The newest wellness craze is all about inhaling and exhaling, as people flock to breath work classes.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

The newest wellness craze is all about inhaling and exhaling, as people flock to breath work classes. Fans say the rhythmic breathing exercises help them make tough decisions and kick-start big changes. “Breathing quiets the thoughts, allowing you to connect with your body and feelings,” says Sara Silverstein, a breath work teacher in Brooklyn, New York. And if a studio isn’t convenient, you can do it on your own. Here’s how to get started.

Breathe in threes

There are different types of breath work patterns, but the basic one is the three-part breath. To practise it, inhale sharply into your stomach and again into your chest, then exhale, all through your mouth. Repeat for seven to 35 minutes. “You want to do the same breath repetitively, so you’re getting a good flow of oxygen, and the rhythmic pattern lets you get out of your thoughts,” Sara says. That oxygen infusion is powerful: “When you take fast breaths, you get rid of more carbon dioxide, an acidic molecule. This shifts your blood pH to be more alkaline, which causes increased firing of your sensory and motor neurons, as well as neurons in the autonomic nervous system,” says Alexandra Palma, a physician with Parsley Health in the US. You may notice a pleasant tingling sensation throughout your body, or even a euphoric high.

Set an intention

Know what you want to get out of breath work. Are you hoping to unlock creativity? Solve a personal problem? “It can be helpful to begin with a specific intention because the breath lets you explore something that has been on your mind 

or stored in your body and allows you to find a new perspective,” Sara says. But be flexible too. “Sometimes your mind will take a left turn. Roll with it,” she says. Trying to control your thoughts can derail the session.

Build strength

You can use breath work as a tool to improve your health. “There’s evidence that the practice can change the way our immune systems deal with inflammation,” Dr Palma says. “A study found that subjects who were taught a breath work routine had fewer severe inflammatory responses after exposure to bacterial toxins than those who didn’t.” Theoretically, that could help you recover from allergy or cold symptoms faster or keep you from getting sick in the first place, she says. Start practising before flu season, when your immunity needs an extra boost.