What Is Mindful Breathing?

Have you ever tried practicing mindfulness?

If the answer is yes, it’s likely you’ve experienced mindful breathing, although you might not even know it.

Mindful breathing is a crucial aspect of almost all forms of mindfulness meditation. However, it can be used outside of formal meditative practice as a way of encouraging calmness and stillness or accessing certain states of mind.

In this article, we’ll take a look at these key areas:

  • What is mindful breathing?
  • The benefits of mindful breathing
  • How to practice mindful breathing
  • The best times to try this practice

After reading this article, you’ll have a good grasp of all the basics of mindful breathing. You’ll also have a better understanding of how it relates to mindfulness practice more broadly.

Let’s get started!

What Is Mindful Breathing

What is mindful breathing?

Mindful breathing is about becoming more aware of your breath and understanding the way it impacts your bodily sensations, feelings and emotions.

This practice is about moving away from the mindless, distraction-fuelled way in which most of us live our lives. By being more mindful of the breath, we can tune into our minds and bodies and begin acting with more purpose, calmness, and intentionality.

Usually, mindful breathing exercises will focus on close observation of each inhalation and exhalation, or of physical movements like the rising and falling of the chest. Sometimes, you may just observe the breath, and notice how certain breathing patterns affect your mind.

If you find meditation difficult, mindful breathing could be a great gateway to the practice.

Setting aside a few minutes each day for this kind of practice can have a positive impact on your mental state. It will also probably make formal meditation easier when you sit down to try it.

There are also a number of other health benefits related to mindful breathing. Let’s look into some of the key ones.

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The Benefits of mindful breathing

We’ve briefly touched on how mindfulness breathing exercises can affect your mind state; however, the advantages of mindful breathing go beyond that. Here, we’ll consider the main benefits it offers.

1. Stress Reduction

The human nervous system consists of the sympathetic nervous system (which is responsible for ‘fight or flight’ reactions), and the parasympathetic nervous system (which is responsible for ‘rest and digest’ states). Mindful breathing activates the latter.

This causes physical symptoms of anxiety and stress, such as blood pressure and heart rate, to become lower.

Research has suggested that this de-stressing process can be useful in various medical, military, or workplace scenarios, and that it can also help prevent burnout.

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2. Pain Relief

What do you do when you stub your toe on the wall, or step on something sharp? You may not realize it, but it’s highly likely you take a few deep breaths to help cope with the pain. This is a natural human response.

Mindful breathing can have a profound impact on reducing and managing physical pain. Medical reports have shown that physical pain, inflammation, and headaches can all be dealt with using mindful breathing methods.

3. Separation from negative feelings and emotions

Negative thoughts and feelings are totally normal, and they’re impossible to avoid. However, we can alter our ways of dealing with them.

Mindful breathing is great for helping to boost feelings of gratitude and calmness and move you away from negativity. Breathwork exercises can help separate you from the thoughts inside your head, allowing you to observe them without getting caught up in them.

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How to practice mindful breathing

One of the best things about this method of reducing stress, decreasing pain, and instilling calmness is that it can be done at any time, in any place.

This makes mindful breathing super accessible.

But how exactly do you practice it?

In order to show you, we’ve compiled 3 of the best mindful breathing exercises to show you the kinds of techniques this practice usually incorporates.

This way, you’ll also see how mindful breathing exercises can vary. Much like meditation, it’s a broad spectrum, so while some techniques might not agree with you, others could end up being super beneficial.

1. Box Breathing

Box breathing is a method in which practitioners set a consistent rhythm for their breathing. Here’s how to do it.

  • Exhale for 4 seconds. Hold your breath for 4 seconds. Then, inhale for another 4 seconds.
  • You can think of this pattern as drawing the outline of a box, with each exhale/hold/inhale representing a side of the box. It’s sometimes called square breathing for this reason.
  • Keep following this pattern in order to find a good rhythm.
  • If you struggle to hold your breath for 4 seconds, then start off holding it for 2-3 seconds, before moving up to 4.
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2. Belly Breathing

Belly breathing is great for relieving stress and anxiety. Let’s look into how it’s done.

