May 18, 2024



The Art of Breath: A Guide to Practicing Breathing Meditation

8 min read

‍Photo by johnhain on Pixabay

In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We often find ourselves overwhelmed and stressed, longing for a moment of peace and tranquility. This is where the practice of mindful breathing comes in. Mindful breathing is a powerful technique that allows us to anchor ourselves in the present moment, reduce stress, and cultivate a sense of calm and clarity. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the various aspects of mindful breathing, including common difficulties and how to overcome them, different techniques to try, and the benefits of incorporating mindful breathing into your daily routine.

Understanding Mindful Breathing

Before we delve into the practice of mindful breathing, it’s important to understand what it is and how it can benefit us. Mindful breathing, also known as breath meditation, involves bringing our attention and awareness to the sensations of the breath as it enters and leaves our body. It is a simple yet powerful technique that can be practiced anywhere, at any time.

The Benefits of Mindful Breathing

The practice of mindful breathing offers a wide range of benefits for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Here are some of the key benefits:

  1. Reduced stress and anxiety: Mindful breathing activates the relaxation response in our body, helping to calm our nervous system and reduce the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol.
  2. Improved focus and concentration: By training our attention to stay present with the breath, we develop greater focus and concentration, which can enhance our productivity and performance in various areas of life.
  3. Enhanced emotional regulation: Mindful breathing allows us to observe our thoughts and emotions without judgment, helping us to develop a greater sense of emotional intelligence and regulation.
  4. Increased self-awareness: Regular practice of mindful breathing helps us become more attuned to our body, mind, and emotions, enabling us to make conscious choices and respond skillfully to situations.
  5. Improved overall well-being: Mindful breathing promotes a sense of calm, clarity, and inner peace, leading to improved overall well-being and a greater sense of happiness and contentment.

Common Difficulties in Mindful Breathing and How to Overcome Them

While mindful breathing can be a transformative practice, it is not uncommon to encounter difficulties along the way. Here are some of the most common difficulties that arise during mindful breathing and strategies to overcome them:

Difficulty in Finding the Breath or Neutrality

For some individuals, focusing on the breath can be challenging or even anxiety-inducing. If you find it difficult to connect with your breath or if it doesn’t feel neutral to you, there are alternative anchors you can use in your meditation practice. Some people find it helpful to focus on sounds or bodily sensations instead. It’s important to experiment and find what works best for you. Give breathing meditation a try for a few weeks, and if it doesn’t resonate with you, feel free to explore other anchors such as sound meditation.

Feeling the Urge to Control the Breath

It’s not uncommon to experience the urge to control your breath when you pay attention to it. This is a natural response, especially if you’re new to mindful breathing. To overcome this difficulty, try paying attention to different parts of your body where you can feel the breath, such as the abdomen, chest, or nostrils. Experiment with different focal points and notice if the urge to control the breath persists. Additionally, practicing meditation while lying down can help you relax and approach your breath with a softer, non-controlling attitude.

Mentally Labeling the Breath

Applying a mental label to the breath can be a helpful tool for some individuals to maintain focus and attention. You may find it natural to repeat a word or phrase, such as “in/out” or “rising/falling,” to help anchor your attention to the breath. However, if labeling doesn’t resonate with you or becomes a distraction, it’s perfectly fine to let go of it. Remember to keep any mental labels soft and gentle, using them only as a tool to enhance your awareness of the breath.

Feeling Bored or Dullness

At times, paying attention to the breath may feel dull or uninteresting compared to the external stimuli we encounter in our daily lives. However, this is an opportunity to cultivate curiosity and appreciation for the subtleties of the present moment. By paying closer attention to the breath, you can explore the nuances of each inhalation and exhalation. Notice how the in breath differs from the out breath, the pauses between breaths, and the subtle sensations in your body. Embracing the “boring” and “dull” aspects of life can lead to a greater sense of awe and wonder in the long run.

“I can’t explain it, but ever since I started meditating, it’s like the world has gotten more vibrant. I see colors more brightly, I hear sounds more strongly. I walk through life with a little more sense of awe and wonder, which is pretty good at 81!” – Ethel, a retired nurse and grandmother.

Falling Asleep During Mindful Breathing

Sleepiness during meditation is a common experience, especially if you’re practicing at a time when you’re naturally tired. If you find yourself falling asleep during mindful breathing, consider practicing at a different time of day when you’re more alert. You can also try opening your eyes, standing up, or even engaging in a short session of walking meditation to invigorate your body and mind.

