I really struggled to pick my last challenge for the catch-up, but since one of the elements I seem to be always out of touch with is air, I decided to hop into this topic…well, slowly. (This is my catch-up challenge entry for Weekly Witchy CHALLENGE - Of the Element Air)
I have always had trouble connecting with the Air element on a physical level. Even on a spiritual level, I do not see air as being related to intellect or wisdom as many people do. One phrase that pops into my head when thinking about the element Air and being intelligent is actually quite the opposite – do you know what it means to call someone an airhead?
Urban Dictionary defines an airhead as follows:
Absent-minded, stupid, nothing up top, does simple tasks incorrectly, forgetful, oblivious to every day procedures – Urban Dictionary
I’m not sure, but that is where my mind goes any time I think of the Air element.
So, rather than getting stuck on the element’s connection to intellect and creativity, I went a different route – the element Air as a representation of Life through breathwork.
Breathing is something we do automatically, without giving it much thought. It is part of our autonomous nervous system, meaning we don’t have to tell ourselves to breathe – it just happens. While breathing regularly is something we don’t usually control, so is breathing abnormally during stressful situations. When we take control of our breathing, we can greatly affect our mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.
Breathwork is something new to me. I have only used breathwork a few times, usually to calm down a dysregulated nervous system in the middle of an anxiety attack or almost-meltdown. There are many different benefits of breathwork for both physical and mental health, but breathwork can be practiced in a spiritual sense, too. I will talk about a few different benefits and how you can practice breathwork in your spiritual, religious, or witchcraft practices.
One of the main benefits of breathwork is increased oxygenation in the body. When we breathe deeply and consciously, we take in more air and oxygen. This helps to improve our circulation, boost energy levels, and enhance our mental clarity. Deep breathing exercises can also help to release tension in the muscles and promote a feeling of relaxation.
Stress is a major contributor to many health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and anxiety. Breathwork has been shown to be an effective tool for reducing stress and promoting relaxation. By focusing on the breath and slowing down the pace of breathing, we can activate the body’s relaxation response, which can help to reduce stress hormones and calm the mind.
Breathwork in this regard is also a good way to calm a dysregulated nervous system and sort of push the reset button. In an article written in Psychology Today, they state that “Using diaphragmatic breathing techniques to kickstart the calming ‘rest and digest’ influence of the parasympathetic nervous system is referred to as respiratory vagus nerve stimulation (rVNS).” The vagus nerve is responsible for a lot in the body, and when it is dysregulated, so are we.
Breathwork can also be an effective tool for improving mental health. By focusing on the breath and practicing mindfulness, we can learn to observe our thoughts without judgment and cultivate a more positive outlook on life. Breathwork has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In fact, breathwork is a key factor in most styles of meditation. When we take deep inhales with a long, slow exhale, we are activating our parasympathetic nervous system to immediately promote a sense of relaxation. When we are relaxed, we are better able to focus on things that matter and not be affected by stress.
Developed by psychiatrists in the 1970s, holotropic breathing involves using controlled and increasing speeds of breathing to enter an altered state of consciousness. Many people use this type of breathing for healing work as it may promote relaxation, stress relief, and self-awareness. However, others say that this type of breathwork is trance-inducing and can be used for spiritual growth, spirit connections, and hedge-riding. This type of breathwork can be dangerous to those that have underlying conditions or that increase the speed of breathing too quickly, so if you practice this, please do so carefully or with a professional.
Sometimes called Shamanic Breathing, alternate nostril breathing is exactly as it sounds. You breathe in through one nostril and breathe out through another. It has been around for hundreds of years and comes from Eastern philosophy.
Known in Sanskrit as Nadī Shodhana, alternate nostril breathing is also sometimes called channel-cleaning breath — and actually, those two names tell you a lot about what it can do.
Nadī refers to the energy that circulates throughout your body, while Shodhana refers to purifying or cleansing. Nadī Shodhana, then, is said to help clear your energy channels and bring about inner balance.
“You do it by isolating each nostril, breathing in through only one of them at a time and then exhaling through the other,” Dr. Young says. Before sharing a step-by-step guide to doing it yourself, though, she explains some of the health benefits.
Personally, I partake in a small form of breathwork regularly, though it didn’t occur to me until just now that that’s what I was doing. Every time I approach my altar to light Brigid’s candle, I take three long, slow, deep breaths to help focus and center myself. This aligns me with my purpose at that moment, a physical reminder of the religious act I am about to do.
I do want to explore breathwork more deeply to help my connection with Air, but maybe I have been more connected to Air than I thought.