In this guide, we will look at different breath-based meditative practices. You’ll learn exercises from Buddhism, yoga, and other systems. And I will provide a tutorial for each method.
These techniques will have a positive effect on your mental health. They can help to reduce stress, increase focus, and promote relaxation, as has been shown in scientific research.
Breathing Meditation Techniques
- Sit comfortably with your eyes closed. It is always important to sit correctly with good posture. You should have a straight but relaxed spine. This matters because proper meditation positions improve our breathing.
- Be mindful of your breath. Observe your breath moving through your nostrils, through the lungs and the chest, and down to your diaphragm. Do not force it. The key is not to control but simply to observe. This is perhaps the main point of Buddhist breathing meditation, to just observe rather than to control.
- Refocus. At times, your mind will wander. You might momentarily lose focus. You might start thinking. Simply bring your mind back to the moment, back to the breath.
- Let go of thoughts and feelings. Allow yourself to observe your thoughts and feelings but do not attach to them. Simply say, “That is a thought, and nothing more”.
- Continue to breathe mindfully for 108 breaths. Over time you will observe many things about yourself and your mind. For instance, the three states of impermanence (anicca), dissatisfaction (dukkha), and non-self (anattā).
- You’ll notice that you start breathing at around seven breaths per minute. Research (Brenner et al., 2020) shows that taking five to seven mindful breaths per minute helps to “stimulate the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system. In turn, this reduces stress chemicals in the brain and increases vascular relaxation, which could lead to lowering of blood pressure” 
2. Stillness Breathing
The previous meditation was about awareness. We focused on inhalations and exhalations. The next method is all about stillness. This is one of the best breathing meditations for beginners. When the mind is completely still and calm, you will be relaxed.
- Begin in the same fashion as you did with the Breath Awareness Meditation—Sit comfortably. Relax. Focus on your breath moving through your nostrils, with your lips closed.
- Observe the moment between inhalation and exhalation and vice versa. Observe what you find between breaths–a stillness, a settling point.
- Continue to focus on the stillness between inhalations and exhalations. Remember to release thoughts, feelings, and sensations as you did with the Breath Awareness Meditation technique.
- Aim to achieve complete mental stillness
- Continue for 108 breaths.
3: Nadi Shodhana
Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) is one of the best yogic breathing meditations. It is excellent for calm, relaxation, balance, and stress relief, according to the International Journal of Yoga. Plus, it helps reduce blood pressure according to the journal Medical Science Monitor: Basic Research.
- Sit comfortably with good posture
- Cover your right nostril with your right thumb
- Inhale deeply through your left nostril
- On the completion of the in-breath, uncover your right nostril and cover your left nostril (hence, “alternate nostril breathing”)
- Exhale through the right nostril
- Continue in the same pattern, inhaling and exhaling.
- Take 108 breaths in this fashion.
4: Abdominal Breathing
- Place one palm gently on your chest
- Place your other palm gently on your stomach
- Breathe deeply in through your nose
- Mindfully observe the sensation of your chest and stomach expanding as your diaphragm fills with air
- Exhale slowly
This simple method can help with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and shortness of breath.
5: Equal Breathing
This is a simple breathing meditation that can activate the parasympathetic nervous system to relax your mind and body. Plus, you can perform it anywhere you like. The steps are like so:
- Breathe in through the nose for a count of four
- Breathe out through the nose for a count of four
See; I told you it was easy.
6: Square Breathing
- Breathe in for four
- Hold for four
- Exhale for four
- Hold for four again
According to the Mayo Clinic, breathing patterns like this relax the nervous system. In turn, they reduce stress and anxiety. Some studies show that it helps reduce the symptoms of asthma.
Plus, breath-counting techniques like this are an easy way to practice mindfulness at work.
7: 4-7-8 Breathing
4-7-8 Breathing technique is a popular type of breathwork for relaxing the mind and body. You can use it to relax the nervous system and to help with anxiety and insomnia.
- Gently place your tongue at the back of your teeth
- Exhale deeply while making either a “Whoosh” sound or sigh
- Close your mouth
- Inhale slowly for a four-count
- Hold for a seven-count
- Exhale completely to a count of eight while making a whooshing sound
This method is backed by many experts including the excellent Dr Wells.
There is also 7/11 Breathing Technique. This is used primarily in Martial Arts. In this exercise, the out-breath is longer than the in-breath. It’s the same as other breathwork techniques that use counting. Simply breathe in for seven and then out for eleven and repeat.
9: Buddhist Nine Round Breathing
The “Nine Round” method is a Buddhist mindful breathing exercise.
According to Lama Yeshe (Thubten Yeshe), Buddhists use this method for calmness and clarity. Also, for removing the states of ignorance, confusion, anger, hate, desire, and attachment.
It originates from the most esoteric collection of meditations in tantra. It is a pre-tantric purification process that calms and centres the mind.
- Start by imagining that your body is empty.
- Now visualise a channel of blue energy that flows down your skull to a spot that is precisely four fingers width under your naval. On either side of this Central Channel are two more channels. Both are transparent and are as thick as a piece of string. The left channel is white, the right channel is red.
