Mindfulness meditation often uses the breath as an anchor, something practitioners can stay focused on and return to when they become distracted. But there are other, more complex ways of noticing and using our breath in order to get the best out of it and produce certain results in the body and mind.
Today’s article will take you through the basics of mindful breathing, discussing the benefits of boosting breath awareness and going through a few easy techniques you can try in your own time. We’ll also give you some pointers on how to make mindful breathing a part of your daily life. Let’s dive in.
What is Mindful Breathing?
Mindful breathing is all about becoming aware of your breath and acknowledging its relationship with both your bodily sensations and your internal feelings and emotions. Most of us go through life being constantly occupied by different tasks, or falling headfirst into distraction after distraction. Mindful breathing is a powerful tool that not only allows you to counteract this human tendency, but also encourages several physical, emotional and mental benefits.
If holding down a regular meditation routine is proving difficult for you, regularly practising mindful breathing could be a good introductory step. Setting aside a few minutes each day for mindful breathing practice can make the transition towards more formal meditation much easier. Mindful breathing exercises focus on observing physical movements like the rising and falling of the chest, thinking about inhalations and exhalations, or turning your attention to how certain breathing patterns affect your brain.
Once you take control of your breathing and become more mindful of it, you’ll find yourself able to access a wide range of benefits. It’s time for a closer look at some of them.
Benefits of Mindful Breathing
For hundreds of years, meditation and mindfulness experts have preached the benefits of mindful breathing. It can be an immensely powerful tool, and the great thing is, you have access to it 24/7, meaning that it can be easily incorporated into your daily routine. Let’s take a look at what mindful breathing can do for you.
1. Reduce Stress Levels
Mindful breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is also known as the “rest and digest” system. This is in opposition to the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for ‘fight or flight’ reactions. When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, physical symptoms of anxiety and stress like heart rate and blood pressure become lower. Studies have found that certain breathing exercises can reduce stress in a variety of military, medical, workplace, or everyday situations.
2. Prevent Burnout
With today’s hustle culture hard to avoid, it’s no surprise that burnout as a result of career, study or family pressures is becoming more and more common. Fortunately, mindful breathing can help. Recent studies have shown that mindful breathing is an effective way of combatting burnout; in fact, organisations such as Bedfordshire Police have recently implemented trials to find out more about the positive effects of mindfulness. Anxiety, negative thinking and emotional exhaustion (three of the main symptoms of burnout) can all be reduced using mindful breathing activity.
3. Provide physical pain relief
Have you ever stubbed your toe on a coffee table or stepped on a piece of Lego? It’s highly probable that after shouting a few expletives, you sat down and took a few deep breaths to deal with the pain. Did this help the pain subside after a minute? You may not even have noticed it at the time, but the fact is that we respond to moments of physical pain by taking deep breaths for a reason. Mindful breathing exercises have been proven to help reduce physical pain, inflammation and headaches. You can read more on that in this report.
4. Reduce Negative Emotions
We all often have negative emotions and thoughts about the world. These could be related to how we view ourselves, or whether we feel like we are good enough. Alternatively, negative thoughts and mental health struggles could be caused by external situations such as a fallout with a friend, trouble at work, or financial hardship. Studies have shown that mindful breathing can relax your mind and help you feel more grateful for the positive things that you do have in your life. This will often lift your mood and allow you to experience a different mindset. For more on how being grateful can make you happier, check out our article on how gratitude changes your brain.
5 Easy Breathing techniques
1. Awareness of Breathing
This is a very simple exercise that is all about being aware of how you’re currently breathing, and not making any concerted effort to change it. While practising this, try to focus on how you breathe normally.
- Find a comfortable position, either sitting or standing.
- Be aware of how you feel throughout your body, noticing the weight of your back on the seat and your feet on the ground.
- Make sure that your back is straight and that your face muscles are relaxed. Find a point on the ground in front of you to help focus your attention. Connect to the natural rhythm of your breath.
- Feel the rise and fall of your stomach and chest. When you get distracted by your thoughts, let them go and come back to the physical sensation of your breathing.
2. Belly Breathing
Belly breathing is another simple breathing technique that can help you reduce stress and anxiety.
- For this exercise, we recommend that you find somewhere comfortable to either sit down or lie down with a small pillow underneath your head.
- Now, place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly. Try to relax your belly without forcing your belly to expand or restrain itself.
