Mindful breathing has many benefits, like helping you manage stress and anxiety — and there are a lot of ways to do it.
What do breathing exercises, breath meditation, and mindfulness have in common? If you guessed mindful breathing, you got it!
Different forms of mindful breathing can help you manage:
- chronic pain
- trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- difficulties focusing
Mindful breathing itself is a simple concept — it’s all about taking time to slow down and bring a sense of awareness to your breath — but there are many ways to incorporate it into your day. You might prefer an unguided 15 minutes to focus on your breath, or maybe using an app is more your style.
However you choose to practice mindful breathing,
Mindfulness means paying attention to what’s happening in the present moment. It’s often paired with simple tasks we tend to gloss over in our day-to-day lives, like moving, eating, and yes — breathing.
When connected with everyday tasks and routine body functions, mindfulness may help decrease stress and improve your mood by strengthening your focus on the present, allowing you to feel less scattered or stuck in the past or future.
Mindful breathing is just that — allowing yourself to be mindful, or present, during the act of breathing.
It plays a key role in many forms of meditation because it may help with concentration and developing insights about yourself.
Some forms of therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can also work alongside mindful breathing with promising results.
A 2017 study found that both CBT and mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques, which can include breathing, helped autistic people reduce anxiety and depression.
Another study suggests that mindful breathing helped people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) — which is commonly treated with DBT — reduce feelings of shame.
Research may also help us explain how combining mindfulness with breathing can impact the brain.
For instance, a
Even if you’re not looking to improve a specific symptom, mindful breathing could help boost your mood. But mindful breathing can be used for different purposes, too.
Practicing mindful breathing exercises may help you manage anxiety.
In a 2019 study, researchers suggest that mindful deep breathing helped people reduce depression by activating the parasympathetic nervous system — your “rest and digest” mode.
Research in 2015 also found that mindfulness-based stress reduction, which involves mindful breathing, helped veterans with PTSD lower their depression levels and reduce some PTSD symptoms.
A 2019 study investigated whether mindful breathing could help caregivers manage their experience of caregiving, which many associated with hardship. The study found that 20 minutes of mindful breathing helped caregivers experience less distress than 20 minutes of supportive listening.
In addition, research from 2016 found that 5 minutes of mindful breathing helped people with cancer manage feelings of distress in their care settings.
Some evidence suggests mindful breathing may improve your ability to focus.
A 2018 report suggests that college students who practiced mindful breathing before reading had better reading comprehension than the control group.
Lower blood pressure
One way mindful breathing may help reduce stress is by lowering blood pressure. Research supports this.
For example, a 2021 study found that mindful breathing helped people with type 2 diabetes do just that.
Mindful breathing does not have to be complicated. The way you choose to practice is up to you, and you can also try some different approaches before deciding what you like best.
Pranayama refers to mindful breathing exercises practiced in some forms of yoga. In Sanskrit, the word pranayama roughly means “control of breath.”
Research in 2020 suggests that even 4 weeks of practicing pranayama may help you lower anxiety and stress.
Pranayama is made up of different sets of breathing exercises, including both fast and slow-paced breathing and alternate nostril breathing. Because the practice of pranayama involves a few different breathing exercises, following an instructor tends to be the easiest way to get started.
Here’s a 15-minute video if you’re interested in practicing mindful breathing in the context of yoga:
If you’re looking for a tried-and-true breathing technique, 4-7-8 breathing might be a great fit for you.
Here’s how to do it:
- Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit upright or lie down.
- Take a deep exhalation, letting all the air out of your lungs.
- Breathe in for a count of 4 seconds, inhaling through your nose.
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
- Exhale for 8 seconds, out through your mouth.
You can do 4-7-8 breathing for as long as you like. Some people choose to do a certain number of rounds, while others might set aside 5 minutes a day for this exercise.
Here’s a short guided 4-7-8 breathing script if you would rather not do the counting yourself:
Deep breathing is another form of mindful breathing that can help reduce anxiety and other mental health symptoms like stress. It’s also known as diaphragmatic breathing and belly breathing.
If you feel short of breath, mindful deep breathing may allow you to get those calming, deep, full breaths of air. The key is to pay attention to where you’re breathing — the goal is to breathe from your belly, not your chest.
Here’s one way to start:
- Find a calm place to lie down, allowing yourself to relax into the surface you’re on. You can also sit upright if that’s more comfortable for you.
- Place one hand on your stomach and slowly breathe in for 3 seconds, feeling your hand rise as you inhale.
- Give a short pause, and then slowly breathe out for 3 seconds, noticing your hand fall as you exhale.
It’s a good idea to set aside any amount of time you’re comfortable with to practice your deep breathing, whether it’s 1 minute or 10.
For more deep breathing exercises, you can check out this article. You can also try this guided deep breathing exercise:
Breath awareness meditation
This practice combines mindful breathing with meditation. It’s something you can do on your own or with the help of an app or video.
Here’s one breath awareness script you can try:
- Choose a relaxing setting to do your meditation. Maybe it’s on a nature walk or sitting on a cushion in a quiet room.
- Close your eyes or choose something specific in your field of vision to focus on.
- To start the meditation, turn your awareness to the breaths you’re taking. There’s no need to try to control or time the breaths — the goal is to bring awareness to them without judgment.
- When thoughts or observations pop into your mind, let them pass. Allowing these thoughts to float through your mind as you stay aware of your breath is a natural and expected part of this meditation.
It can help to set a timer for however long you’d like to meditate before getting started, so you don’t have to think about the time during your breath awareness.
If you’re starting out, you might begin with a shorter block of time, like 5 minutes, and work your way up to longer amounts of time as you feel comfortable.
To keep track of time, you can also follow along with a guided breath awareness meditation like this one:
Mindful breathing encompasses a broad range of mindfulness-based exercises and techniques, which means there are many to choose from!
When it comes to results, though, consistency is key. It can help to pick a specific time of day and choose one mindful breathing exercise you’re most likely to stick with if you’re hoping to build up the habit.
Whether you’re looking to improve your focus or relieve some stress, mindful breathing can be part of your plan.
If you’re finding that anxiety, stress, or depression are causing problems in many areas of your life, other resources, like professional support, are available too.