In this guide, we will look at all the best types of meditation breathing techniques for beginners, with exercises from Buddhism, yoga, other systems. And I will provide a tutorial for each method.
Changing our breathing and improving the way we move air in and out of the lungs to bring in oxygen and release carbon dioxide, can have a huge effect on the body. That is why we need to know how to breathe properly.
Many of my students ask me, “How do you breathe when meditating?”
Generally when meditating, breathing should be slow and relaxed. It should come from the diaphragm and be effortless. Those are the basics. But there are many different forms of meditation with breathing methods that vary.
The different breathing styles in meditation include:
- Costal breathing (contracting the intercostal muscles)
- Hypernea (forced breathing with contractions).
- Eupnea (relaxed, unlabored breathing).
- Modern breathwork sometimes incorporates Box Breathing (inhale for 2, hold for 2, exhale for 2, hold for two),
- 4-7-8 Breath
- 7/11 Breathing.
- The most basic form of meditative breathing, according to Greater Good In Action, is not to control the breath but simply “focus your attention on your breath, the inhale and exhale.”
- The one type of breathing that is definitely not advised is tachypnea (shallow breathing).
There really isn’t such a thing as the best breathing technique in meditation because it depends what method you are doing and what you are using meditation for. Although most people find the relaxed deep breathing exercises the most relaxing.
Some methods contradict each other too. For instance, many Buddhist methods 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 [senior teacher in the insight meditation community] states, “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 the breath. But then again, some yoga methods include specific breath control procedures. No wonder why so many beginners are confused!
As a meditation teacher, I am continually alarmed by the number of new meditators who do not know proper breathing meditation technique.
That said, proper breathing in meditation is essential to the practice, and checking your breathing is one of the easiest ways to tell if you are meditating correctly. The reason why breathing is important in meditation is that the breath has a direct influence on the mind. We know from studies (like this one by Frontiers in Psychology) that proper breathing can lead to focus and relaxation and shallow breathing can cause stress. The breath is hugely influential.
By learning the proper meditation breathing techniques you will find it easier to relax and to focus your mind. So, let me show you the different meditation breathing techniques.
15 Best Beginners Meditation Breathing Techniques
Below I will share with you the different kinds of breathing meditation techniques that are commonly use in yoga, but first let’s look at traditional breathing meditations from Buddhism, like Tibetan Nine Round Breathing, mindfulness of breath, the Nine Round method, and more. These are the best mindfulness breathing techniques for beginners because they calm and centre the mind.
The power of breathing meditation is immense. Recent research (Brenner et al., 2020) shows that taking five to seven diaphragmatic breaths per minute while being mindful of breathing helps to “stimulate the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system, which reduces stress chemicals in the brain and increases vascular relaxation that may lead to lowering of blood pressure,” according to Suzanne LeBlang of Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt College of Medicine.
Here are the best breathing meditation techniques for beginners.
1. Buddhist Breath Awareness Meditation (Anapanasati)
When my students ask me, “How should I breathe during meditation?” I tend to begin by explaining to them the method that is used in Buddhist Anapansati.
“Anapana” means “inhalation and exhalation”, and “Sati” means “Mindfulness”.
The best breathing meditations for beginners are usually the Buddhist ones. These tend to be easy to pick-up and very relaxing, where many of the yoga methods are often more complicated. Buddhist breathing exercises are generally quite simple. Even kids can do them. Plus, they offer significant mental health benefits, like stress reducing and anxiety reduction, according to Yoga University 
Buddhist breathing meditation techniques involve mindfully observing the breath as it moves around the body. (I’ll teach you how to do this in just a moment). All we do is focus the mind on the breath as we take 108 breaths.
Breath awareness is a simple but powerful breathing meditation technique that puts the mind back into contact with the breath. It will make you more aware of your body and your physical being, and it will focus and relax your mind.
