Before we get started, I want to invite you to take a moment. Take a deep, slow inhale for four seconds. At the top of your breath, hold gently for seven seconds, before exhaling for eight seconds. There’s nowhere else you need to be right now. Breathe in again for four seconds, hold for seven, and breathe out for eight.
How do you feel?
As many of us know from personal experience, taking an intentional deep breath can be a centering and rejuvenating experience. It can help us collect our thoughts when our minds are spinning, grab the reins when we’re in the heat of our emotions, and streamline our focus.
But for as many benefits as intentional breathing has, few of us stop to center ourselves with breaths during the day. In fact, many of us have grown used to short, shallow breaths that keep us alive, but don’t do much to help us regulate stress and enhance our emotional and mental wellbeing.
What is breathwork?
You may be thinking, “I already know how to breathe, we all do. How else would I be reading this right now?”
You’re right — at a basic level, our brains facilitate our breathing without us being conscious of it. But on another level, the way we breathe can have a huge impact on numerous levels of our physiological functioning, including our stress response, emotions, and cognitive function.
Breathwork is the practice of conscious, intentional breathing. Although there are many variations to breath meditation practices, most are designed to:
- Relieve stress and control the stress response
- Cultivate relaxation and calm
- Strengthen the connection between the mind and body
- Improve focus
- Help manage emotions
How does intentional breathing affect the body?
Research suggests there is a reciprocal relationship between our emotions, stress, and the way we breathe. In other words, the way we breathe affects the way we feel, and the way we feel impacts how we breathe. 
Numerous studies have found that slow, deep, intentional breathing (the kind we typically experience when we’re happy), is a core player in our parasympathetic or relaxation response.  
These studies have found that deep breathing can lead to  :
- Increased relaxation
- Greater sense of comfort
- Increased pleasantness
- Increased alertness and vigor
- Increased concentration and focus
- Decreased arousal
- Diminished symptoms of anxiety
- Reduced symptoms of depression
- Less anger and confusion
At Muse, we’re experts in intentional breathing meditation. Our Muse app offers a range of sessions in our breath collection, which includes guided and unguided auditory practices. These sessions aim to help you enhance your intentional breathing technique, reduce stress, and bring relaxation and rejuvenation to your daily routine.
10 breathing exercises to get started
Ready to begin incorporating intentional breathing into your daily routines? Below are ten practices you can use to get started.
1. Box breathing
Also known as four-square breathing, this practice is very simple and follows an easy rhythm of inhalations and exhalations. Here’s how to practice:
- Exhale all your air to a count of four seconds.
- Hold at the bottom of your breath for four seconds.
- Inhale for four seconds.
- Hold at the top of your breath for four seconds.
- Repeat the cycle as many times as you like.
2. Alternate nostril breathing
This practice, referred to as nadi shodhana pranayama in Sanskrit, helps in relaxation and is most effective when practiced on an empty stomach.
- Find a comfortable position. You may choose to sit in a chair or find a seated position on the floor.
- Raise your right hand and use your right thumb to press shut your right nostril.
- With your right nostril pressed shut, breathe in through your left nostril.
- Use your right hand’s pinky to shut your left nostril, and remove pressure from your right nostril.
- Exhale your breath through your right nostril.
- Lower your right hand and raise your left hand. Use your left thumb to press shut your left nostril.
- Breathe in through your right nostril.
- Use your left hand’s pinky to press shut your right nostril, and release your thumb from your left nostril.
- Exhale your breath through your left nostril.
- Repeat the cycle for no more than five minutes at a time.
3. Deep belly breathing
Also known as diaphragmatic breathing, this breathwork involves breathing like a newborn or when we are in deep sleep.
- Lay on the ground and place a hand on your belly.
- Slowly breathe in through your nose. As you do, you should feel your belly rise. If your chest is rising, you’re not breathing deeply.
- Without using the muscle to push your belly, focus on expanding the space in your stomach with each breath.
4. Lion’s breath
Lion's breath is a type of breathing exercise used in yoga, known as Simhasana in Sanskrit. It's believed to be invigorating and can help to ease tension in the back and face.
- Find a comfortable seated position. Most choose to sit cross-legged or kneel.
- Place your hands with fingers energized and outstretched on your knees, or on the floor between your knees if you choose to kneel.
- Inhale deeply through your nose and open your eyes wide.
- Open your mouth wide and stick your tongue out as though you’re trying to touch your chin.
- As you begin to exhale, tighten the muscles in your throat to create a long “ha” sound. Repeat this cycle 2-3 times.
5. Pursed lip breathing
This is another very simple and often used breathwork practice that can help slow and calm our breathing.
- Make sure you’re relaxed (shake your shoulders and roll your neck to break up stiffness.)
- Inhale for two counts through your nose (be sure to keep your mouth closed.)
- Push your lips together like you were going to whistle.
- Exhale slowly over four seconds through your pursed lips.
- Repeat this cycle 4-5x per day to improve breath control.
6. Sitali breath
Sitali breath is a yoga breathing technique, designed to lower body temperature and help calm the mind.
- Once in a comfortable position, stick out your tongue and roll it so the two sides are touching like a taco. (If your tongue can’t do this, purse your lips.)
- Slowly inhale through your mouth.
- Exhale through your nose.
- Repeat for up to five minutes.
7. Breath focus
This exercise combines aspects of mindfulness meditation, mantra meditation, and breathwork.
- Begin by selecting a word or a phrase. It can be neutral or one that makes you feel happy and relaxed, such as “let go” or “inner peace.”
- Find a comfortable position and start noticing your breath without seeking to change it.
- Experiment with a few deep breaths and shallow breaths. Notice the difference between how the breaths feel in your body.
- You may choose to rest a hand on your belly. Notice the rise and fall as you inhale and exhale.
- Begin shifting towards deep breathing by adding voice to your exhales. This could sound like a loud sigh.
- Once you feel ready, begin pairing your deep breathing with your focus word. As you inhale, visualize yourself breathing in “inner peace.” As you exhale, visualize breathing out “stress and tension.” Adjust these words based on your focus.
- Begin with sessions between 5-10 minutes, and gradually work your way up to 20+ minutes each session.
8. Resonant breathing
Also called coherent breathing, this practice refers to breathing at a consistent rate of five breaths per minute. To practice, simply inhale for a count of five, then exhale for a count of five and repeat.
9. 4-7-8 breathing
4-7-8 breathing is another very simple breathwork technique that can be practiced anywhere.
- Begin by breathing out all your air.
- Slowly breathe in through your nose for a count of four.
- Hold at the top of your inhale for seven seconds.
- Exhale through your mouth making a “whoosh” sound for eight seconds.
- Hold for a count of four at the bottom of your exhale.
10. Emotional release breathing
You can also practice breathwork in combination with practices like tapping, dancing, or mindful movement. Many say combining deep, intentional breathing with vibration and movement can help unlock and let go of negative emotions and experiences that keep us stuck.
Let’s get intentional!
Now that you’ve learned 10 different breathing techniques that can offer different benefits, start incorporating them into your daily routine to see positive changes in your life. To deepen your practice even more, try the Breath Biofeedback Meditation with a meditation wearable like, the Muse 2 Headband and the Muse S Headband. Witness real-time biofeedback on your breathing patterns and improve your breath scores while cultivating conscious control of your breathing, which can help bring about stress management, mindfulness and self-awareness.