- Breathe in through your left nostril with the right nostril closed.
- Feel the air passing into your nose moving to the start of the Central Channel.
- Feel the airflow down the Central Channel to the left and right channel.
- Close your left nostril. This will make you breathe out the right channel.
- Breathe in again and imagine that your breath is like pure white light.
- Let all attachments and desires leave you like black smoke exiting your side channels.
- Repeat the above three times.
- Time for the second round.
- Inhale white light through your right nostril.
- Imagine all anger and hate exiting your left channel like smoke.
- Repeat three times.
- Now for the third round.
- Imagine inhaling white light through your side channels.
- Imagine those channels connecting to your central channel, which can get blocked by confusion and ignorance.
- Breathe out all that confusion and ignorance as smoke until it comes pouring out from between your eyebrows.
In yoga, proper breathing is essential. Breathing, or Pranayama, is one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga written by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras.
Follow these rules:
1: Exhale when bending forward
2: Also exhale for twists
3: Inhale during backbends
11: Breath of Fire
This is a Bikram yoga breathing exercise. Beginners will enjoy it because it is easy and relaxing. All you do is breathe out forcefully and then let your inhale come naturally.
12: Lion’s Breath
You will have heard your yoga instructor telling you to take a Lion’s Breath. To do this, take a deep inhale through your nose, lean your head back and breathe out through the mouth with your tongue out. This stimulates the flow of breath through the body.
This exercise promotes lymph circulation to improve overall health.
- Sit comfortably
- Breathe into your belly and observe the sensation of your breath filling your body
- Inhale through the nose
- Contract your lower belly to force your breath out
- Immediately release the contraction. Allow your body to breathe in again automatically
- Continue the process above at a rate of approximately 70 contractions per minute, then gradually increase the speed. If you feel faint stop immediately.
- After each minute of exercise take one deep breath to relax.
Benefits of Kapalbhati (according to the Art of Living Foundation):
- Increases metabolic rate
- Helps to activate and balance the chakras
- Stimulates vital organs
- Improves blood pressure
- Makes the skin glow
- Reduces stress
- Tones the stomach
- Teaches us to breathe properly
14: Ujjayi Breath
This is one of the most popular yoga breathing techniques. And you can do it while you’re actually doing your yoga session. It has a very relaxing effect.
To do this, breathe both in and out through your nostrils. Take a deep breath in and imagine that you are sucking through a straw You can actually hear your breath like an ocean wave when you do this. Gradually take deeper inhalations and slower inhalations. This will relax your body and mind.
15: Bellows Breath
Bellows Breath (bhastrika pranayama, or “Vastrika”) is a brilliant yogic breathwork. It will boost your energy levels, especially during Power yoga. You can also use it any time you’re feeling bored or sluggish, to heighten your awareness.
To do it:
- Place your hands in fists and raise them to the sky.
- Take an in-breath through your mouth.
- When you exhale, drop your elbow to the side of your body while vocalising a “Ha” sound. This sound should feel like it’s arising from the very bottom of your lungs. Make it loud and proud!
Which is the Best Breath Meditation?
Which is the Best Breath Meditation?
There really isn’t such a thing as the best breathing meditation. Honestly, it depends on your reasons for meditating. However, most people find deep breathing exercises the most relaxing.
Interestingly, some methods even contradict each other too.
For instance, many Buddhist teachers say you should not control the breath when meditating. This is considered poor form although it can be hard to avoid.
Writing for Tricycle, Christina Feldman [Insight Meditation Community] says, “Self-consciousness disguised as mindfulness often manifests as an effort to control the breath”. We need to let go in meditation, which includes letting go of the breath.
However, some methods specifically tell you to control your breath.
No wonder so many beginners are confused!
So what should you do? Well, it really depends on the specific type of breathing you are doing. So you will need to make sure that you read the guidelines for whichever method you use. Or contact me for a meditation lesson and I will help you.
Benefits of Breathing Meditation?
Benefits of Breathing Meditation
- Easy way to start meditating
- Suitable to do at home
- Very relaxing
- Help to regulate heart rate and blood pressure
- Calm the mind
- Intermittent breathing methods help with metabolism
- Increase oxygen circulation
- Helps with shortness of breath
- Improve breathing
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Improves sleep quality
- Increases longevity
- Reduces depression
- Focuses the mind
- Improves productivity (a focused mind is a more productive mind)
- Helps you to relax at home
- Increases happiness
Traditionally, we would say that breathing meditation techniques are about calmness and equanimity (composure).
Why Proper Breathing Is Important In Meditation
Why is proper breathing important in meditation?
There is a good reason you should begin with breathing meditation techniques. The breath is the most ever-present function of both the body and the mind. We always breathe. Therefore, when you learn to make your breath relaxing you will improve your baseline relaxation.
I often advise my students to start their session by breathing properly before meditation for a few moments, even if they are going to do an exercise that focuses on a different object. This calms and centres the mind.
Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” Even at the worst of times, when we are emotional, we can focus on the breath to relax.
Remember to be mindful of the breath and try to practise one of the techniques above per day. This will provide the anchor your mind needs to stay calm and focused throughout the day.
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations.