In the span of just a few years, mindfulness has gone from a niche concept to a global trend utilized by millions. Thanks to neuroscience research and social media infographics, mindfulness-based practices are now viewed as legitimate tools for stress reduction, mental health, and general well-being.
But between busy schedules and information overload, it’s not always easy to get back to the present moment and pursue meditation practice. Breathwork offers a simple, non-intimidating way to reap the benefits of mindfulness and make breath awareness a part of daily life.
Today, we’ll explore some simple breathing practices that can help you calm down, combat negative emotions, and tap into a sense of self-compassion we all need.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
The benefits of mindfulness begin when you draw awareness to the present moment, leaving behind racing thoughts and negativity. Instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, you can focus on what is directly in front of you with increased concentration and ability.
Mindfulness also promotes openness, curiosity, and an attitude of acceptance—all of which help foster patience and allow you to navigate everything from work and chores to personal relationships and more. Whether you’re in the throws of a chaotic workday or an intense training session, mindfulness can be applied to any situation.
Even practices like mindful eating and deep breathing can help you achieve calm and relaxation during downtime.
The practice has Buddhist origins, and the scientific community has now revealed deeper psychological legitimacy in recent years—and mindfulness has been shown to have long-term physical and mental health benefits.
Combined with mindful living, healthy habits, and supplementation with compounds like CBD, you can enjoy more balance and purpose in all domains of life.*
From high-level athletes to CEOs and everyday folks, there are countless benefits from mindfulness that shouldn’t be overlooked. The best way to discover them for yourself is to adopt and practice these methods on a regular basis, however small.
8 breathing exercises for mindfulness
Mindfulness practices can be applied to many aspects of daily life, from jumpstarting your morning routine to navigating obstacles, both personal and professional. While some prefer to dive in with guided meditations or yoga, breathwork is a simple, low-stakes way to get acquainted with these concepts.
Beginners can easily incorporate deep breathing exercises at any time without the guidance of an instructor or the pressure of a group class. Let’s look at eight proven breathing exercises for mindfulness that you can implement in any place and at any time of day.
1. Deep belly breathing
Whether your goal is stress reduction, increased concentration, or general mental health, deep belly breathing is the perfect starting point for newcomers.
Deep belly breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, is meant to help bring you into a relaxed state of mind and body. The idea is to deepen and slow your breathing pattern so that you shift from the “fight or flight” response into the parasympathetic nervous system.
Start in a comfortable position and release tension from the neck, shoulders, and other areas of the body that feel tight or stiff. Breathe deeply and allow the lower part of your abdomen to expand outwards, letting your lungs fill fully with air.
While you may be accustomed to breathing in the upper part of the lungs only, this cue reminds you to take in more oxygen and utilize the full capacity of the lungs. For extra guidance, place a hand on your abdomen and notice the rise and fall motion of the belly as you breathe.
Resist the urge to keep your belly flat and embrace the freedom that comes with breathing fully into your lungs. From there, simply maintain a steady rhythm and focus on the sensations of each full breath, letting your parasympathetic nervous system guide the way.
By first learning the deep belly breathing method and the idea of expanding your abdomen with each breath, you begin your practice the right way. This allows you to make the most of the following techniques that incorporate counting and other modifications.
2. Box breathing
The box breathing method introduces counting into your breathing practice, bringing you back to the present every second. The “box” refers to a four-by-four count, which you will follow for multiple repetitions of deep breathing.
Start by emptying your breath and taking a deep inhalation lasting for a count of four seconds or “beats” of any length. When you reach the top of your breath, hold it for four more beats, then exhale for an additional four. Hold your empty breath at the “bottom” for another four beats before you begin the cycle again.
You can experiment with box breathing at different paces, but a slow and smooth count generally works best for relaxation. This technique is subtle and can be used anywhere as an under-the-radar breathwork method.
3. Alternate nostril breathing
With roots in pranayama yoga, the alternate nostril breathing method requires you to breathe out of individual nostrils, one at a time. Use your thumb and ring finger on one hand to apply pressure to the nose on either side and close off one nostril while air flows through the other.
You can start by practicing breathing with just one nostril, then move on to inhaling through one and exhaling through the other. This practice might feel uncomfortable at first, but you’ll likely experience improved airflow with continued effort.
4. 4-7-8 breathing
The 4-7-8 breathing method was developed as a way to relax medical patients and regain an inner sense of control in stressful scenarios. It follows a three-step repetition, starting with a relatively quick inhalation lasting for a count of four.
At the top of the breath, hold it for a count of seven, then allow for a slow exhalation lasting eight beats. The method emphasizes breath holding and promotes a prolonged exhalation that methods like box breathing may not offer. 4-7-8 is great for balancing your energy to relax while maintaining focus and concentration in any environment.
5. Mindful counting breath
This one is as simple as counting sheep as you lie in bed at night. However, this time, you’re focusing on breathing deeply and slowly to relax the body and mind. You can set a timer to dedicate a certain amount of time to counting breaths, or aim to count to a specific number, like 25 or 100 breaths.
As this is a relatively “freestyle” approach to mindful breathing, you can follow your own pattern and incorporate other practices as well. It’s all about finding a comfortable pace and getting the most from each breath, easing yourself into a state of relaxation and calm.
6. Pursed lip breathing
Pursed lip breathing is not a counting pattern but rather a technique that alters the speed and intensity of airflow. First, try inhaling deeply through the nose and exhaling through pursed lips, as if you’re blowing out a candle. You should create a subtle “whoosh” sound that brings attention to your breath and extends the exhalation longer.
With this method, you can fully empty the lungs and increase the amount of oxygen in your system. It also helps regulate your breath if you ever experience shortness of breath or shallow breathing.
7. Five senses breathing
Five senses breathing is all about whole-body awareness, bringing you to the present moment.
Start by identifying five things you can see, then four things you can touch. This provides a sense of grounding in time and space, wherever you are. Then, focus on three things you can hear around you, followed by two things you can smell. This attunes you to the physical world more closely and provides some tactile relaxation.
Finally, find one thing you can taste, whether it’s a sip of tea, a healthy snack, or a piece of chewing gum.
8. Body scan meditation
Body scan meditation is ideal for falling asleep at night, but you can use it any time of day for calming and relaxation. Visualize a bright light filling up your body and reducing tension in specific areas as it crosses over you. Start with the head, neck, and shoulders, followed by individual limbs and your torso.
This method is surprisingly effective for soothing the mind and is a great reminder to get back “into your body” when feeling stuck in your head.
Mindfulness is a lifelong practice, and there is always more to learn. Breathwork is just one path to mastery, and it’s the perfect on-ramp for anyone new to the mindfulness concept. As you explore mindfulness and test out new methods, continue to build on your healthy lifestyle habits.
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