lion's breath (also helpful because this releases tension in the chest, neck, and face):
*Note: Be cautious practicing controlled breathing if you have any respiratory issues such as asthma or emphysema. Before starting a new breathwork practice, consult your trusted medical professional to make sure it is right for you. One should not substitute the previous information in this post for medical advice or care as it is presented for educational purposes only.
Emily Davis is the owner of Stratum Aesthetics and has been a licensed esthetician since 2007. She is a holistic esthetician specializing in cannabis skin care.