We all know our breath is our life force – it literally keeps us alive and well. In this article, we're diving into the magic of breathwork for beginners. I'll reveal five simple but beneficial deep breathing techniques, including how to do them and how they can benefit you.
But first, did you know that our breath is also a tool for finding calm and inner peace?
Through breathwork exercises, we can release stress, regulate our emotions, and even work through trauma.
Intrigued? Keep reading to dive into this incredibly powerful and healing practice.
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Best breathwork for beginners to try
As the name suggests, belly breathing (or Diaphragmatic Breathing) involves sending the inhale down to the belly, expanding it like a balloon. Then, as you exhale, the belly deflates.
Abdominal breathing is much slower and deeper than chest breathing. Diaphragmatic Breathing encourages full oxygen exchange and strengthens the respiratory system.
Here's how to do diaphragmatic breathing:
- Lay on your back with one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.
- Take a deep breath in, feeling the air enter your nostrils and traveling down your chest and belly. As the breath reaches your belly, you should feel pressure against the hand as the abdomen expands.
- As you exhale, contract the abdominal muscles slightly, allowing the belly to deflate like a balloon.
- Continue the deep breaths for 20 breaths. As you breathe, you should feel most of the movement in the belly with minimal in the chest. Inhale and exhale through the nose with your mouth closed.
Best breathwork for beginners at home
Square breathing is one of the easiest breathwork techniques to learn and remember and practice at home. Plus, you don't need to be under the guidance of a breathwork practitioner to practice it.
Square breathing has many incredible benefits, such as instant stress and anxiety relief.
Also known as Box breathing, in this breathwork practice, you follow a controlled breathing rhythm. You breathe in, hold your breath, breathe out, and hold your breath, all for an equal count of 4 seconds.
Here's how to do square breathing:
- Find a comfortable position with a straight spine.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose for 4 seconds. Focus on filling your lungs with air and expanding your diaphragm.
- Once you've inhaled completely, hold your breath for another count of four.
- Exhale slowly through your nose or mouth for 4 seconds. Release all the air from your lungs and feel a sense of letting go.
- After exhaling, hold your breath for another four seconds. This completes one round.
- Continue this technique for several minutes or until you feel calm and centered.
Once you become comfortable with this technique, you can lengthen the count to 5,6, or even 10 seconds. Similarly, if you find the 4-4-4-4 variation difficult, shorten it for a 2 or 3 count instead.
5 different types of breathwork beginners should know about
All breathwork techniques have different benefits and purposes. So, the one that's best for you depends on what you're seeking.
Here are my top 5 breathwork techniques beginners should try.
1. Alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana)
The Nadi Shodhana pranayama helps balance the brain's two hemispheres. It helps to release tension and promotes mind-body connection, which researchers believe is due to its effect on the nervous system.
A study published in the Journal Of Clinical And Diagnostic Research found that just one session of Nadi Shodhana significantly increases parasympathetic tone and decreases sympathetic activity. As a result, this breathing exercise can lower high blood pressure, reduce stress when you’re feeling overwhelmed, and even help with pain relief.
This yoga breathing technique involves breathing in through one nostril and breathing out through the other while using the fingers to block the inactive nostril. It is often practiced in a yoga class.
Here's how to do nadhi shodhana:
- Find a comfortable seated position on the floor or a chair. Ensure your spine is straight, and close your eyes.
- Use your right thumb to close off your right nostril and your right ring finger to block off your left nostril. Your index and middle fingers rest gently on your forehead.
- Close your right nostril with your thumb and inhale slowly and deeply through your left nostril while filling your lungs.
- Next, close your left nostril with your ring finger, releasing your right nostril. Exhale completely and slowly through your right nostril.
- Keeping your left nostril closed, inhale deeply through your right nostril.
- Then, close your right nostril, release your left nostril, and exhale completely and slowly through your left nostril. This completes one round.
- Continue this pattern for at least a few minutes, ensuring the inhales equal the exhales.
2. Ujjayi breath (Victorious breath)
The ujjayi pranayama involves breathing deeply and rhythmically through the nose while gently constricting the throat during exhalation. This produces a sound akin to ocean waves (or, as I like to say, Darth Vader from Star Wars).
Ujjayi is a heating, energizing breathwork technique that enhances focus, boosts your energy, and prevents fatigue. It is also known for its detoxifying benefits, eliminating toxins from the body.
Here's how to do ujjayi breathing:
- Inhale through your nose, filling your lungs with air. Feel your abdomen and chest expanding.
- Constrict the back of your throat slightly as you exhale through your nose. Think about the action you would take to fog up a mirror with your breath. The exhale should be audible, resembling a gentle hissing or ocean-like sound.
- Continue with this technique for a few minutes. Try to make both your inhalation and exhalation equally long and smooth.
3. Cooling breath (Sitali Pranayama)
Sitali Pranayama is commonly known as the cooling or hissing breath. Sitali stills the mind, calms the nervous system, and cools the body down. This makes it an ideal practice for the summer months or after a hot yoga session.
Here's how to do sitali pranayama:
- Find a comfortable seated position. Stick out your tongue and roll it into a tube or straw shape.
