If you think breathwork is just…breathing, welcome to class. Breathwork is an umbrella term for any practice that involves a conscious change in your breathing pattern. Whether your favorite techniques were invented thousands of years ago (like the pranayama you might do in a yoga class) or popularized in the last decade (like 4-7-8 breathing), the goals and long-term benefits are the same: the improvement of mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being through the manipulation of breath.
Some practices are super-easy; others have a steeper learning curve and can be emotionally intense, even a little trippy. But when practiced correctly and regularly, even the simplest techniques offer profound benefits. Breathwork has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, stress, and chronic pain; it can help heal trauma and manage traumatic stress; it improves energy, lung health, and attention span; and it can even boost your immune and digestive systems.
Put simply, breathwork is the best. It can provide a restorative pause during a stressful moment, soothe anxiety before you sleep, and clear a path to re-centering yourself after a brutal day.
To get the most out of your practice, think of it as you would meditation: Your sessions can be as long or as short as you like. Try to do them comfortably seated or lying flat on your back to encourage optimal airflow. And be consistent—even five to 10 minutes every morning will yield short- and long-term benefits. We also recommend—especially if you’re pregnant, on certain medications, or have had recent surgery—checking with your doctor or practitioner if you have any doubts about doing a breathwork exercise.
Most importantly, just notice how you are breathing. Pay attention to the way the air feels in your nose and lungs, or to the rhythm of your breath—whether it’s fast or slow, deep or shallow, smooth or difficult. The power of breathwork comes just as much (if not more) from the mindfulness you experience than from the actual flow of air through your body.
These fundamental techniques are arranged from dip-your-toe-in easy to float-out-of-your-body intense. We’ve also listed a few more complex methods that we recommend trying with a trained professional or guide.
Also called diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing, this is the bread and butter of breathwork and the basis for all the following practices. Unless directed otherwise, you should always be trying to breathe into your diaphragm when practicing any breathwork technique—and even when not!
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Good for: Resetting yourself mentally, anytime, anyplace.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen.
- Slowly inhale through the nose for a count of 4. Instead of breathing into your chest, make sure to draw your breath into your abdomen. (Tip: Resting a hand on your abdomen and slightly distending it can help you feel the motion—it should be just below your rib cage.)
- Exhale through the nose or mouth while gently contracting your abdomen, letting the air flow out.
- Repeat for the length of your practice.
This is a simple and favorite practice of our breathwork expert, Robert Litman.
Good for: Settling comfortably into your body and allowing yourself to “being breathed.”
- Slowly inhale through the nose, thinking of one long “sa” while you do so. (You can even form the word in your mouth without opening it.)
- Slowly exhale through the nose or mouth, thinking of one long “ha.”
- Repeat for the length of your practice.
This energizing practice involves harnessing your inner beast and exhaling with a “roar.” Handy before a presentation or a tricky conversation.
Good for: Relieving tension in the body and boosting confidence.
- This is one to do while sitting—so find yourself a comfortable position.
- Slowly and mindfully inhale through your nose. As you inhale, open your eyes wide.
- Open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue as far as you can.
- Exhale forcefully through the mouth, saying a long “ha.” Draw the sound from your belly and throat.
- Breathe normally for a few moments.
- Repeat 4 to 6 times.
- Finish by breathing deeply for 1 to 3 minutes.
This practice evokes the mighty buzzing of our pollinator friends to help drown out inner noise.
Good for: Lowering blood pressure, mitigating headaches and head tension, insomnia.
- Cover your ears by placing your index fingers on the cartilage just below your cheek bones, and close your eyes.
- Inhale through the nose, slowly and deeply.
- Hold for a moment.
- Exhale through the nose while humming like a bee—don’t be afraid to make noise! Be sure that your mouth is closed but facial muscles are relaxed.
- Repeat 3 to 5 times.
This technique is frequently employed by U.S. Navy SEALs as a way of improving concentration, managing stress, and enhancing overall wellness. Visualize traveling along the sides of a square while you breath.
Good for: Focusing, stress reduction, deactivating the fight-flight-freeze response.
- Inhale for a count of 4.
- Hold for a count of 4.
- Exhale for a count of 4.
- Hold for a count of 4.
- Repeat 3 to 4 times or until you feel grounded.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
As one of the oldest practices on our list, there are many different variations. This is one of the simplest.
Good for: Enhancing calm, circulating energy through the body.
- Bring your right hand to your nose as if to pinch the nostrils between your forefinger and thumb.
- Put your thumb over the right nostril, gently plugging it.
- Inhale through the left nostril.
- Release the right nostril and plug the left nostril with your forefinger.
- Exhale through the right nostril.
