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Breathing Exercises for Better Health: Techniques & How to Get Started

Breathing Exercises for Better Health: Techniques & How to Get Started

, by Aussie Pharma Direct, 12 min reading time

Breathing Exercises for Better Health: Techniques & How to Get Started

We breathe just to be able to function, right? It's easy to overlook the simple yet profound act of breathing. We often take it for granted, assuming that our bodies will naturally perform this vital function without much thought, however, the quality of our breath actually does play an important role to our overall health. 

Breathing exercises, also known as pranayama in traditional yoga practices, involve conscious control of the breath to achieve specific health benefits. We'll explore various techniques that cater to different needs, discuss the extensive benefits these practices offer, and provide step-by-step instructions to help you get started on your journey to improved well-being.

The importance of proper breathing

When we breathe deeply and consciously, we engage in a process that extends far beyond mere oxygen exchange.

Deep, intentional breathing and control has been linked to several benefits which include reduced stress levels, improved cardiovascular health, enhanced focus and concentration, and even better digestion. In contrast, shallow and erratic breathing patterns, often associated with stress and anxiety, can contribute to a range of health issues, including muscle tension, fatigue, and compromised immune function. 

Here are some of the breathing exercises that you can get started on:

1. Diaphragmatic Breathing (Deep breathing)

Diaphragmatic breathing, commonly referred to as deep breathing or belly breathing, is a foundational technique that involves engaging the diaphragm—the large muscle situated between the chest and abdomen—while inhaling and exhaling. Unlike shallow chest breathing, which often characterises stressful or anxious states, diaphragmatic breathing harnesses the full capacity of the lungs, promoting a more efficient exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Benefits of deep breathing:

  • Improved oxygenation
  • Stress reduction

Steps for deep breathing exercises:

  1. Find a comfortable position - Sit or lie down in a comfortable position, ensuring that your back is straight and shoulders relaxed. You may place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen to feel the movement.
  2. Inhale slowly and deeply - Inhale through your nose, allowing your abdomen to expand as you fill your lungs with air. Focus on directing the breath downward, feeling your diaphragm descend.
  3. Exhale gradually - Exhale slowly through pursed lips or your nose, feeling your abdomen contract as the diaphragm ascends. Ensure that the exhalation is longer than the inhalation for that sense of relaxation.
  4. Repeat and establish a rhythm - Continue this deep, rhythmic breathing pattern for several minutes. Aim for a gradual increase in the duration of your breath cycles as you become more comfortable with the technique

2. Box Breathing (Four-Square Breathing)

Box breathing, also known as four-square breathing, is a powerful and structured breathing technique that involves a rhythmic cycle of equal counts for inhalation, holding, exhalation, and resting. This method, often traced back to ancient yogic practices, provides a simple yet effective framework to regulate the breath and, subsequently, the autonomic nervous system.

Benefits of Box Breathing:

  • Stress reduction and anxiety management
  • Enhanced focus and concentration

Steps for Box Breathing:

  1. Find a quiet space - Begin by finding a quiet and comfortable space to sit or lie down. Ensure your posture is relaxed, and your spine is straight.
  2. Inhale - Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, counting to four. Feel your lungs expand as you fill them with air.
  3. Hold - Hold your breath for a count of four. Maintain a sense of calmness and focus during this brief pause.
  4. Exhale - Exhale slowly and completely through your nose or mouth, counting to four. Allow your breath to flow out smoothly and evenly.
  5. Rest - Keep your lungs empty for a count of four before beginning the next inhalation. Embrace the stillness and relaxation during this resting phase.
  6. Repeat - Continue the cycle for several minutes, gradually extending the duration as you become more comfortable with the practice.

3. Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)

Alternate nostril breathing, known as Nadi Shodhana, is a breathing technique for harmonising the flow of energy in the body. Rooted in the yogic tradition, this practice aims to balance the subtle energy channels, or nadis, creating a sense of equilibrium between the left and right sides of the body.

Benefits of Alternate Nostril Breathing:

  • Improves mental clarity
  • Enhances lung capacity and improves oxygenation

Steps for Alternate Nostril Breathing:

  1. Sit comfortably - Find a comfortable seated position, either cross-legged on the floor or in a chair with your spine straight and shoulders relaxed.
  2. Use the right hand - Rest your right hand on your knee, with your index and middle fingers gently placed on your forehead between the eyebrows. Your thumb should be positioned on the right nostril, and your ring finger on the left nostril.
  3. Close the right nostril - Begin by closing your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale deeply and slowly through your left nostril.
  4. Switch - Close your left nostril with your ring finger and release your right nostril. Exhale completely and then inhale deeply through the right nostril.
  5. Repeat the cycle - Close the right nostril again and release the left. Exhale through the left nostril. Continue this cycle, alternating between nostrils for several breaths.
  6. Complete the practice - To conclude, finish with an exhale through the left nostril. This completes one full round of Nadi Shodhana.
  7. Repeat as desired - Gradually increase the number of rounds as you become more comfortable with the practice. Aim for at least 5-10 minutes to experience the full benefits.

