Taking pharmaceuticals to remedy depression and/or anxiety symptoms comes with a long list of setbacks and side effects.

Dealing with insomnia, mass weight gain, and sexual impotence, for instance, all seem like a severe price to pay for improved mental health. But doctors prescribe us with these medications – and they’re the experts, right? 

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Well, yes – but that doesn’t mean doctors are infallible. And there have been discussions centered around physicians being too trigger happy when doling out these prescriptions.

 There are situations where antidepressants are a must—but they aren’t a failsafe. Plenty of scenarios exist where pills don’t work on their own. In fact, more than half of the 41 million Americans taking antidepressants don’t respond to them.

 And much to the chagrin of big pharma, there are other useful techniques that people can use to combat depression and anxiety symptoms. 

 Read below for five staggering facts about breathwork and depression:


Husband & wife psychiatrists Patricia Gerbarg and Richard brown developed their breathing technique after years of studying cultures around the world.

This breathing can be performed in any place at any time. It merely necessitates taking regular breaths in and out of the nose, five times per minute. The primary aim of this exercise lies in balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic parts of the nervous system with each other.

At first glance, many believed that increased oxygen levels were the primary reason for the relief this technique gave its practitioners. However, there was plenty of breathwork that reduced oxygen levels. Furthermore, Dr. Gerbarg and Dr. Brown could tell there was more to the potency of these unique breathing exercises than this seemingly surface-level explanation.  

The couple now theorizes that the success of their breathing method is linked to the vagal nerves. It’s responsible for telling organs when to digest, breathe, beat, and perform other functions.

Most relevant, however, is that the vagal nerve connects the brain to the body. Though in recent years, it’s been found that the nerve sends messages from the body to the brain. Meaning, these messages could potentially have a significant influence on stress responses, neurohormonal regulatory networks, and overall emotions.



Doctor and Ph.D., Anup Sharma, led a controlled pilot study for patients with major depressive disorders (MDD). These were two groups of patients:

1. Medicated MDD patients who participated in a yogic breathing technique called Sudarshan Kriya

2. Medicated MDD patients who didn’t participate in the breathing techniques

The yoga group experienced incredible success—cutting down its mean Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS) score substantially. Conversely, the group not involved in the yogic breathing saw no results.

For further context, the HDRS is the most common test used by clinicians to assess depression levels. It accounts for mood, interest in activities, energy, and suicidal thoughts, etc.

Lastly, the results of the BeckAnxiety and Beck Depression tests mirrored those of the HDRS results.


Anybody who suffers from anxiety or depression knows full-well of the number it can do physically.

For one thing, the brain and the gut (and the rest of the body) are 
symbiotically connected. Which accounts for why people commonly feel “butterflies” in their stomach when they’re nervous. But that example only scratches the surface of adverse affects depression and anxiety can have on the gut and the body as a whole.

Another physical ailment stemming from depression and anxiety comes in the form of muscle pain.

The body’s response to emotional stress and turmoil is to bunch up into knots due to the tension. As such, a sore neck and shoulders are almost guaranteed during a grinding, demanding day at work, for instance. And while it’d be fantastic if most workplaces provided massages for everyone—that’s a bit of a pipedream.

Thankfully, a breathing technique known as progressive muscle relaxation helps relieve muscle tension. The idea centers around tensing a muscle group while inhaling—then relaxing during the exhale. Each muscle group is touched in a distinct order until the body is physically relaxed, which offsets the anxiety.

In one study, progressive muscle relaxation was promoted as a worksite health initiative in the auto-assembly industry. One control group partook in progressive breathing therapy, while the others only received pamphlets. The group who went through the therapy saw “significantly favorable intervention effects on stress” compared to the Pamphlet group.

It’s suggested to use an audio recording might be required until the order of muscle groups is memorized. Here’s a simple breakdown of how to get started on progressive relaxation.


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…and these high-performing individuals use breathing techniques to conquer these challenges.

One of these people is venture capitalist/author Scott Amyx—who regularly speaks in front of thousands of people.

While many might think that someone skilled in public speaking couldn’t possibly question themselves, Amyx experiences overwhelming anxiety. In fact, he’s not alone in the feeling, as rock and roll drummer Patrick Carney has discussed his pre-performance anxiety attacks at length.

Interestingly, Amyx learned his ultra-effective breathing techniques from a sports psychologist. It makes sense—professional athletes face some of the most immense pressure imaginable. To the point that many suffer from depression and struggle with the lofty expectations of management and fans alike.

Sports psychology is now commonplace, and breathing techniques are a significant part of the treatments. 

Given the effectiveness of these methods at helping people deliver in high-pressure scenarios, one could assume they could help people deal with their own anxieties. Even if it’s for something as simple as making a phone call.  


There is a technique known as holotropic breathing that stems from transpersonal psychology. Which observes the entire human experience spectrum.

Transpersonal psychology delves deeply into matters such as psychopathology, existentialism, and spiritual enlightenment. In short, it focuses on the behaviors of fully actualized, healthy people – and tries to learn from their approach.

As such, one of the main principles of holotropic breathing is seeing humans as complete systems that can heal themselves. It melds together evocative music, accelerated breathing, and the overseeing wisdom of a licensed practitioner. 

The goal of this technique is for participants to obtain knowledge from their own experiences. It operates under the premise that, by expanding the human consciousness with holotropic breathing, people can perceive more of what’s around them. This benefit is mostly due to increased body awareness, recollection of lost memories, birth, and even prenatal life, etc.

A primary goal for holotropic breathing is for people to accept past traumas through self-discovery. Thereby, they’ll access their inner potential. When freeing one’s self from the confines of rational thought and embracing a broader spectrum of understanding and living, healing comes naturally.


Again, it’s worth reiterating that sometimes pharmaceuticals are a must for specific cases. However, they aren’t always the solution.

As proven above, those negative feelings associated with depression and anxiety can evaporate into thin air with the right breathing techniques.

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