I once read an interview with a meditation coach in which they insisted that it’s impossible to “fail” at mindfulness. Clearly, they hadn’t met me. For years, I tried every app, exercise, and method I could find in the hopes of feeling more grounded and present in my everyday life, but each attempt only left me feeling more frustrated and in my head than before.
Then one day, my partner decided to join me while I tried a new breathing exercise, and for the first time ever, I felt that sought-after sense of tranquility. This led me to wonder — if one session proved beneficial, what would happen if we made this a routine? We decided to find out by committing to joint breathwork for two straight weeks.
Research shows that practicing deep breathing for just five minutes a day can improve your mood — and moreover, that even a single session can reduce stress and anxiety. It does this by activating the vagus nerve, which helps regulate the parasympathetic nervous system, and thus your body’s relaxation response. That’s not all — according to a 2018 study, mindfulness can not only increase feelings of acceptance between you and your partner but also increase your overall satisfaction in the relationship.
To say it’s been a stressful year for us would be an understatement. My partner quit his job and lost a friend, I saw my mom through some physical and mental health struggles, and we planned a wedding on a tight budget. On our honeymoon, we were in and out of the emergency room three times when my husband experienced a mysterious bout of recurring all-body hives. After facing hurdle after hurdle, it felt as if we were constantly in survival mode — rarely in the moment and always healing from the past or anxiously planning for the future. Something had to change.
Enter: a daily breathing practice. A 2018 study discovered that paced breathwork can boost feelings of comfort and relaxation while reducing symptoms of anxiety, anger, and depression. At the recommendation of my therapist, my husband and I began a daily practice of the popular 4-7-8 exercise, which entails inhaling for a count of four, holding for seven, and exhaling for eight.
Throughout the five-minute exercise, we made physical contact by sitting or lying next to each other and holding hands. Physical touch is a primary love language for both my partner and me, so it felt natural to incorporate that into our ritual. We also rated our stress levels before and after the exercise, which served two purposes: pushing us to check in with our emotions more intentionally and giving us valuable insight into just how much of an impact our breathwork had.
We hoped this simple exercise would bring a sense a peace to our lives — and it did. But the benefits didn’t stop there: It strengthened our relationship, too.
We Felt More Present With Each Other
One of the most challenging aspects of having a mindfulness practice is simply keeping up with it on a daily basis. During my past attempts to meditate or breathe solo, the minute I sat down, I’d notice a few dishes in the sink that needed to be washed. Or my phone would buzz with a text vying for my attention. Or I’d start anxiously drafting an email to a colleague in my head. As a result of these distractions, I’d often abandon my mindfulness practice.
That’s where having an accountability partner can help. Research shows that people are more likely to make healthy lifestyle changes when their partners do, too.
My husband and I didn’t ever want to let the other person down, so even when we had a particularly busy day or just didn’t feel like doing the breathing exercise, we still followed through and reminded each other when one of us forgot about it. Making this a joint ritual wasn’t always easy or convenient, especially since we’re on slightly different schedules. But whether we did it right after breakfast or while winding down in bed at night, we always managed to find time to breathe together.
Holding each other accountable encouraged us to stick with our routine, which meant that we were better able to reap the rewards that came with it — including feeling calmer, more patient, and more present with each other.
We Learned To Compromise
Our intention in this practice was not just to breathe in each other’s presence but also to breathe in sync. Since we were counting in our heads, we quickly learned that we had to listen very closely to each other to ensure we were inhaling and exhaling at the same time. This meant one of us often had to speed up or slow down our pace to meet the other person’s.
In other words, we learned the art of compromise. It felt like a beautiful metaphor for any healthy relationship: Being a team sometimes means meeting the other person where they are.
We Felt More Connected
One thing I appreciated about this shared ritual is that it gave us an excuse to spend a little quality time together during our hectic work days. Breathing at the same time left us feeling emotionally in tune; holding hands added an additional layer of physical connection.
Apparently, there’s a reason for this: Studies show that when couples hold hands, their brainwaves, heart rates, and breathing become synchronized. Holding hands also causes your breathing to naturally align, too. And research shows that skin-on-skin contact can trigger the release of oxytocin, a hormone that plays a key role in bonding and can promote trust and relaxation.
Beyond that, it’s a lot easier to feel connected when you’re both grounded in the present rather than worrying about past or future stressors — and that’s exactly what practicing mindfulness together did for us. For example, I had felt anxious about telling my partner about an upcoming work trip, but after one of our breathwork sessions, I had no trouble expressing my concerns and listening compassionately to his perspective.
An older study found that couples who engaged in just three breathwork sessions together experienced a slew of benefits during and afterward. They reported improved communication, a stronger emotional connection, a greater sense of support, a deeper understanding of each other, and more physical contact. After 14 breathwork sessions, I can definitely say that we experienced the same positive effects.
It Kept Arguments At Bay
I couldn’t help but notice that on the one day that we neglected to make time for our partnered breathing exercise, we got into a fight. Coincidence? Maybe. Or maybe we could’ve avoided that petty argument had we taken a moment to breathe in sync.
The Result? Our Breathwork Practice Really Worked
All in all, I’m amazed at how a five-minute routine could have such a profound impact on my relationship. Not only did sharing this habit help us to stick with it, but it also served as a much-needed bonding experience — rekindling our emotional connection and helping us to feel more in sync as we inevitably face more challenges in the future. The benefits have been so powerful that we’re hoping to continue our daily breathwork going forward.
So, maybe that meditation coach was right after all. Maybe the point is that there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to practice mindfulness — the right way is whatever works for you, even if it means enlisting a partner to help.
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