The Varieties of Breathing Techniques

I want to emphasize again that breathing is ‘low hanging fruit’ such as how I’ve heard stretching described by bodyworkers and physical therapists. It’s right there and accessible all the time.

There are many other ways of getting to the same place, but breath is the most fundamental.

With these techniques, be easy on yourself if you have have any sort of breathing disorders, such as COPD or asthma. Or any other problem with your lungs, ribs (such as fractures), or cardiac problems. These are all meant to be practiced gently and only in line with what your body can handle at the time.

Be especially careful with the circular breathing if you are easily triggered emotionally or have significant trauma as this can have an effect of raising energy (dissolved oxygen ions in body fluids) and causing a state where some difficult emotional experience can possibly arise:

General calming breathing for anxiety:

  1. Gently breathe into the upper belly, just below the rib cage
  2. Breathe for about 5 seconds in
  3. Hold for about one second
  4. Without any effort or any pressing the air out, let the breath just ‘fall’ out of you for about 5 seconds… slowly and let there be a pause before breathing in again
  5. Repeat.


Heart Centered Breathing for calming negative feelings:

  1. Focus on the front of your chest where your heart is
  2. Breathe deeply for about 5 seconds into the chest area
  3. Hold for about one second
  4. Allow the breath to come out on its own like in the first type of breathing
  5. Optional: put hand on chest and/or think of someone you care about or something positive.

Adapted from:
Heartmath Breathing Technique

Progressive Relaxation breathing:

  1. When relaxing or lying in bed before sleep
  2. Begin from your feet and toes
  3. Breathe in like with the first breath technique above and tense your feet or toes
  4. On the out-breath relax your feet and toes
  5. Move up the body: breathing in and gently tensing a part of the body and breathing out until a pause while relaxing that part that you tensed
  6. Continue until you’ve moved up the whole body or you fall asleep.
  7. Can also be done sitting
  8. Can also breathe in and slightly tense and breathe out and relax/release any part of the body that you’re trying to relax.

The Boxed Breath or 4×4 breath

  1. Breathe in for 3-5 seconds
  2. Hold the breath on the inbreath for 3-5 seconds
  3. Let the breath passively out for 3-5 seconds
  4. Hold (gently) the breath out for 3-5 seconds

(This is just about the greatest one for sleep that I have every discovered!)


I hesitate to put this technique out there as it is extremely powerful, but hey it’s easy to google or there are many more dangerous yoga breathing techniques out there to be easily learned.

This technique is optimal if energy is low. It leads to relaxation but it has a charging quality. It charges the body with oxygen ions (think of a secular meaning of qi, prana or other ‘energies’) like a battery and blows off carbon-dioxide ions.

It has a way of raising walled off emotional experience stored in the body. So be very careful if you have had any problems with emotional regulation, PTSD or any other trauma, or breathing disorders. Refer to the first three and don’t do this one.

This is called ‘circular breathing’ or ‘transformative breathing’ or ‘Reichian Breathing’ and so on.

Most breathworkers (those that use the breath primarily to change emotionally, be careful because some are licensed somatic psychotherapists, some are not) tend to emphasize not do do more than about 20-30 of these breaths at one time. Longer sessions should be carried out with a professional.

  • Lay on your back in a comfortable position
  • Take a deep breath into your belly first and then your mid chest
  • Breathe with the mouth open
  • Make the in-breath 2-3 seconds
  • Without any pause allow the breath to passively empty out of you with a natural vocal sigh, like an “ahhh”
  • Let the outbreath be 2-3 seconds as well
  • Without any pauses on the outbreath, repeat

These breaths are not at all hyperventilation. You are breathing breaths deeper than normal breaths into your core for about 10-14 breaths per minute.

Let yourself relax afterwards. It can be a great reset of your state.

The Mighty Pneuma or Breath

Breathing is the greatest low hanging fruit of changing one’s mind-body state. I tend to hyphenate mind-body because that is how I see it, as one entity, one system. Not Decarte’s humunculus in the head puppeting a body.

As a therapist, I teach virtually every adult and adolescent I work with, at least one breathing technique to be used in therapy sessions and in everyday life.

Breathing is always there. And it’s intimately tied to both the entire nervous system and emotional system.

The old school somatic/body oriented and experiential psychotherapy approaches (I’m talking “Gestalt Therapy” and “Reichian” body work from the 1940’s and 50’s) all used to emphasize one major problem observed with clients: Most people do not know how to breathe!

Most modern people breathe shallow, usually into the chest but some into the belly. I also observe that many people use excess effort to breathe out. As if to control the breath and tense against feeling in both the in-breath and out-breath.

As yoga has become popular in recent decades, many every day people are becoming familiar with pranayama or the yoga of breathing. This is great essentially that many everyday people are learning to work with and control breathing.

But I have one major criticism of pranayama techniques compared to the more western approaches to breathwork: Control. Pranayama emphasizes control of breathing to control and manipulate breathing.

Even some popular teachers of breathwork such as this Wim Hof who has become popular in the biohacking community (I still highly respect his work and what he is doing despite this point) us that ‘C’ word too often.

Here’s an important point of which I wish I can proclaim on the hills: The mind-body already knows what to do! It is simply blocked in it’s natural process of growth. What in AEDP terms is called ‘The Transformance Drive.’

Essentially, the highest ‘yoga’ of breathing would be to relax and allow the body to breathe you fully and deeply, moving through the entire body. All the while you’re aware of the breath without manipulating it.

Therapeutically, we begin by specific techniques to calm the overactive nervous system and anxieties of stress and trauma. Quiet powerfully I might add. And such is the breath itself.

But techniques lead to the natural ability to be open to the natural breath.

This occurs almost invariably in moments of great change. There is a natural deep breath and sense of core space, like emotional constrictions in the belly and chest are released and one can breathe deeper and much fuller with great sensations of positive emotion and relaxation.

So, keep in mind during my next post on specific breathing techniques that techniques are a large first step but ultimately, the body knows how to breathe itself.