Somatic breathwork, despite how it may sound, is not technical or complicated. In fact, if you’ve ever done a breathwork session with me at Lindywell, you’ve already done it!
At Lindywell, we consider somatic breathwork a conscious form of breathing that is intended to help you experience being in your body. It teaches you to breathe fully, oxygenate your body, and become aware of your senses. Somatic breathwork helps shift your mental state while allowing you to return to full and healthy breath.
For example, if I encourage you to sink into the seat below you as you take a deep breath, feeling your body relax into that support, we’re not just breathing, we’re altering our physical state.
This way of breathing is so important because the connection between the breath and the body is powerful. Here’s the thing though: powerful doesn’t have to mean serious.
In fact, what I want to talk about today is how we can use somatic breathwork to be more playful! Let’s talk about how you can connect play and somatic breathwork, why this connection can be even more beneficial for your body and mind, and, most importantly, a few ways to try it for yourself.
Breathwork and Play: What’s the Connection?
All breathwork, somatic or otherwise, can be playful. Think back to when you were a child. As children, you were likely playful with your breath in ways you might not even recognize:
- Blowing out birthday candles
- Blowing a pinwheel
- Blowing bubbles
- Blowing the fluffy head of a dandelion
- Sniffing cookies freshly baked
All of these activities brought a deep sense of joy and satisfaction—and were also innately playful. I want you to take a moment right now to think about one of these memories for you. Take a deep breath and imagine you’re back in that moment.
As you do this, notice how your body feels. You might immediately be transported back to your childhood home with your parents baking in the kitchen, or running around your yard blowing bubbles with your siblings.
Your senses are heightened like you’re there again. In this moment of nostalgia, you feel more relaxed, you may even have a smile on your face. That right there, is why playful breathwork is important.
The Connection Between Play and Calm
It’s time to let go of what breathwork should look like, and embrace the fun of it! When you do this, you not only experience the nervous system regulation benefits of breathwork (you feel less anxious and stressed, your body is able to function better—hello, deeper sleep and improved digestion—and so much more), but you get to enjoy the benefits of play too, which include:
- Better management of difficult emotions like grief.
- Improved brain functioning.
- Increased resilience and self-confidence.
- Greater sense of optimism and overall life satisfaction.
- Improved function of most hormones in the body.
- Reduced heart rate and glucose levels.
- Better balance, posture, and bone health.
So much of your life can improve by simply having a little fun with your breath—so let’s get into how you can do that.
How to Make Somatic Breathwork Playful
Bringing back the playfulness of childhood through breathwork is actually really simple. You just have to be willing to have a little fun! Here are two exercises to start with. The first is down-regulating, meaning to calm the body down. The second is up-regulating, which means to increase energy. Yes, both may feel silly—and yes, THAT is the point!
First: Lion’s Breath
This style of breathwork alleviates feelings of stress and anxiety, increases cognitive function, and boosts lung capacity.
Find a comfortable place to sit, close your eyes, and take three deep breaths in and out to slow down and come into this space and your body. Now, inhale slowly through your nose, feeling your belly expand as you fill your lungs with air. There’s that soma (body) connection.
Now it’s time for Lion’s Breath: after inhaling slowly, exhale forcefully through your mouth while looking up at the exhale. As you do, release the breath with a powerful “ha” or “hah” sound from the back of your throat, creating a roaring or lion-like sound. Stick out your tongue as far as you can, making it feel alive and active.
Repeat this for 3 minutes to start and go longer if necessary.
Second: Breath of Fire
This style of breathwork gives you an energy boost through rapid exhalations. As you prepare, engage your core by drawing your belly button in towards your spine. This will provide support and stability during the practice.
Take a deep breath in, and on the next exhale, forcefully and quickly contract your abdominal muscles to push the air out through your nose. The inhale will happen passively as your abdomen relaxes. It should be quick and automatic, without conscious effort. The focus should be on the forceful exhale.
When doing this, try to maintain a consistent and continuous rhythm. Remember, though, that the speed of the breath should be moderate and comfortable, without straining or gasping for air. Follow your body and what feels best for you.
Repeat this for 30 seconds to up to 10 minutes depending on how comfortable this is for you and your level of experience.
How to Bring Play to Your Daily Breathwork Session
While both of the previous practices are supportive (and fun!), you can make your everyday breathwork more playful too. Here are a few simple ways to do that.
Choose a Fun Visualization
Pretend you have a plate of cookies, your favorite food, or a gorgeous flower in front of you. Spend 30 seconds visualizing this item to the point where you start to smell it. This happens because the experience of visualization turns on your olfactory response (the sensation of smell) and your mouth starts to salivate. Crazy, right?
Get creative with what you visualize, but try to get it so clear that you can truly inhale the scent. Enjoy the feeling of calm and happiness that washes over you as you do it.
Use a Hoberman Sphere
This kid’s toy, first invented in 1995, is actually a great breathwork tool! Not only is it fun and playful, but it can increase mindfulness during breathwork. You can use this as an adult to bring more fun and intention to your breathwork session, but it’s also great to share with little ones to model how belly breathing works. Expand and contract the ball as you breathe in and out, just as your belly expands with airflow in and contracts with airflow out.
Try Shape Breathing
This simple somatic breathwork exercise is done by tracing shapes in the air (a heart, a cloud, the outline of a building, anything!) and letting your breath follow as you do. For example, if I trace the shape of a heart, I may inhale on one side and exhale on the other.
It’s fun and playful, and, as a bonus, it helps you bring even more attention to your breath. This is another good one to do with kiddos and something they can do no matter where they are.
Breathwork Can Be Playful
You might think of breathwork as being serious—and it can be. It requires us to slow down and focus. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it, though! Even more importantly, when you do make it playful, there are more mind-body benefits for you to experience.
Take your somatic breathwork to a new level and play with these different exercises. You may just find you walk away with a smile on your face and lightness in your step—just like when you were a kid! If you’re still looking for some breathwork guidance, join us for Exhale Hour in July, where we’ll be focused on making breathwork FUN!