This is a straightforward type of breath meditation for beginners. Incidentally, it is also the method I use to help me get to sleep.
You might like to follow this method with “Calm Abiding”, or “Samatha” / “Shamatha”.
- Sit comfortably with your eyes closed. It is always important to sit correctly with good posture. Focus your attention on the present moment—on sights, sounds and sensations. You’ll notice that your mind slips between thoughts, “What’s for dinner? Did I send that email?” etc. Ask these thoughts to slow down so you can begin to see clearly.
- Be mindful of breath. Observe your breath moving smoothly in through your nostrils, through the lungs and the chest, and down to your diaphragm. Do not try to force it. The key is not to control but simply to observe. This is perhaps the main point of Buddhist breathing meditation for beginners to learn, to just observe rather than to control. Be the person sitting on the shore of the ocean, watching the waves coming and going. There is peace and tranquillity in merely observing.
- Refocus. At times your mind will wander. You may momentarily forget to focus. You may start to process thoughts, thinking about what you have to do next. Simply bring your mind back to the moment, back to the breath. Be like the buoy that bobs up and down on the waves but remains fixed by its anchor.
- Let go of thoughts and feelings. Allow yourself to observe your thoughts and feelings but do not attach to them. Attaching to thoughts means seeing seeing them as you. For instance, when thinking I have to make dinner, we tend to associate with the I and believe that we do have to get up and put the stove on. Non-attachment is observing from a distance. We see the fact that there is a thought, but we don’t allow it to affect us. We 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, including the three states of impermanence (anicca), dissatisfaction (dukkha), and non-self (anattā). When you discover something about your mind, simply observe it. Don’t dwell on thoughts, don’t argue with them, don’t reject them, simply observe them.
2. Stillness meditation breathing Technique
The previous meditation was about awareness, in which we focus on inhalations and exhalations. The next method is all about focusing on the stillness. This is one of my favourite simple meditation exercises for beginners. When the mind is completely still and calm, you will be relaxed and have inner Zen.
Much like the common swift (bird) that floats on the air without beating its wings, the mind can drift on the moment with zero effort. To achieve this state of stillness in motion that allows the mind to float, we practice the art of Stillness Breathing Meditation technique.
- Begin in the same fashion as you did with the Breath Awareness Meditation—Sit comfortably. Permit yourself to relax. Begin to focus on your breath moving through your nostrils, with your lips closed.
- Begin to observe the moment between inhalation and exhalation and vice versa. Observe what you find between breaths–a stillness; a settling point. When the mind rests on this stillness, it becomes like the wings of the swift: stillness in motion.
- 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, the mind drifting effortlessly, as the swift floats on the wind.
- Continue for 108 breaths.
3: Nadi Shodhana (Alternative Nostril Breathing)
Nadi Shodhana (alternative nostril breathing) is one of the best yoga breathing meditations techniques. It is a controlled breathing technique used to produce calm, relaxation and balance, and reduces stress, according to the International Journal Of Yoga. It does wonders for your health and some studies suggest it can even improve longevity. It works on the basic meditation breathing pattern of inhaling through one nose and then exhaling through the other and so on.
- 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.
Use this meditation breathing technique before bed or for quick relaxation. It can also help reduce blood pressure according to the journal Medical Science Monitor: Basic Research.
4: Abdominal Breathing
This is the one style of breathing that everybody already knows. It is an incredibly easy breathing technique that beginners can use straight away. It works for everyone and you can use it when you’re not meditating. When I’m working I’ll take a moment just to do some abdominal breathing to clear my mind and reduce stress. Really easy.
- 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 very simple breathing meditation technique that will help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system to relax the mind and body. It is very easy and you can perform is practically 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 or Box Breathing [Four Counts]
This is another very easy way to breathe when meditating. It is a popular method for relaxing the mind. All you need to do is count using cycles of four. So:
- Breathe in for four
- Hold for four
- Exhale for four
- Hold for four again
According to the Mayo Clinic, breathing patterns like this are said to help relax the nervous system, and thereby reduce stress and anxiety, by slowing and controlling respiration. It is also said to help reduce the symptoms of asthma.