- Inhale deeply through this “straw,” focusing on the cooling sensation of the breath.
- After completing the inhalation, close your mouth and exhale through your nostrils.
- Repeat this cycle for several rounds.
4. Circular breathing
Circular breathing is a popular technique for various mental health conditions, including reducing PTSD and releasing trauma. It is easy to learn because it involves inhaling and exhaling in a continuous circular motion.
Unlike square breathing, you don't pause between breaths, which is essential for trauma sufferers. Holding the breath mirrors the freeze response, which prevents the ability to release trauma and emotions.
Here's how to do circular breathing:
- Find a comfortable seated or reclined position. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose.
- As soon as you finish inhaling, exhale through your mouth or nose.
- Without pausing or holding your breath, smoothly transition into the next inhalation. Imagine your breath flowing in a continuous circle with no distinct beginning or end.
- Continue inhaling and exhaling like this for several minutes.
Some breathwork facilitators believe exhaling through the mouth is best for releasing trauma. This is based on the belief that when we breathe through the mouth, we stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, where trauma is stored.
5. Skull shining breath (Kapalbhati)
Kapalbhati is an energizing, invigorating breathwork involving short, powerful exhales and passive inhales.
The most obvious benefit of the skull shining breath is an energy boost. However, it also cleanses the respiratory system, increases lung capacity, and focuses the mind.
Here's how to do kapalbhati breathing:
- Find a comfortable seated position, sit upright, and close your eyes.
- Take a passive, natural inhale.
- At the top of your inhale, exhale forcefully and quickly through your nose by contracting your abdominal muscles. The exhalation is short and snappy, like a quick, powerful pump of the abdomen. Focus on pushing the air out of your lungs with each exhale.
- The inhalation naturally happens as you relax your abdominal muscles after each forceful exhale. It's important not to focus on the inhalation; instead, concentrate on the exhalation.
- Establish a rhythm where you exhale rapidly and forcefully, followed by a passive inhalation. The sound of your breath might resemble “phew-phew-phew”.
3 benefits of breathwork
By controlling our breath, we can calm the mind, ease stress and anxiety, and increase mental focus. This is because when we focus on breathing, we enhance activity in the cerebral cortex, a brain region responsible for attention, perception, and awareness.
However, specific breathing techniques have additional benefits like:
- Boosts our energy
- Promotes restful sleep
- Releases emotions and trauma
With certain types of breathwork, you may feel intense and overwhelming emotions arise. Some people cry or scream during breathwork this type of breathwork session because during their breathwork journey because they are encouraging the movement of prana (life force) within our energetic bodies, which can break up blockages and stagnation.
So, if you have a lot of pent-up emotional tension, you might experience memories or past trauma arise when practicing conscious breathwork.
When this happens, your body may want to release the emotional charge through crying, movement, or even screaming. The experience differs for everyone, so don't force any emotional release, but don't try to hold it back.
When should you practice breathwork?
You can practice breath awareness and regulation anytime and anywhere. Breathwork is also particularly beneficial whenever you feel stressed, overwhelmed, anxious, or distracted.
Still, some breathing techniques are best during certain times of the day. For example, Kapalbhati is the best breathing technique to practice in the morning or BEFORE exercise. This is because it wakes you up and prepares you for action.
Meanwhile, Nadi Shodhana is the best breathwork before bed or AFTER exercise. This is because it activates the rest and digest response (parasympathetic nervous system), which helps you get a better night's sleep.
Many people, myself included, find it beneficial to practice breathwork before meditation. The effect breathwork has on the brain and nervous system makes it easier to drop into a deep meditative state and stay focused.
How often should you do breathwork?
All types of breathwork are safe to do daily. You can start with a 5-10 minute practice for most breathing exercises.
However, vigorous techniques like Kapalbhati can be mentally and physically tiring at first. So, for this technique, practice for only a few minutes each day. Then, slowly build up the duration as your tolerance increases.
Lastly, don't worry if you have little time to practice pranayama. A few minutes of slow, conscious breathing is much better than nothing!
As an experienced yoga teacher, I know just how little attention people pay to their breathing throughout the day.
One statistic I often share in my classes (which always creates an astonished look on my students' faces) is this…
We take, on average, 20,000 breaths per day.
This statistic shocks people because they suddenly realize how many of those breaths they are conscious of…
But lack of breath awareness is not the only thing we are guilty of when it comes to breathing.
Most of our unconscious breathing pattern is shallow breathing, where we typically breathe into the upper chest.
Chest breathing is when you notice your chest rise and fall when breathing, but your belly remains still. While chest breathing is not dangerous, belly breathing and deep breathing are much healthier and more effective.
Takeaway on breathwork for beginners
Our breath does more than oxygenate our cells and keep us healthy. By developing better awareness and control of our breath, we can focus our minds, heal our hearts, and find peace within our souls.
But don't just take my word for it. Try these five breathwork for beginners techniques and discover the magic for yourself! If you're interested in learning about more advanced breathwork techniques, rebirthing, could be a place to start. Or dive into the world of tantra for more exploration.
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