A guide to Breathwork for Beginners

“Take a breath.” In a moment of panic or a feeling of overwhelm. Taking a few nice long belly breaths is the most natural solution to defuse the situation. Breathing gently in and out of the nose will restore a feeling of calm. And return you to the present.

Learning to breath correctly is one of the best things you can do for your health and wellbeing.

And it’s incredibly powerful.

The example above demonstrates how changing your breath can elevate panic and overwhelm.

But you can also use your breath help you sleep more soundly. To boost your mood. Lift your spirits. Increase your energy. When you have more energy, you’re able to go about your day with more confidence, clarity, and a sense of joy.

In this article I share with you 5 foundational breathwork practices that work.

Both Ram and I have been practising pranayama, yogic breathwork for many years. We use each of these practices regularly in our daily life. And we teach them to our clients.

What is breathwork.

Read any wellbeing article or listen to a podcast and the concept of ‘breathwork’ is everywhere.

Yet breathwork is not something new. The ancient Yogis have been using the breath as a modality for manipulating or controlling ‘prana’ for thousands of years.


In the traditional yoga we teach, breathwork is referred to as Prāṇāyāma. ‘The expansion of vital energy’.

The word Prāṇāyāma comes from two Sanskrit words prāṇa (breath, the vital energy) and āyāma (expansion or extension).

Pranayama is much more than controlling the breath. As I mentioned above you can use these practices to change your current state of mind and manage your wellbeing.

It’s also one of the best ways to focus the mind to prepare it to go inwards for meditation.

Build from the foundations

The important thing with breathwork. Start at the beginning. In our extensive training, basic breathing and pranayama practices were introduced to us gradually over two years.

I get very frustrated to see practices like Kumbhaka (breath retention) taught to beginners. To people who have not learnt to breathe through their nose.

Take your time. Build from the foundations. With regularity, you will develop and deepen your practice. I’ve had some of the most profound and deeply meditative experiences simply by observing my breath.

breathwork practices that work for calm

5 breathwork practices that work.

Here are 5 foundational breathwork practices that work. Some important observances in the practices are:

  • Always breathe through the nose unless otherwise instructed.
  • Never strain. As this may damage your lungs. Always keep the breath natural.
  • Stop the practice immediately if you feel lightheaded or dizzy.
1. Observation of the breath

The first step is to tune into the rhythm of your breath. This is valuable for you no matter where you are on your journey. You can learn so much about your current state, physically, mentally, and emotionally by observing how your breath is flowing.

It’s very common in a situation of panic. Overwhelm, anxiety or stress for you to hold your breath. In these situations, your nervous system automatically goes into the fight or flight mode. This reaction comes from the primitive part of your brain. In essence, your body is going into survival mode.

When you begin to consciously observe your breath, the breath becomes a function of the cerebral cortex (the evolved area of the brain) rather than the primitive brain.

All your attention is on this one single point, your breath. Your mind is also more focused. The parasympathetic nervous system is activated, so you should be feeling a lot calmer, relaxed.

The skill is to refrain from changing the breath. Simply observe. Notice how the breath spontaneously changes in different situations. This is the aim of the practice.

Give this a try:

Take a moment to notice how your breath is spontaneously flowing.

Are you breathing slowly or is your breath fast?

Is your breath shallow or are you breathing deeply?

When you are feeling calm and relaxed the breath is much slower and deeper, there may be more pauses in between each breath.

diaphragmetic breathwork
2. Abdominal or Diaphragmatic Breathing

Abdominal breathing is the most natural and efficient way to breathe. The aim of this practice is to enhance the action in the abdomen and minimise the movement in the chest.

When you are stressed the “fight or flight” response is activated, all your digestion stops. Instead, blood is pumped into the limbs to fight, or move away from danger. Thankfully, this stress response can be reduced by consciously breathing with the belly.

Through diaphragmatic breathing, you help your lungs to expand fully. As the lungs fill with air, the muscle of the diaphragm pushes down and flattens against the abdominal organs. This creates pressure in the abdominal cavity. Massaging the liver, intestines, and other organs in the area.

It is in the abdominal cavity that neuro-receptors live. When they are activated, they send messages to the vagus nerve in the brain telling it to relax the body. Reducing heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels. Returning you back to the state of calm.

3. Abdominal breathing with a ratio

Once you feel comfortable with abdominal breathing the next step in developing pranayama breathwork involves increasing the level of control over your breathing.

This happens in three different ways.

  1. The duration of time to practice the inhalation and exhalation or retention.
  2. The depth of the inhalation. The amount of expansion or compression of the lungs.
  3. The Force: the amount of effort to produce the inhalation, exhalation or maintain retention.

The aim of controlled abdominal breathing is to regulate the breath. In a 1-1 ratio the intention is to keep the in-breath and the out-breath in the abdomen even.

For example, breathing in for a count of 3 and exhaling for a count of 3.

To practice:

Begin by observing the spontaneous breath in the abdomen.

Visualising the breath filling fully into the lungs.

Start to equalise the inhalation and exhalation with an equal count. 1-1 ratio.

Breathe In for a count of 2 or 3 and make the exhalation the same.

Start low to begin with and gradually over time you will be able to increase the count from 2 to 3 to 4. Etc…

Once you feel comfortable practising with a 1-1 ratio, you can begin with the ratio of 1-2. Making the exhalation twice the length of the inhalation. For example, breathing in for a count of 2 and exhaling for a count of 4.

This is a very grounding practice. Try it if you are struggling to sleep at night.  It is very calming for the mind.

4. Pranayama to bring balance – Alternate Nostril breathing.

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana) is one of the most effective breathwork practices to master.

A scientific study from 2019 showed that a practice of 10 minutes, twice per day of alternative nostril breathing effectively reduces hypertension.  Over a 5 day period the participants with hypertension saw a marked reduction in both the systolic and diastolic blood pressure and improved heart rate, compared with a control group.

Using the thumb and ring finger in the right hand to alternate the opening and closing of the nostrils gives the mind something to think about. It helps you to focus and prevent the monkey mind from wandering towards worries and the things on your to do list!

It is a wonderful practice to release tension, destress the mind and restore a much-needed balance.

To read in greater detail about Alternate Nostril breathing and how to practise, click here.

breathwork for balance
5. Tranquilising pranayama – Bhramari Pranayama

Bhramari Pranayama is commonly known as the Humming Bee Breath, due to the sound that is made when you practise.

Tranquilising breathwork practices like Bhramari generally pacify the body and mind. Making them ideal to practise when you are feeling anxious or stressed.  They activate the parasympathetic nervous system, drawing the attention within.

Because of these internalising qualities. Bhramari Pranayama is also ideal to practise prior to sitting for meditation.

It’s also effective for building your immune system! The concentration of Nitric Acid increases in the nasal cavity 15 fold than normal breathing. Nitric oxide production is essential for overall health because it allows blood, nutrients, and oxygen to travel to every part of your body effectively and efficiently.

To practise Bhramari* Pranayama…

  • Be in a comfortable sitting position.
  • Cover the ears with the index finger or thumb.
  • Close the eyes, take a deep inhalation filling up the lungs, then exhale through the nose making the sound of ummmmmmmm ( like a bee)
  • The mouth is closed, but make sure the teeth don’t touch.
    Practice up-to 10 times.

* Bhramari Contra indicated for anyone with Bipolar, depression or schizophrenia unless advised otherwise by a health practitioner.

If you enjoyed reading  this article, you may also like to read:

You are not your Thoughts

5 Ways to manage the feeling of Overwhelm

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