7: 4-7-8 Breathing
4-7-8 Breathing technique is a very popular type of breathwork for relaxing the mind and body, and it offers significant benefits. It is said to quickly relax the nervous system 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
- Clouse your mouth
- Inhale slowly for a four count
- Hold for a seven count
- Exhale completely to a count of eight while making a sign of whooshing sound
This method is backed by many experts including the excellent Dr. Wells.
8: 7/11 Breathing
Recently many people have asked me “What is the 7/11 Breathing Technique”. It’s a method 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 Meditation Technique
The “Nine Round” method is a Buddhist breathing meditation technique beginners can use for calm and focus. According to Lama Yeshe (Thubten Yeshe), it’s used by Buddhists to calm and clear the mind. It can be helpful 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.
The Nine Round method is a potent technique that you can use to clear up the energy centres in your body and to clear your mind of anger, hate, confusion, doubt, attachment, ignorance and desire.
When you try the method below, you will probably notice how Nine Round Breathing is similar to Anapanasati meditation, which creates calmness and equanimity.
The tantra text teaches that there are “winds” in the body. Those winds are energies that serve the mind. But if the winds get blocked, the energy will not flow, and the mind will not function properly.
Because of these benefits, it is best to use Nine Round Breathing at specific times:
- When you’re feeling angry or hateful
- When you experience recurring negative thoughts
- When you’re suffering from some sort of mental delusion, for instance, you are unable to accept your present reality.
- When you are feeling foggy or confused.
- When you are unable to let go.
Tip: Use Nine Round Breathing meditation for 5-10 minutes at the beginning of your seated practice to calm your mind before you proceed to a different method.
Below, I have shared a video of the meditative breathing technique.
Complete Nine Round Meditation Breathing Technique
In the tantric Nine Round Breathing exercise, you visualise the three energy channels in the body. This is very helpful for purifying the mind. It’s often used at the start of a meditation session in order to calm and centre the mind, ready for the next exercise.
- Start by imagining your body as empty.
- Now focus on the central channel, which starts in the same spot as the Eyebrow Chakra.
- The Central Channel flows down the skull straight down to a spot that is precisely four fingers width under your naval. It is coloured a transparent blue about as thick as a thick piece of string. On either side of this Central Channel are two more channels. Both of these are transparent and are as thick as a piece of string. The left channel is white—the right one red.
- To start, breathe in through your left nostril with the right nostril closed.
- Feel the air passing into your nose and right 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 image that your breath is like pure white light.
- Let all attachments and desire leave you like a 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.
This is the tantric nine-round breathing exercise. It will purify your body and mind. Doubtlessly, one of the most powerful breathing meditation techniques in the world. Try it and let me know how you get on.
10: Pranayama with asanas (breathing during yoga practice )
There are some excellent yoga breathing exercises for beginners to learn. In yoga, it is essential to make sure that you are breathing correctly. Breathing, or Pranayama, is one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga written by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras.
Just as there are proper breathing meditation techniques, there are proper yoga breathing techniques too. When doing asanas, controlled breathing through pranayama helps us to control prana (or “chi” or “lifeforce”).
There are several rules and guidelines of proper yoga breathing exercises that beginners need to know before starting. Let’s take a look. These are for doing pranayama during asana.
1: Exhale when bending forward
When we exhale, it is easier to extend the depth of a fold. This is because when we exhale our lungs empty and the torso becomes smaller. Essentially this means that there is less of a mass between the upper and lower body. This makes it easier to bend forward. Also, exhaling has a calming effect and slows the heart rate. That’s why it is best to exhale during poses that are calmer.
