Do you have any suggestions for different types of breathing techniques?

When I first started investigating complementary and alternative medicine, I was amazed to find out how many different breathing techniques there are. It seems like something we do every moment of our lives couldn’t be that complicated. But there are many different breathwork techniques to try.

In my work with my patients, I recommend using breathwork to accomplish two specific goals. The first is to help you slow down, relax, and go within. The second is to help trigger emotional flow.

Today I’ll talk about using breathwork to relax and go within. There are many different techniques to help you do this. Here are a few simple ones that I like:

Use breathwork as a mindfulness exercise:

Sit or lie quietly for a few minutes, two or three times a day, and observe yourself. Take some slow, deep breaths, and bring your attention to yourself. Pay attention to your body. How fast are you breathing? Are you breathing deeply or more shallowly? What muscles do you use when you breathe?

Pay attention to the tightness of your muscles. Notice how tired or energized you feel. Pay attention to any pain or discomfort you have, and to how your organ systems, like your gastrointestinal tract, are working. Listen to your thoughts and note whether you’re on the thought treadmill.

Don’t judge what you’re feeling or thinking as good or bad, and don’t worry about how you’re going to fix it. Your purpose with this exercise is to simply be aware of yourself.

Use breathwork to relax:

Focus on breathing more slowly, more quietly, and more regularly. Imagine that your lungs are balloons. Allow them to fill fully with air and then to deflate slowly. You can hold the air in for a few seconds before you exhale if you’d like.

Take your breathwork to the next level:

Try abdominal breathing: start your breath from your abdomen instead of your chest. Imagine that you have a string attached to your belly button. As you inhale, let that string pull your abdomen out. This will pull your diaphragm down and open your lungs, allowing you to get a bigger breath of air. Slowly return your chest and abdomen back to normal as you exhale.

You may get dizzy or light-headed when you start doing these breathing exercises. If you do, stop and breathe regularly until the light-headedness resolves.

In addition to these exercises, there are several different breathing techniques used in yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, and other healing practices. You can read about breathwork in books and you can search for different breathing techniques on the Internet.

You can do breathwork exercises as part of your regular daily routine. You can also do them when you’re feeling stressed out, having pain, or feeling out of sorts in some other way.

One last note: pay attention to how you feel about the techniques you’re using. Breathwork should be something that enhances your life and not something that stresses you out because it doesn’t feel right for you. If the breathing exercises you’re using make you physically uncomfortable or worry you in some way, get more training or try another technique. The nice thing about having so many techniques to choose from is that you can search for the ones that fit your life. 

I’ve tried a lot of different breathwork techniques and I find that I don’t do well with anything more complicated than abdominal breathing. I use it when I’m feeling intense and stressed out. When I notice that I’m tensing up my muscles or holding my breath with stress, I stop for a moment and take some slow, deep breaths. This helps center me and it reminds me to relax.

Simple relaxation breathing may be all you need. Or you may enjoy a more complicated breathing practice. You can add your new technique to your self-care toolbox and take it out whenever you need it.