In today’s fast-paced world, finding natural and accessible ways to enhance our well-being is becoming increasingly important. Breathwork is emerging as a powerful tool with a number of benefits that extend beyond relaxation and mindfulness. As more people are becoming attuned to their breath, scientific research is beginning to uncover its profound impact on areas such as metabolism, hunger, weight loss, and stress management. Whether you’re seeking to shed some pounds, control hunger, or simply find inner peace, breathwork might just be the thing you need.

What is Breathwork?

Breathwork refers to a collection of exercises and techniques that involve consciously manipulating the breath to achieve specific mental, physical, and emotional outcomes. Breathwork is rooted in various ancient practices and has been a part of yoga, meditation, and different therapeutic traditions for centuries. And now, it’s becoming more popular as many individuals are implementing these practices into their daily lives. 

Through deliberate control of the inhalation, exhalation, and retention of breath, you can stimulate different physiological responses in the body. There are different outcomes that can be achieved by switching up the seconds you inhale, exhale, and hold your breath. Most people use these practices to induce relaxation, enhance focus, or promote emotional healing, but now, research is pointing to its potential to affect metabolism and appetite.

How Does Breathwork Affect Metabolism?

Breathwork can affect metabolism in a number of ways. Certain breathing exercises can impact your metabolic rate, appetite level, and weight loss. Let’s take a look at what we know about each of these processes. 

Breathwork and Metabolic Rate

Metabolic rate is a measure of how quickly your body burns calories or energy. Thus, a higher metabolic rate may allow you to burn more calories. There are a few items that may affect your metabolic rate, such as your age, gender, activity level, amount of muscle mass, climate, hormones, diet, and certain health conditions.

Now, there are some findings that suggest certain breathing exercises may also be able to impact our metabolic rate. For instance, a study examined6 the effects of diaphragmatic breathing (also known as deep belly breathing) and found that this exercise could influence resting metabolic rate and maximal oxygen uptake. In addition, another study1 found that breathing strategies can impact human running performance by assisting with breathing rate, depth, and coordinated muscle activity. 

May decrease hunger and appetite 

The key to regulating hunger and appetite may lie in just a few simple breathing exercises. Some studies have found that practicing breathing exercises can reduce feelings of hunger and appetite. A research study5 involving 60 participants demonstrated that when participants engaged in a breathing exercise where they had to hold their breath for 3-4 seconds while contracting their abdominal muscles, they experienced a reduction in hunger on an empty stomach. Similarly, another small study3 noted a significant decrease in hunger among 65 women after they practiced slow-paced breathing exercises for a period of 10 minutes.

Additionally, conscious breathing may help increase mindfulness and body awareness, aiding individuals in recognizing true hunger cues as opposed to emotional or stress-driven eating. Some studies also suggest that breathwork might influence hormones like ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and leptin (the satiety hormone), although research in this area is still in its infancy.

Feet on a bathroom scale with a curly yellow measuring tape in front.

May be Linked to Weight Loss

Fascinatingly, performing simple breathing exercises can increase the amount of oxygen in the body, which can help the body burn more fat. In particular, the “Senobi” breathing exercise4 (a stretch-breathing exercise) was found to be an effective method for weight loss in those with obesity. This mechanism works by possibly regulating the autonomic nervous system and stimulating the secretion of certain hormones. 

And, of course, the mechanisms we already mentioned, such as the increased metabolic rate and controlled appetite will be able to directly impact healthy weight loss. 

May reduce stress

It’s no surprise that stress can wreak havoc on our entire bodies. Stress can cause a number of negative effects on our bodies, especially when it comes to digestion and weight loss. When stress levels are high, it’s much more difficult for the body to burn calories, as well as regulate the hormones that control hunger. 

Specific breathing techniques, such as slow, deep breaths, can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, often referred to as the “rest and digest” system. This calming effect may reduce stress-related hormones like cortisol2, which has been linked to cravings and overeating. Additionally, slow, deep breathing7 can reduce feelings of anxiety and enhance focus and attention. 