2: Also exhale for twists
Following on from the rule above, when the body contracts there is less room for breathing. That’s why we should exhale when we do a twist. By exhaling when we twist, we help the body to relax, which makes it easier to extend the pose.
3: Inhale during backbends
It is easier for the body to fill the lungs when there is space between the upper and lower body. When you do a backbend, you open up the space in the torso and the lungs, which makes it easier to fill the body with the inhalation. At the same time, when we inhale the heart rate increases, which produces a feeling of alert awareness. That’s why it’s best to exhale during backbends.
11: Breath of Fire Meditation Technique
This is one of the Bikram yoga breathing exercises (for beginners, there is a simple version, and there is a more advanced version too). According to Anandmurti Gurumaa [author of The Compassionate Buddha], the focus during Breath of Fire is on the exhale. We take very deep powerful exhalation, and exhalations occur automatically.
Breath of Fire is a warming and energising yoga breathing exercise that is an excellent way to get some energy flowing into your abs. I’ve written a complete guide to Breath Of Fire Yoga Meditation.
12: Lion’s Breath
You will definitely have heard your yoga instructor telling you to take a Lion’s Breath. What does it mean?
Lion’s breath is a simple yoga breathing exercise beginners can use. It’s relaxing and fun, which is why it is commonly used in kids’ classes. All you have to do is 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.
13: Skull Cleansing Breath Meditation (Kapalbhati)
This is one of the best yoga breathing exercises for beginners because it promotes lymph circulation, which is beneficial to overall health and wellbeing. It is actually one of the Ayurveda breathing meditation techniques.
To do this exercise, first, choose a mudra.
Now follow the instructions below:
1: Sit comfortably
2: Place your hands in the mudra of your choice (see link above)
3: Breathe into your belly and observe the sensation of your breath filling your body
4: Inhale through the nose
5: Contract your lower belly to force your breath out
6: Immediately release the contraction. Allow your body to breathe in again automatically
7: Continue the process above at a rate of approximately 70 contractions per minute, then gradually increasing. If you feel faint stop immediately.
8: 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 technique, you breathe both in and out through your nostrils. Take a deep breath in and then 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 both body and mind.
15: Bellows Breath (A.K.A “Stimulating Breath”)
Bellows Breath (bhastrika pranayama, or “Vastrika” ) is a brilliant yoga breathing exercise for beginners who want to boost their 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!
Benefits of Breathing Meditation Techniques
There are over 100 benefits of meditation. Different methods have different benefits. And indeed, there are unique benefits of breathing meditations. The following are the most important benefits of meditation breathing techniques for beginners:
- They are an easy way to start to learn meditation
- They are safe
- They are suitable to do at home
- They are very relaxing
- They do not require any advanced teachings.
- 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
- Reduce depression
- Focus the mind
- Improve productivity (a focused mind is a more productive mind)
- Help you to relax at home
- Increase happiness
Traditionally, we would say that breathing meditation techniques are about calmness and equanimity (composure). The health benefits of breathing meditations all stem from the fact that they relax the mind (given that stress is the leading cause of death, that’s kind of a big deal).
Many people ask me, “Why is breathing important in meditation?” There is a very good reason why you should start with breathing meditation techniques as a beginner. 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, which is the main benefit of breathing meditation techniques. I often advise my students to start their session by properly breathing 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 highly emotional, we can focus on the breath to relax.
Remember to be mindful of your breathing and try to practise one of the beginners breathing meditation techniques above per day. This will provide the anchor your mind needs to stay calm and focused throughout the day.
Of course, you can learn all of these with an app or Youtube guided meditation video, but I personally recommend booking a private meditation lesson with me.
Remember that there is more to relaxation than just breathing. It is best to combine these methods with other techniques like guided meditation, relaxing, imagery, yoga, tai chi, qigong, prayer, and progressive muscle relaxation. There are also apps that can help you learn these methods, like Breathe on iOS and Prana Breath: Calm & Meditate on Android via the Google Play Store.
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