If we are already breathing over 20,000 times per day, does slowing down and focusing on our breath actually have any impact? A detailed systematic review of medical studies showed that slow breathing techniques do indeed lead to “increased comfort, relaxation, pleasantness, vigor and alertness, and reduced symptoms of arousal, anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion”.
But how do we do it? How do we learn to control something we already do all day without giving it a second thought? (Hint: we practice!) Do we have enough time in our busy days to incorporate breathwork? (Hint: it is faster and simpler than you may think!) And do we have to be spiritual or religious to tap into this calming method? (Hint: not at all!)
Let’s look more closely at breathing meditation.
Is Focusing On Our Breathing Considered “Meditating”?
The answer is “yes,” breathing can be considered:
- A type of meditation in and by itself (breathing meditation) or
- Part of another meditative exercise (guided or silent visualization meditation, for example).
Here is the definition of “meditation” pulled from Merriam-Webster:
- To engage in contemplation or reflection. He meditated long and hard before announcing his decision.
- To engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) to reach a heightened level of spiritual awareness.
I know from talking to some of my clients that the word “meditation” can feel too far off from what they consider themselves capable of doing. Don’t let the word meditation intimidate you.
As soon as you are in silence focusing on slowing down your breathing and taking full breaths instead of rapid, shallow breaths, you are meditating.
As soon as you are listening to a guided meditation practice on YouTube, you are meditating.
If you are uncomfortable with the word “meditation,” because it feels disingenuous to you, just tell yourself “I am aware of my breath,” “I am focusing on my breathing,” “I am doing breathwork,” or “I am listening to a guided breathing meditation exercise” instead of “I am meditating.”
Here are some guided relaxation and sleep meditation tracks on YouTube that I highly recommend:
Some calming apps that I suggest you try out are:
How Do We Practice Breathing Meditation In Its Simplest Form?
Start by finding a comfortable position. Here are three great options:
- Lying down on your bed or yoga mat
- Sitting cross-legged (easy pose) on the floor or yoga mat with head, neck, and shoulders relaxed
- Sitting in your car or on a chair with your legs uncrossed, knees bent, and both feet on the floor. Put your right hand on your belly and your left hand on your chest just below the ribcage. Or keep both arms/hands fully relaxed in your lap or on your knees with palms facing downward for grounding or palms facing upward for receiving or letting go
Keep your eyes open or closed, whichever makes you feel safer. If you are doing this practice in a yoga studio setting, it may feel that people are looking at you, but typically they are not. They are focused on themselves and their own breathwork regardless of if they choose to keep their eyes open or closed.
Inhale slowly, deeply, and steadily for a count of 4 through your nose, letting the air (oxygen) in towards your abdomen. Your left hand on your chest should remain still while your right hand on your belly should rise.
Exhale slowly, deeply, and steadily through your nose or pursed lips for a count of 5, letting the air (carbon dioxide) out while tightening your abdominal muscles. The right hand on your belly should move down to its original position.
Here are a few more basic breathing tips that I would like to add:
- Breathe in 4 counts through the nose; breathe out 5 counts through the nose or mouth
- Breathe in what you want more of, for example, calmness and peace; breathe out what you want to let go of, for example, tension and chaos
- Breath in through the crown of your head – visualize pulling in vital energy consisting of what you want more of from up above, from the vast universe; breathe out through the bottom of your feet or your tailbone – visualize pushing out what no longer serves you and sending it down to the center of the earth, without judgment
5 Breathing Meditation Practices
Below, you will find simple instructions for five basic breathing meditation practices. In a moment of calm, try each of them and find which one or two best soothe you and calm your nervous system. Then you can come to them in confidence in moments of stress or distress.
- Box Breathing
- Slowly breathe out through your mouth for a count of 4
- Hold your breath for 4 counts
- Slowly breathe in through the nose for a count of 4
- Hold your breath for another 4 counts
- Repeat these 4 steps for 3 to 5 minutes or until you feel calm(er)
- Alternate Nostril Breathing
- Bring your right hand to your nose and move your index and middle finger out of the way
- Exhale all the air out
- Cover the right nostril with your thumb and inhale slowly, deeply, and steadily through the left nostril
- Release the thumb from the right nostril and cover the left nostril with your ring finger
- Exhale slowly, deeply, and steadily through the right nostril
- Inhale through the right nostril, release the ring finger from the left nostril and cover the right nostril with your thumb again
- Exhale through the left nostril slowly, deeply, and steadily
- Repeat these steps until you feel calm(er)
- Humming Bee Breathing
- Keep your ears blocked with your thumb
- Cover your eyes with the other 4 fingers
- Inhale slowly, deeply, and steadily through the nose
- Exhale slowly, deeply, and steadily through the nose
- Exhale while making the sound of a humming bee with a high-pitched tone
- Continue for at least 5 to 9 cycles of breath or until you feel calm(er)
- Ujjayi Breathing
- Breathe in through the nose slowly, deeply, and steadily with the lips gently closed for a count of 4 – no breath passes the lips
- Breathe out of the nose slowly, deeply, and steadily with the lips gently closed for a count of 4 – no breath passes the lips
- Emphasize the throat area and create a constriction in the throat
- Make the sound of the ocean
- Practice for anywhere between 5 and 15 minutes or until you feel calm(er)
- Chakra Breathing
- If you are into or open to chakra breathwork, you can take your breath through each of the seven chakras one by one, from the root chakra (1st chakra / red) at the base of your spine all the way up your spinal column to the crown of your head (last and 7th chakra / purple) for chakra cleansing and balancing or to create “an energetic shift in your body, mind, and soul”
My Favorite Breathing Meditation
I came up with this practice during one of my savasanas:
On my yoga mat, at the end of each yoga session during savasana, I imagine my soul leaving my body and then looking down onto myself from up above. First, I see myself completely as I am, and then little by little, I see myself vanishing until all that is left are the parts of my body that hurt, feel heavy, or seem blocked. Then, using my breath from up above, I blow that stagnant energy apart the way you would blow the seeds from a dandelion until there is nothing left on my mat but an empty space.
More On Breathing
- Diaphragmatic Breathing
- Breathing Through Discomfort (coming soon)
- Healing Card Deck: A Therapist’s Advice 55-Card Healing Deck by Sara Cloostermans
- Book Recommendation: Just Breathe: Mastering Breathwork by Dan Brulé
- Mantra: I AM CALMNESS // repeat with diaphragmatic breathing
- Yin Yoga Asana: Reclining Twist
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