How To Implement Breathwork into a Daily Routine

Integrating breathwork into your everyday life doesn’t require extensive time or resources. Here are some simple steps to get started:

  1. Identify Your Goals: Determine what you want to achieve through breathwork, be it stress reduction, increased focus, or appetite control.
  2. Choose the Right Technique: Select a breathing exercise that aligns with your goals (see the list below for options).
  3. Set a Regular Schedule: Dedicate a specific time daily, such as after waking up, during your lunch break, or before bed, to ensure consistency.
  4. Create a Comfortable Space: Find a quiet, calming space where you can focus on your breath without interruptions.
  5. Practice Mindfully: Pay attention to your breath, and follow the instructions for the chosen technique.
  6. Use Technology if Needed: There are apps and online videos that can guide you through different techniques if you’re new to breathwork.

Different Breathing Exercises and Their Benefits

  • 4-7-8 Breath: Good for calming the fight-or-flight response, promoting relaxation, and aiding in sleep.
    • Inhale for 4 counts
    • Hold for 7 counts
    • Exhale for 8 counts
  • Box Breathing: Useful for stress reduction and enhancing concentration.
    • Inhale for 4 counts
    • Hold for 4 counts
    • Exhale for 4 counts
    • Hold for 4 counts
  • Diaphragmatic Breathing: Excellent for activating the parasympathetic nervous system, aiding digestion, and reducing anxiety.
    • Inhale deeply into the diaphragm
    • Exhale slowly and fully
  • Alternate Nostril Breathing: Promotes mental clarity, relaxation, and balanced energy.
    • Inhale through one nostril while closing the other
    • Hold
    • Exhale through the other nostril
  • Breath of Fire (Kapalabhati): Stimulates digestion, increases energy, and improves respiratory system function.
    • Rapid and rhythmic inhales and exhales
  • Buteyko Breathing: May help with asthma control and improve overall respiratory health.
    • Focus on shallow, nasal breathing
  • Senobi Breathing Exercise: Effective for increasing metabolism and potentially aiding in weight loss.
    • Stretch arms overhead, palms facing upward
    • Inhale deeply through the nose, expanding the ribcage
    • Exhale forcefully through the mouth, contracting the ribcage
    • Repeat several times

Each of these exercises serves different purposes and can be easily incorporated into various parts of your day. Always consult with a healthcare or breathwork professional if you have any underlying health conditions, as some techniques may not be suitable for everyone.

  1. Harbour, E., Stöggl, T., Schwameder, H., & Finkenzeller, T. (2022). Breath Tools: A synthesis of Evidence-Based breathing Strategies to enhance human running. Frontiers in Physiology, 13., X., Yue, Z. Q., Gong, Z. Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N. Y., Shi,
  2. Y., Wei, G. X., & Li, Y. F. (2017). The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in healthy adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 8.
  3. Meule, A., & Kübler, A. (2017). A pilot study on the effects of slow paced breathing on current food craving. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 42(1), 59–68.
  4. Sato, K., Kawamura, T., & Yamagiwa, S. (2010). The “Senobi” breathing exercise is recommended as first line treatment for obesity. Biomedical Research, 31(4), 259–262.
  5. Voroshilov, A., Volinsky, A. A., Wang, Z., & Marchenko, E. V. (2017). Modified qigong breathing exercise for reducing the sense of hunger on an empty stomach. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 22(4), 687–695.
  6. Yong, M., Lee, Y., & Lee, H. (2018). Effects of breathing exercises on resting metabolic rate and maximal oxygen uptake. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 30(9), 1173–1175.
  7. Zaccaro, A., Piarulli, A., Laurino, M., Garbella, E., Menicucci, D., Neri, B., & Gemignani, A. (2018). How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A systematic review on Psycho-Physiological correlates of slow breathing. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12.