- Then, breathe slowly in through your nose and feel the rise and fall of your belly with your hand. Exhale slowly through your mouth.
- Be aware of how your hands move — your lower hand on your stomach should rise and fall with your breath, the upper hand on your chest should remain still.
3. Box Breathing
Box breathing is all about having a set rhythm with your breathing.
- The most common way to employ this breathing method is to exhale to a count of 4 seconds, hold your breath for another 4 seconds and then inhale for another 4 seconds.
- You can keep repeating this in order to find a good rhythm.
- If you find it difficult to hold your breath for four seconds, you can start off holding it for 2-3 seconds, before building up to 4 seconds.
4. 4-7-8 Breathing
This is one of the more famous breathing techniques. It is known for its relaxing results and has been proven to reduce the time it takes for practitioners to fall asleep. If you’re someone that struggles to get a good night’s sleep, then this is the breathing exercise for you.
- Follow this simple process: inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds.
- If you struggle to hold your breath for that long, reduce the hold time, but make sure that the pattern stays the same, e.g. inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 5 seconds and exhale for 6 seconds.
5. Pursed Lips Breathing
If you ever find yourself breathing too quickly or panicking, this is a great technique that is simple to implement anytime or anywhere.
- Firstly, relax your shoulders, relax your face, and release any tension in your muscles.
- Once you’re settled into a comfortable sitting position, inhale through your nose for 1-2 seconds.
- Next, exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds, puckering your lips as if you’re going to kiss someone. This will help make your breathing more intentional and relaxing.
How Can Mindful Breathing Change Your Day?
Practising mindfulness throughout the day can have a transformative effect on your life. Finding the time for mindful breathing meditation or other more formal practices can be hard, so by bringing deep breathing exercises or other types of breathwork into your normal routine, you can access the benefits of this practice without impacting your daily life.
All the breathing exercises discussed in this article can be used in this way, but there are a huge number of other techniques you can use, regardless of where you are. These include Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Diaphragmatic Breathing, and Mindful Walking; today, though, we’re just starting with the basics.
Here are 3 easy mindfulness exercises to bring into your daily life.
1. Start Your Day Off Right
Are you one of those people that is in a constant rush in the morning? Or maybe your first action of the day is to reach for the kettle and get a cup of coffee? If this sounds familiar, you might be able to benefit from starting your day off with some mindful breathing exercises and asking yourself what your goals and intentions are for the day.
Taking the time to do this means that instead of starting your mornings in a panicked or groggy state, you can become more focused, relaxed and intentional at the beginning of each day. Simply sit on the edge of your bed with your eyes closed, use one of the breathing techniques mentioned above or just take some deep breaths and become aware of your goals and intentions for the day.
2. Before every meal
In modern capitalist societies, it can be difficult to really appreciate food. It’s in constant abundance, while our focus on it is repeatedly broken by distractions like our phone or TV.
A great way to counter this is by practising mindful eating. Before every meal, take a few deep breaths and truly appreciate your food without distraction. Notice the smells, flavours and textures of your meal and try to be more mindful about what you’re eating. Adopting this attitude to food will help you feel less hungry after eating and feel full for longer.
3. When you feel overwhelmed
Throughout the day, it’s likely you’ll experience some negative reactions to certain situations, perhaps becoming overwhelmed by work, relationships or whatever else life throws in our way. One of the best ways to combat such feelings of being stressed or overwhelmed is by doing some simple breathing when you feel most at risk. The exercises we’ve covered today can help you to relax, reset your focus and take on any challenges from a grounded and centred point of view.
Improve Your Quality of Life With Mindful Breathing
Hopefully, today’s article will have given you a solid starting point when it comes to implementing mindful breathing in your daily life. There are a wide range of benefits to be accessed, not least the goal of developing a more relaxed and peaceful mind.
But the power of mindfulness does not start and end with mindful breathing. There are a huge number of meditative practices you can adopt as a way of improving your mental well-being and addressing the problems in your life, from Loving-Kindness Meditation to mantra-based practice. If you’re interested in exploring more types of meditation, check out our article on the six main types of meditation.
MindOwl Founder – My own struggles in life have led me to this path of understanding the human condition. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before completing a master’s degree in psychology at Regent’s University London. I then completed a postgraduate diploma in philosophical counselling before being trained in ACT (Acceptance and commitment therapy).
I’ve spent the last eight years studying the encounter of meditative practices with modern psychology.