Eight breathing exercises you should try out now

Eight breathing exercises you should try out now

Written by: Yordi Uytersprot



Time to read 12 min

Breathing exercises are powerful tools that can help promote relaxation, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being. While breathing exercises have become a hype in recent years, it goes back thousands of years in spiritual and Eastern practices, such as yoga and meditative traditions.

With a growing body of scientific research supporting their effectiveness, breathwork techniques have gained recognition for their ability to elicit physiological changes in the body. By bringing awareness to the breath and using specific techniques, you can tap into the transformative potential of your breath.

In this article, we will explore eight types of breathing exercises that are beneficial for your physical and mental health:

  • Belly breathing
  • Box breathing
  • 4-7-8 breathing
  • Alternate nostril breathing
  • Heart coherence breathing
  • Conscious connected breathing
  • Holotropic breathwork
  • Buteyko breathing method

Belly breathing

Belly breathing , also known as diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing , involves breathing deeply into the diaphragm rather than shallowly into the chest. When we are stressed or anxious, our body tends to engage in chest breathing. Chest breathing is characterized by shallow breaths that primarily involve the expansion and contraction of the chest and ribcage. On the other hand, while practicing belly breathing, your abdomen expands and contracts, which means that your belly rises when you inhale and falls when you exhale.

Abdominal breathing offers several benefits. First, it encourages deeper breaths, which means more oxygen reaches the bloodstream and vital organs, promoting overall bodily function and energy. Second, it activates the body's relaxation response, reducing stress and anxiety. Third, it enhances lung capacity and efficiency, improving respiratory health. Finally, practicing abdominal breathing regularly can lead to a more natural and calming way of breathing, benefiting both physical and mental well-being.

You can practice belly breathing by following these easy steps:

1.   Lie down or sit in a comfortable position and place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly, just above your navel. This will help you feel the movement of your breathing.

2.   Start by breathing in gently through your nose. Try not to force anything and let it feel natural.

3.   Focus on expanding your belly, like a balloon being inflated. This means that your diaphragm muscle moves down, bringing your belly forward.

4.   Slowly exhale through your mouth and let the air escape gently. Now you will feel your belly return to its original position.

5.   Repeat this cycle, trying to make sure your chest moves as little as possible.

This exercise can be practiced anytime, whether you're feeling overwhelmed at work, preparing for an important event, or simply want to relax after a busy day. You can practice this technique for as long as you need or until you feel relaxed.

4-7-8 breathing

4-7-8 breathing is a technique that involves inhaling for a count of four, holding the breath for a count of seven, and exhaling slowly for a count of eight. It regulates the breath, activates the body's relaxation response, and helps reduce anxiety.

This breathing exercise is renowned for its various benefits, such as reducing stress, promoting better sleep, and calming the nervous system.

You can practice 4-7-8 breathing by following these easy steps:

1.   Lie or sit down in a comfortable position. Make sure your back is straight.

2.   Start with a slow and deep exhalation through your mouth. Make sure to let all the air out of your lungs.

3.   Close your mouth and inhale slowly and silently through your nose. Count to four in your head as you breathe in.

4.   Hold your breath and count to seven in your head.

5.   Exhale slowly and completely through your mouth. Count to eight in your mind as you exhale.

6.   Repeat this cycle until you feel relaxed or as long as you need.

You can do it anytime and anywhere, whether you're at home, work, or even in stressful situations. Aim for at least a few minutes of practice each day to reap its calming effects and enhance your overall well-being.

Alternate nostril breathing

Alternate nostril breathing , or nadi shodhana pranayama (subtle energy-clearing breathing technique in Sanskrit), is a yogic breathing technique that involves a specific pattern of inhalation and exhalation through alternate nostrils. This rhythmic breath feels calming and balancing, promoting a sense of inner harmony and mental clarity. Nadi shodhana is known to reduce stress, improve focus, and balance the flow of prana (energy) in the body.

Follow these steps to practice alternating nostril breathing:

1.   Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit with your spine straight. You can sit on the floor with your legs crossed or in a chair with your feet flat on the ground.

2.   Use your right thumb to gently close your right nostril. Your right index and middle fingers should rest between your eyebrows, lightly touching your forehead. Your right ring finger and pinky finger should be used to close your left nostril.

3.   With your right thumb, gently press against your right nostril to close it off completely.

4.   Begin by inhaling deeply and slowly through your left nostril. As you do this, focus on your breath and feel the air entering your body.

5.   After completing your inhalation through the left nostril, release your right nostril by removing your thumb. Simultaneously, use your right ring finger and pinky finger to gently close your left nostril.

6.   Exhale slowly and completely through your right nostril. As you do this, imagine releasing tension and stress from your body.

