Breathwork: How to Breathe Mindfully & 3 Techniques to Get Started

by | Oct 1, 2019 | Last updated Feb 15, 2022

Author: Anna Frinzi

Breathe in, breathe out. Calm your mind. Focus on your breath. Have you heard these phrases before?

Whether you are a yogi, have attempted meditation and failed miserably, or just want to learn how to breathe more calmly, you’re in the right spot!

“Mindfulness” and “meditation” have become popular terms over the past few years, and it can be overwhelming to know where to start and what these terms mean. Before we dive deeper, here are some important definitions to note:

Mindfulness: the art of bringing your awareness into the present moment. Mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn defines it as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn).

Meditation: the act of meditating, and can be connected to one’s breathing or a mantra (as defined below).

Mantra: derived from a Sanskrit word meaning man = “mind” and tra = “transport or vehicle”, literally meaning “mind vehicle”. A mantra is usually just a word or phrase (this article offers some), and can be a way to deepen your state of meditation. Take some time to find your motivation mantra!

As you develop a meditation practice, know that breathwork is a connecting piece of all these concepts. It’s an ideal first step into the world of mindfulness.

Before starting breathing techniques, here are some helpful tips:

  • Focus your attention on your breath, specifically the length of the inhale and exhale.
  • Standing or sitting is okay! Do what’s most comfortable for you and your body.
  • Eyes may be open or closed. It may be easier to focus with your eyes closed and no visual distractions but that is up to you.
  • Don’t worry about your thoughts! Your thoughts will wander. Think of them as clouds passing in the sky. Let them be, and they will pass along. Don’t attempt to clear your mind, as this will cause frustration.

Keeping these suggestions in mind, it’s now time to try out some breathing techniques! 

Here are the 3 simple breathing techniques to try:

  1. Falling out breathing: Inhale as much air as you can and then sigh, let the air flow out of your mouth. Repeat at least 5 times. 
  2. Box breathing: Inhale for 4 counts, hold your breath for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, and hold at the bottom for 4 counts. Repeat at least 5 times.
  3. Counting: Choose a number. Slowly count up to this number, then count back down. Repeat at least 5 times. 

These breathing techniques take time to master. Take as much time as you need for each breathing technique and try to lengthen it as time goes on! Breathwork is a vital part of a meditation practice, and can be a calming mechanism for the body in various ways. Recent research has even found that a regular mindfulness meditation practice can help boost the body’s immune function and improve the function of the brain as well (Davidson). Scientific studies have also revealed that specific parts of the brain change, specifically the gray matter, with developing a meditation practice (Holzel). 

As you continue to work on developing a meditation practice, here are 4 strategies to cultivate a regular meditation practice. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than wrong with, no matter what is wrong” (Kabat-Zinn).