If you have a yoga practice, you know that breathing is just as important as the poses themselves. What breathing brings to yoga is a mind-body connection as well as cell oxygenation, which in turn promotes healing from within. Your meditation practice can also benefit from concentrating on the breath, as it can quiet the mind and allow you to find peace or energize and motivate you. Since not any one breathing method works for each person’s practice, why not try a variety of breathing styles to find one that works for you in the moment? Here are some of the main meditation breathing techniques to get you started.
Also known as Shamatha in Buddhist meditation, this type of breathing focuses on relaxation. Less of a technique, it’s all about awareness, just paying attention to your breathing rather than controlling it. You can do it while sitting or standing, and all you should do is connect to your breath and observe it.
This approach is another easy option, and it has the bonus of soothing any anxiety you may be feeling. Also called Sama Vritti or box breathing, this technique is all about even breaths. Start with a slow, steady inhale while you count to four in your head, then exhale slowly for an equal four counts. Once you get the hang of it, you can hold your breath in between inhaling and exhaling for, you guessed it, four counts.
Full Breath Retention
This method is part of a hatha yoga practice, known by the Sanskrit name Kumbhaka, which means pot. In this case, your torso is the pot and your nose the spout. Sitting in a comfortable position, inhale evenly for five counts, then pinch your nose closed with your thumb and forefinger of either hand. Hold your breath for five counts, and then slowly exhale for 10 counts. This is known as a one-one-two ratio, and as you get more comfortable with the technique, you can switch it up with a one-two-two or a one-four-two ratio.
Bellows breath, or Bhastrika, is more about creating energy within the body. One of the more popular meditation breathing techniques for stimulating and lifting the mood, this type uses your diaphragm and abdominal muscles for deep breathing. While sitting upright with a straight spine, inhale and exhale through your nose rapidly but deeply. Fill your lungs with air on each inhale, expanding your belly, before you exhale while contracting your belly. This rapid deep breathing can be invigorating, like coffee for the soul.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Known as Nadi Shodhana, this breathing technique does require a bit of coordination. Start in a comfortable seated position, and using one hand, close your left nostril with your thumb while inhaling through your right. Then, close your right nostril as you exhale through your left. Continue to go back and forth, breathing in on one side, breathing out on the other. You can rest your middle finger against your third eye as you do this to employ your thumb and pinky. You may want to keep a tissue on hand as well, as this type of breathing can clear your sinuses.
This technique takes you back to counting, but this time, you employ a four-seven-eight pattern with your breath. Either seated or supine, inhale for four counts, hold your breath four seven counts, and then exhale slowly and deeply for eight counts. This is another style of meditative breathing that can relax you and calm your anxiety.
Part of the Taoist tradition, quiet breathing or Zhuan qi is very much a mind-body connection through air. Using your abdominal muscles, breathe silently and softly. You don’t have to hold your breath between inhaling and exhaling, just try to silence the breath by focusing your attention inward.
These meditation breathing techniques are by no means the only ones used, but they do give you a good starting point to incorporate into your routine. Some people struggle with quieting the mind while meditating, which is why it is considered a practice. Mala beads can also help with counting because you can bring your concentration to an external task instead of being distracted by your thoughts. Having a few techniques to try can also broaden your meditation practice to suit your needs, from energizing and refreshing to relaxing and calming.