4. Kapalabhati (Skull-Shining Breath)

No, this isn’t some Indiana Jones themed treasure hunt. Kapalabhati, often referred to as the "Skull-Shining Breath," is a dynamic and invigorating breathing technique that originates from traditional yogic practices. This energising breath-work involves rapid, forceful exhalations through the nose, followed by passive inhalations.

Benefits of Kapalabhati:

  • Promotes a more efficient exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide
  • Combats feelings of lethargy, improve alertness, and revitalise the entire system
  • Stimulates abdominal muscles, promoting strength and toning

Steps for Kapalabhati:

  1. Find a comfortable seated position - Sit comfortably with an upright spine, either cross-legged on the floor or in a chair. Place your hands on your knees or in a mudra (hand gesture) of your choice.
  2. Relax your shoulders - Ensure that your shoulders are relaxed, and there is no tension in your neck or upper body.
  3. Focus on exhalations - Inhale passively through your nose and begin the practice by forcefully exhaling through your nose. The emphasis is on the exhalation, which is generated by a quick contraction of the lower abdominal muscles.
  4. Maintain rhythm - Establish a rhythmic pattern, with a series of quick exhalations followed by passive inhalations. Start slowly and gradually increase the pace as you become more comfortable with the technique.
  5. Practice regularly - Incorporate Kapalabhati into your routine, ideally on an empty stomach. Aim for 1 to 3 rounds, with each round consisting of 30 to 60 seconds initially.

Beginner's caution

If you are new to Kapalabhati, start with shorter sessions and gradually extend the duration. Avoid straining, and if you experience discomfort or dizziness, pause and return to normal breathing.

5. Breath counting (Mindfulness breathing)

Breath counting is a simple practice that centres on the breath to foster present-moment awareness. Rooted in ancient contemplative traditions, this technique guides practitioners to focus their attention on the rhythmic inhales and exhales, offering a pathway to reduce mental chatter, enhance concentration, and cultivate a profound sense of mindfulness.

Benefits of breath counting:

  • Quieting of mental chatter
  • Improving concentration

Steps for breath counting:

  1. Find a comfortable seated position - Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight and shoulders relaxed. You may choose to sit on a cushion or a chair.
  2. Close your eyes or soften your gaze - Close your eyes gently or soften your gaze to minimise external distractions. Allow your focus to turn inward.
  3. Turn attention to the breath - Bring your awareness to the natural rhythm of your breath. Feel the sensation of each inhale and exhale.
  4. Begin counting - As you inhale, silently count "one." With the next exhale, count "two." Continue this pattern, counting each breath up to a designated number, such as ten.
  5. Start over - Once you reach the chosen count, start again from "one." If your mind wanders or you lose count, simply return to "one".
  6. Practice regularly - Engage in breath counting for a predetermined duration, gradually extending the time as you become more comfortable. Aim for 5 to 10 minutes initially.


If your mind becomes particularly restless, you can reset your count at any time. The key is to maintain a gentle and non-judgmental awareness of your breath.

6. Buteyko Breathing Method

The Buteyko Breathing Method, named after its creator, a Ukrainian physician Dr. Konstantin Buteyko, is a therapeutic approach designed to address chronic hyperventilation—a breathing pattern characterised by rapid and shallow breaths.It is particularly known as breathing exercise for asthma. Dr. Buteyko developed this method with the belief that correcting dysfunctional breathing habits can have profound implications for overall respiratory well-being.

Potential benefits of Buteyko Breathing Method:

  • Improved oxygenation, reduced symptoms of respiratory distress, and a decreased reliance on medication for some individuals
  • Alleviates anxiety symptoms

Steps for Buteyko Breathing Method:

  1. Nasal breathing emphasis - Breathe through your nose. This helps filter, humidify, and regulate the airflow, optimising respiratory function.
  2. Controlled breath holding - The method often involves controlled breath holds following a gentle exhale. This practice helps to increase carbon dioxide levels in the blood, a key component of the Buteyko approach.
  3. Reduced breathing volume - Buteyko Breathing encourages reducing the volume of each breath while maintaining a gentle and diaphragmatic breathing pattern. This is achieved through slowing down the breathing rate and using the diaphragm more effectively.
  4. Gradual progression - Beginners are advised to progress gradually, starting with short sessions and slowly increasing practice duration. The aim is to avoid discomfort and allow the body to adapt to the changes in breathing habits.

Optimising your breathing exercises

While mastering various breathing exercises can significantly contribute to overall well-being, incorporating a simple tool into your practice can enhance the effectiveness of these techniques. One such innovative tool is the AirPhysio, a portable and user-friendly respiratory device that complements traditional breathing exercises.

AirPhysio utilises a unique Oscillating Positive Expiratory Pressure (OPEP) mechanism. When exhaling through the device, it generates positive pressure that oscillates, helping to dislodge and mobilise mucus in the airways. This is particularly beneficial for individuals with respiratory conditions, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, or cystic fibrosis.

Read more: Understand How AirPhysio Helps Your Respiratory Conditions

By promoting deep breathing and lung expansion, AirPhysio aligns with the principles of diaphragmatic breathing and other mindful breath-work practices. The device assists in improving respiratory muscle strength and flexibility, supporting a more efficient exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

If you're looking to improve your breathing exercises with AirPhysio, check out our collection page.

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