- Inhale through the right nostril.
- Release the left nostril, plug the right nostril, and repeat the exhalation/inhalation process, alternating between the nostrils each breath.
- Repeat 2 to 3 more times, alternating between the nostrils with each breath.
Similar to box breathing, the 4-7-8 technique involves counting your inhalation, counting while holding your breath, and counting as you exhale. This practice was popularized by integrative medicine teacher and advocate Andrew Weil, MD.
Good for: Winding down before you sleep, reducing anxiety and anger responses.
- Rest the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, right behind your top front teeth. (Keep your tongue in place throughout the practice.)
- Close your mouth, and inhale through the nose for a count of 4.
- Hold your breath for a count of 7.
- Exhale, through the mouth—purse the lips and make a whoosh sound—for a count of 8.
- Repeat up to 4 times.
Like alternate nostril breathing, there are a few variations to this exercise, which was created by Ukrainian physiologist Konstantin Buteyko, MD, in the 1950s. It has also been shown to alleviate the symptoms of asthma.
Good for: Anxiety, opening the airways, and improving blood circulation.
- Breathe normally for a few minutes to relax your muscles.
- Exhale slowly, and hold your breath.
- Plug your nose with your thumb and forefinger and hold until you feel the urge to breathe.
- Lowering the hand, inhale slowly.
- Breathe through the nose as you would normally for 30 to 60 seconds.
- Repeat several times.
This technique is common in Kundalini yogic practices and involves a series of semi-rapid and forceful breaths propelled by the abdomen. (Pro-tip: Do this one on an empty stomach).
Good for: Warming up the body, waking up the mind.
- Inhale gently through the nose, filling your lungs most (but not all) of the way.
- Exhale strongly, drawing the navel into the spine and tightening the abdomen. Try to force all the breath out until you can’t anymore.
- Allow lungs to refill naturally (i.e., don’t make yourself inhale—just let it happen!).
- Repeat steps 2 and 3. It’s okay to start slower, taking a brief pause after your inhalation if needed, but try to speed it up when you’re familiar with the practice and you get a rhythm established.
- Repeat anywhere from 10 to 50 breaths—depending on your comfort level—to complete a set. Up to three sets can be done per practice.
Often used as a physical therapy exercise, this technique can benefit anyone and everyone. Whatever your goal—better cardio health, easier opera singing, day-to-day breathing ease—it’s highly effective.
Good for: Stretching the lung muscles, promoting well-oxygenated blood, improving breath control.
- Inhale as you would normally, filling your lungs most of the way.
- “Trap” that breath by holding it; do not exhale.
- Inhale a second time, “stacking” this breath on top of the first.
- Inhale, stacking for a third time—try to inhale as much as you can, and don’t exhale yet!
- Hold for 2 to 3 seconds.
- Slowly exhale through the nose.
- Repeat 3 to 5 times.
And, as promised, here are just a few more techniques we recommend doing with a trained pro or a guide:
Also called conscious energy breathing or intuitive breathing, this technique involves taking soft, shallow breaths with no break between an inhale and an exhale. Sessions can last from 45 minutes to two hours. This technique was developed by New Age leader Leonard Orr back in the 1960s. It is a highly therapeutic form of breathwork, and, as the name suggests, is commonly used to resolve trauma surrounding birth and early childhood. Because it can be so emotionally powerful and is technically difficult (at least compared to the other practices we’ve listed here), it’s recommended that you do 10 sessions with a trained professional.
Good for: Processing childhood trauma, accessing repressed emotions, cathartic release.
Similar to rebirthing breathwork and started in the ’70s, holotropic breathing should not be practiced alone—in fact, it’s usually done in a group setting. Its founders, Christina and Stanislav Grof, took inspiration from psychedelic research, mysticism, psychology, and more to design this mode of breathing that is meant to empower the self and spur us toward positive change. The method involves taking deep, rapid breaths for up to several hours at a time, which is said to produce a “non-ordinary” state of consciousness.
Good for: Self-exploration and transformation, trauma resolution and inner healing, mitigating anxiety.
Any content published by Oprah Daily is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should not be regarded as a substitute for professional guidance from your healthcare provider.
Robert Litman hosts our “The Life You Want” Class on the art and science of breathwork. You will come away with a tool kit of simple breathing techniques to help with stress, anxiety, sleep, asthma, and more. Become an Oprah Daily Insider now to get access to this conversation and the full “The Life You Want” Class library.
Sofia Lodato (she/her) is an editorial assistant at Oprah Daily. Aside from reading, writing, and wellness, she is a lover of all things media-related, and can usually be found overanalyzing her latest favorite TV show and/or music album.