In this guide, we will look at proper breathing meditation techniques for beginners, with exercises from Buddhism, yoga, other systems. And I will provide a tutorial for each method.
Changing our breathing can have a direct effect on our state of mind. The way we move the lungs to take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide can significantly affect our health.
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. In turn, this reduces stress chemicals in the brain and increases vascular relaxation, which could lead to lowering of blood pressure,” according to Suzanne LeBlang of Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt College of Medicine.
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 breathing techniques. Let’s take a look.
15 Proper Breathing Meditation Techniques for Beginners
Below I will discuss yogic breathing meditation techniques. But first, let’s look at traditional breathing meditations from Buddhism. These are usually the best techniques for beginners. They are relaxing and easy. Plus, they have significant benefits [according to Yoga University ].
1. Buddhist Breath Awareness Meditation (Anapanasati)
When my students ask me, “How should I breathe during meditation?” I teach them Buddhist Anapanasati. “Anapana” means “inhalation and exhalation”, and “Sati” means “Mindfulness”.
- Sit comfortably with your eyes closed. It is always important to sit correctly with good posture. You should have a straight but relaxed spine.
- Be mindful of the breath. Observe your breath moving smoothly 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 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 lose focus. You may start thinking. 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. 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 Breathing Meditation Technique
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.
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, we practice the Stillness Breathing Meditation technique.
- 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. 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 (Alternate Nostril Breathing Technique)
Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) is one of the best breathing meditation techniques in yoga. It is a controlled breathing technique used for calm, relaxation, balance, and stress relief, according to the International Journal of Yoga.
Nadi Shodhana does wonders for your health. Indeed, some studies suggest it can even increase longevity.
- 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 exercise before bed 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 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.
- 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 technique. With it, you 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 or Box Breathing [Four Counts]
This is another 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. Like so:
- 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.
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 sign of whooshing sound
This method is backed by many experts including the excellent Dr Wells.
7/11 Breathing Technique is 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), 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.
The tantra texts teach that there are “winds” in the body. Those winds are energies that serve the mind. But if the winds are blocked, the energy will not flow, and the mind will not function properly. Nine Round Breathing clears the winds.
It is best to use Nine Round Breathing at specific times:
- When you’re feeling angry or hateful
- If you experience recurring negative thoughts
- When you’re suffering from some mental delusion, for instance, you are unable to accept your present reality.
- If you feel 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.
Complete Nine Round Meditation Breathing Technique
- Start by imagining that your body is 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 and is about as thick as a piece of string. 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.
- 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 imagine that your breath is like pure white light.
- Let all attachments and desire 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.
This is the tantric nine-round breathing exercise. It will purify your body and mind. Doubtlessly, one of the best breathing meditation techniques in the world. Try it and let me know how you get on.
10: Pranayama with asanas (breathing during yoga practice)
In yoga, proper breathing is essential. 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 control prana (or “chi” or “lifeforce”).
There are several rules and guidelines for proper yoga breathing exercises that beginners need to know.
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. 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
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 to fill the lungs when there is space between the upper and lower body. When you do a backbend, you open the space in the torso and the lungs, which makes it easier to inhale. At the same time, when we inhale the heart rate increases, which produces a feeling of alert awareness.
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 exhale forcefully and inhale automatically.
Breath of Fire is a warming and energising yoga breathing exercise that strengthens the abs.
12: Lion’s Breath
You will have heard your yoga instructor telling you to take a Lion’s Breath.
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 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 breathing meditation techniques for beginners because it promotes lymph circulation, which is beneficial to overall health. It comes from Ayurveda.
- 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 technique, 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 (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!
Which is best?
There really isn’t such a thing as the best breathing meditation technique because it depends on the method you are doing and your reasons for meditating. However, most people find deep breathing exercises the most relaxing.
Some methods 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 [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 of the breath.
However, some yoga methods include specific breath control procedures. For instance, Breath of Fire Meditation.
No wonder so many beginners are confused!
As an online meditation teacher, I am continually alarmed by the number of beginner meditators who do not know proper breathing meditation technique. So, let’s take a look.
Benefits of Breathing Meditation Techniques
There are over one hundred benefits of meditation. Different methods have different benefits. And indeed, there are unique benefits of breathing meditation techniques.
The following are the most important benefits of meditation breathing techniques for beginners:
- Easy way to start meditating
- Suitable to do at home
- Very relaxing
- Most methods 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
- 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 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 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 like Calm or Headspace, and with a guided meditation on Youtube. However, tuition in such apps is often erroneous. If you want to learn properly, book an online meditation lesson with me today.
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.