  • Find somewhere comfortable to either sit down or lie down with your head on a pillow.
  • Place one hand on your upper chest, and the other hand on your belly. Try to relax your belly, but don’t force it to expand.
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose. With your hand, feel how your belly rises and falls. Exhale through the mouth, keeping your breathing pattern slow.
  • Notice how your hands move, with the one on your belly rising and falling, while the hand on your chest stays still.

3. Pursed Lips Breathing

This one is particularly good for when you’re in a moment of panic or you notice that you’re breathing quickly.

  • First, relax your shoulders and face, and try to ease any tension in your muscles.
  • Settle into a comfortable sitting position.
  • Inhale through your nose for a couple of seconds. Then, exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds. As you do this, pucker up your lips as if you’re about to kiss someone.
  • This helps channel your breathing, making it more intentional and focused.

These three breathwork exercises are a great place to start if you’re new to mindful breathing. They can also be highly effective for more experienced practitioners.

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When should I practice mindful breathing?

Many meditation teachers and experts claim that the best time to meditate is first thing in the morning.

By the same token, there are certain times of day that are best suited to the practice of mindful breathing. If you keep this in mind, it’s likely you’ll get more out of your practice.

So before we wrap up, let’s quickly consider the best times to practice mindful breathing.

At the start of the day

If you struggle to start off your day without a strong cup of coffee, you might benefit from incorporating mindfulness and meditation techniques into your morning routine.

Setting aside a few minutes each morning to practice mindful breathing exercises can help you start your day with a calm, positive outlook.

Mindful breathwork can lift you out of that groggy morning state and allow you to set goals and intentions for your day.

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Before you eat a meal

Most of us eat in a pretty mindless way, failing to appreciate the food in front of us or take our time over it. This is particularly true in Western capitalist societies.

Mindful breathing can help counteract this tendency. Practicing one of the breathwork patterns we touched on earlier before you eat a meal can help you gain a new perspective on this daily activity. You can then eat with more patience, gratitude and mindfulness.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed

We each face challenges every day. Every now and then, something will get on your nerves or make you feel a little overwhelmed, whether it’s a work situation, an admin task, or a problem in your personal life.

If you’re someone who particularly struggles with feelings of anxiety and fear, you might want to check out our guide to the best essential oils for anxiety. That being said, there’s a solution within you, already waiting to be unlocked.

Adopting mindful breathing practices can help get you through those tricky moments. Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, use one of the exercises you’ve learned today to help you relax, reset your mind, and ground yourself in the present moment.

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Bring Mindful Breathing into your everyday life

Mindful breathing doesn’t take the same levels of time, patience, and concentration that mindfulness meditation does.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother trying to meditate — but if that seems too much of a commitment, mindfulness breathwork exercises are a great starting point.

There are additional ways that you can encourage yourself to breathe more mindfully.

More and more people are taking advantage of new creations such as the mindful breathing necklace, which trains people to breathe deeply and prolong exhalations.

Various types of mindful breathing necklace are available (you can find out more here), although it’s not necessary to use tools like this.

When it comes to accessing the positive effects of mindfulness breathing exercises, all you need is your body and your mind.

In fact, when you look into it more, you’ll find that you’re capable of solving many of the day-to-day problems you face using meditative or mindful techniques. For a good example of this, read our article on sleep meditation unpacked.

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You should now have all the basic information you need to start practicing mindful breathing. It can help reduce stress and anxiety, offer pain relief, and allow you to cope with overwhelming moments. Give it a try, and you’ll see the benefits.

And if you’re still a little unclear about the definition of mindfulness and how it can affect your life, check out our introductory guide to the practice.

Fred Garratt-Stanley

Fred Garratt-Stanley

Fred is a London-based writer who works for several health, wellness and fitness sites, with much of his work focusing on mindfulness. He's also a massive football fan, writing regularly for Jobs In Football and following his side Norwich City home and away.

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