7.   Keeping your left nostril closed, inhale deeply through your right nostril. Feel the breath filling your lungs.

8.   After the inhalation, release your left nostril by removing your ring finger and pinky finger. Simultaneously, use your right thumb to gently close your right nostril.

9.   Exhale slowly and completely through your left nostril, releasing any remaining tension.

10.   Continue this pattern, alternating between inhaling and exhaling through each nostril. Each complete cycle consists of one inhalation and one exhalation through both nostrils.

11.   Maintain a steady and relaxed rhythm. Concentrate on your breath and the calming sensation it brings.

You can do it anytime and anywhere, but it's especially effective during moments of stress or before meditation. A few minutes of daily practice can yield significant benefits, but it can be done for longer durations if desired, such as 5-10 minutes per session.

Heart coherence breathing

Heart coherence breathing ,  coherent breathing , or resonance breathing focuses on increasing heart rate variability (HRV) by synchronizing the heart rhythm with the breathing rate. Practicing heart coherence breathing typically involves inhaling and exhaling deeply and slowly while focusing on positive emotions and maintaining a calm and peaceful state of mind. The key goal is to create a harmonious and coherent rhythm between your heart rate and your breath. This technique offers numerous benefits, including reducing stress, improving mental clarity, enhancing emotional resilience, and fostering a sense of calm.

Follow these easy steps to heart coherence breathing:

  1. Begin by finding a peaceful and quiet space where you won't be easily distracted. Sit in a comfortable chair or lie down on your back. Ensure your body is relaxed, and your spine is straight. Gently close your eyes to eliminate visual distractions and promote inner focus.
  2. Start by taking a few slow, deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Feel the natural flow of your breath.
  3. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose for 4 seconds.
  4. Keep your focus on a positive emotion of choice.
  5. Exhale slowly and completely through your mouth for 6 seconds, imagining that you are releasing any stress or tension.
  6. You can pause for a couple of seconds before beginning the next breathing cycle.
  7. Continue this breathing pattern for about 5 to 10 minutes or longer if you have the time and desire. Keep your attention on your chosen positive emotion and maintain a relaxed, rhythmic breathing pattern.
  8. If you have access to a heart rate monitor or biofeedback device, you can observe how your heart rate becomes more coherent and rhythmic as you practice heart coherence breathing.
  9. It can be done anytime and anywhere, and even just a few minutes of daily practice can lead to significant improvements in your overall emotional and mental well-being.

Using a biofeedback tool like  moonbird  can enhance your practice. Synchronizing your breath with the tactile cues provided by moonbird, whilst observing the feedback on your HRV in the app, you can fine-tune your breathing to reach a state of coherence more effectively.

Conscious connected breathing

Conscious connected breathing (CCB) , also known as circular breathing or continuous breathwork , is a rhythmic and connected pattern of breath without pauses between inhalation and exhalation. It can lead to profound physical, emotional, and spiritual experiences. Use conscious connected breathing during dedicated breathwork sessions or workshops when you have the space and time to explore deep emotional release, personal insights, and spiritual connection.

The benefits of conscious connected breathing include stress reduction, increased energy, improved mental clarity, and enhanced emotional well-being. It is commonly used for transformative experiences and is best practiced under the guidance of a qualified practitioner or instructor. It typically feels like a gentle, natural rhythm of breathing that harmonizes the body and mind.

If you would like to try this exercise yourself, you can follow these steps:

  1. Start by finding a comfortable and quiet place to sit or lie down. Ensure that your body is well-supported, and you won't be disturbed during your practice.
  2. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Begin by taking a few deep breaths to settle into the practice. Inhale deeply through your nose, allowing your abdomen to expand, and then exhale fully through your mouth, releasing any tension or stress.
  3. Start to breathe in a rhythmic pattern. In conscious connected breathing, the breath is typically continuous and cyclical, without pauses between inhales and exhales. You can use your nose or mouth for both inhalation and exhalation.
  4. As you continue, gradually deepen your breath. Aim to breathe deeply into your abdomen, expanding it fully with each inhalation. Let each exhalation be complete, releasing all the air from your lungs.
  5. You may start to notice various sensations, emotions, or memories surfacing. It's essential to allow whatever arises without judgment. Conscious connected breathing can sometimes lead to the release of pent-up emotions or tensions, so be prepared for this possibility.
  6. Continue the conscious connected breathing for the desired duration, typically around 20-30 minutes, although shorter sessions can also be beneficial. If at any point you feel overwhelmed, you can slow down your breathing or return to normal breathing until you are ready to resume.
  7. When you are ready to conclude your CCB session, gradually return to your regular breathing pattern. Take a few deep breaths to recenter yourself and become aware of your surroundings.