Difficulty in Paying Attention

Paying attention to the breath for an extended period of time can be challenging, especially in our age of constant distractions. It’s important to remember that developing the ability to sustain attention takes time and practice. Just like physical fitness, mental fitness is built through repetitive and patient effort. If your mind wanders during mindful breathing, gently bring your attention back to the sensations of the breath. With consistent practice, you will gradually build your mindfulness “muscle” and experience greater ease in sustaining attention.

“I was hopeless at meditating. I think I was probably the worst meditator in the class. I don’t think I could stay with even one breath before my mind wandered. So I kept at it, over weeks, months, and believe it or not, over time it started to get easier! I could sense a very real difference in my mind by the end of the year.” – Jackson, a 63-year-old investor.

Techniques for Mindful Breathing

Now that we have explored the common difficulties in mindful breathing, let’s dive into some techniques that you can incorporate into your practice. Remember, these techniques are meant to be explored and adapted to suit your individual preferences and needs. Feel free to experiment and find what works best for you.

Abdominal Breathing

One of the simplest and most effective techniques for mindful breathing is abdominal breathing. This technique involves directing your attention to the rising and falling of your abdomen as you inhale and exhale. Find a comfortable seated position, either on a chair or cushion, and place your hands on your abdomen. Take a deep breath in, allowing your abdomen to rise, and exhale slowly, feeling your abdomen fall. Continue this pattern, focusing on the sensations in your abdomen, and allowing your breath to flow naturally without forcing or controlling it.

Chest Breathing

Another technique to explore is chest breathing. This technique involves directing your attention to the movement of your chest as you breathe in and out. Sit comfortably and place your hands on your chest. Take a deep breath in, feeling your chest expand, and exhale slowly, feeling your chest contract. Notice the sensations in your chest as you breathe, and allow your breath to be soft and natural.

Nostril Breathing

Nostril breathing is a technique that involves focusing on the sensations of the breath at the entrance of your nostrils. Find a comfortable seated position and bring your attention to your breath as it flows in and out of your nostrils. Notice the temperature, texture, and flow of the breath as it passes through your nostrils. You can also observe any subtle sensations or movements in this area. Allow your breath to be gentle and effortless, and simply observe the sensations without judgment or analysis.

Counting the Breath

Counting the breath is a technique that can help enhance your focus and concentration during mindful breathing. As you breathe in, silently count “one” in your mind, and as you breathe out, count “two.” Continue this pattern, counting up to ten breaths, and then start again from one. If you lose count or your mind wanders, simply bring your attention back to the breath and start counting again from one. This technique can help anchor your attention to the breath and prevent distractions from pulling you away.

Loving-Kindness Breathing

Loving-kindness breathing combines the practice of mindful breathing with the cultivation of loving-kindness and compassion. As you breathe in, silently repeat phrases such as “May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be safe, may I live with ease.” As you breathe out, extend these phrases to others, silently repeating “May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe, may you live with ease.” This technique helps foster a sense of connection, kindness, and well-wishing towards yourself and all beings.

Incorporating Mindful Breathing into Your Daily Routine

To reap the full benefits of mindful breathing, it’s important to integrate it into your daily routine. Here are some practical tips to help you incorporate mindful breathing into your daily life:

  1. Morning Ritual: Start your day with a few minutes of mindful breathing. Set aside a specific time each morning to sit quietly and focus on your breath. This will help you establish a positive and grounded mindset for the day ahead.
  2. Breath Breaks: Take short mindful breathing breaks throughout the day. Pause for a few moments, bring your attention to your breath, and allow yourself to reset and recharge. This can be especially helpful during moments of stress or overwhelm.
  3. Mindful Eating: Practice mindful breathing before meals. Take a few deep breaths to bring yourself into the present moment and cultivate gratitude for the nourishment you are about to receive. Pay attention to the sensations of eating, savoring each bite mindfully.
  4. Bedtime Routine: Wind down in the evening with a mindful breathing practice. Take a few minutes to sit or lie down, and focus on your breath to release any tension or racing thoughts. This will help prepare your mind and body for a restful night’s sleep.
  5. Integrate Mindful Breathing into Activities: As you go about your daily activities, bring your awareness to your breath. Whether you’re walking, exercising, or engaging in household chores, use these moments as opportunities to practice mindful breathing and stay present.


Mindful breathing is a valuable tool that can transform your life and bring a sense of calm, clarity, and awareness to your everyday experiences. By cultivating a regular practice of mindful breathing, you can reduce stress, improve focus, enhance emotional well-being, and foster a greater sense of happiness and contentment. Remember, mindful breathing is a journey that requires patience and persistence. Embrace the challenges, be gentle with yourself, and allow the practice to unfold naturally. May you find peace and joy in the present moment through the power of mindful breathing.

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