Ideally, sessions last for about 20-30 minutes, and practitioners often incorporate it into their daily or weekly routines for maximum benefits.

Holotropic breathwork

For our more psychedelic fans out there, holotropic breathwork is all about using music and rapid breathing to induce an altered state of consciousness, developed by Stanislav and Christina Grof. It can be an intense and profound experience, often likened to psychedelic journeys. For this reason, this type of breathwork should also be practiced under the supervision of a qualified practitioner or instructor. It is typically conducted in a safe and supportive environment to ensure the well-being of the participant.

This practice often leads to intense and vivid experiences, including emotional release, inner exploration, and expanded awareness. Benefits may include stress reduction, emotional healing, increased creativity, and a sense of spiritual connection.

Let us explain in simple steps how this breathing technique works:

  1. Because the session usually takes place in a group setting with a trained facilitator, having a comfortable confidential, and non-judgmental environment with water and tissues available is a must. There will be mattresses or pillows in the room for comfortable positions.
  2. The facilitator will provide an introduction to the process, emphasizing the importance of surrendering to the experience and allowing whatever arises without judgment. They may also explain the safety guidelines, including hand signals for communication during the session.
  3. Participants start lying down comfortably and the facilitator plays evocative music, which often includes a variety of genres and rhythms.
  4. Participants begin deep and rhythmic breathing, focusing on inhaling and exhaling without pauses between breaths. The breath is typically faster and more intense than normal, which can lead to altered states of consciousness.
  5. As the participants continue their deep and rapid breathing, they may start to experience various sensations, emotions, memories, and imagery. These can be intense and highly personal. The music catalyzes your journey, evoking different emotions and experiences.
  6. Holotropic Breathwork often leads to emotional release, catharsis, and insights. The process can help you access and process unresolved emotions and trauma. The facilitator and any support staff are present to provide assistance, support, and guidance if needed.
  7. After the active breathwork phase, participants gather for a sharing circle. This is an opportunity to verbalize and integrate your experiences. Sharing is a crucial part of the process, as it can provide insights and validation.
  8. The session concludes with a grounding exercise, such as gentle movement or meditation, to help participants return to a more ordinary state of consciousness.
  9. The facilitator guides how to integrate your experiences into daily life and offers resources for further exploration if desired.

Holotropic breathing sessions can vary in length, but they often last around 2-3 hours and are best done in a safe, supportive environment with a trained facilitator. Frequency can vary, but practitioners often engage in sessions periodically to explore different aspects of their psyche and promote personal growth.

Buteyko breathing method

The Buteyko breathing method is a breathwork technique developed by Russian physiologist Konstantin Buteyko. It emphasizes the importance of nasal breathing and focuses on reducing over-breathing or hyperventilation. Initially, this breathing method was created as a way to help people with asthma breathe more easily.

This technique often feels calming and may initially require conscious effort, because you consciously start breathing less slowly. The benefits of the Buteyko method include improved lung function, reduced anxiety, and better sleep.

Follow these steps to practice the Buteyko breathing method:

  1. Begin by finding a quiet and comfortable place to sit or lie down. Close your mouth gently and keep it closed throughout the practice. Breathe exclusively through your nose.
  2. Focus on making your breaths lighter and shallower than your typical breaths. Breathe in and out through your nose, but try to minimize the volume of air you inhale and exhale.
  3. Pay attention to your abdomen. As you inhale, allow your diaphragm to move forward, expanding your lower abdomen. Your chest should move as little as possible and your belly on the other hand should expand like a balloon.
  4. The Buteyko method often involves maintaining a slight sensation of "air hunger." This means that you allow yourself to feel a gentle desire for more air without taking big, deep breaths. This sensation may be challenging at first but becomes more natural with practice.
  5. As you become more comfortable with the technique, you can incorporate breath holds. After an exhale, hold your breath for a few seconds (5-10 seconds), and then resume gentle nasal breathing.

It can be practiced daily, ideally in a quiet and relaxed setting, for about 15-20 minutes per session. You can make sessions longer once you feel comfortable doing so. And remember: consistency is key.

We invite you to explore and experiment with these breathing exercises and techniques to discover the ones that resonate with you the most. By incorporating these breathing exercises into your life, you can harness the power of your breath to promote relaxation and enhance your overall sense of well-being. The more breathwork you do, the greater the benefits will be.

Remember to practice the more intense variants of breathwork techniques, like conscious connected breathing and holotropic breathing, safely and under appropriate supervision to ensure a safe and supportive experience. Happy breathing!

Wondering what moonbird can do for you? See   how breathing with moonbird works.

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