Breathwork for Beginners: 5 Ways to Learn & Practice It

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October 17, 2021
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More and more people are incorporating breathwork into their self-care routines, especially since it’s known to help improve physical and mental health. For those that are new to breathwork, however, it can be difficult to figure out exactly how to get started.

If you want to learn how you can begin your own breathwork journey, this article will help guide you with the following information:

  • An introduction to breathwork
  • Breathwork for beginners: 5 ways to learn & practice breathwork
  • 5 great breathwork techniques for beginners
  • How to get started with breathwork at home

Before we get into the different ways to try breathwork for beginners, let’s explore what exactly breathwork is.

If you’re also considering meditation, either as an alternative or as a complementary practice, check out our guide on breathwork vs. meditation.

An introduction to breathwork

A woman breathing while lying on a yoga mat

Before you can begin practicing breathwork, you have to know what it is. If you’re still trying to understand how it works and why you should do it, here are the basics of breathwork.

What is breathwork?

Breathwork is a mindfulness activity that encompasses a variety of breath control techniques. The origins of breathwork can be traced back to ancient India, with many of the techniques developed back then still being practiced today. In addition, there are modern breathwork techniques that first became popular in the 1970s. There are many reasons why people choose to begin a breathwork practice, since it is known to offer many physical, mental, and spiritual benefits.

How does breathwork work?

Many people develop an unconscious habit of shallow breathing, which can trigger the autonomic nervous system and cause a regular state of stress and fight-or-flight. Breathwork exercises involve deep breathing using the diaphragm, which increases the amount of oxygen in the body. This triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which informs the body that it is safe. This, in turn, allows one to feel calm and relaxed, while also allowing all of the body’s systems to return to their normal functioning.

Benefits of breathwork

While many often turn to breathwork for stress relief or to correct their breathing patterns, it offers a wide range of other benefits. These are some of the great breathwork benefits you should know about:

  • Relieves stress and anxiety
  • Increases energy and boosts immunity
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Strengthens lungs and improves breathing
  • Helps manage pain
  • Improves focus
  • Improves mood and self-esteem
  • Improves sleep
  • Helps manage symptoms of depression
  • Helps heal from trauma


If you want to know more about the benefits of breathwork, check out our article on 15 breathwork benefits.

Breathwork for beginners: 5 ways to learn & practice breathwork

A group of people on rocks

If you’re wanting to try breathwork for the first time, you might be confused trying to figure out how to learn breathwork. Here are some of the best ways beginners can start practicing.

1. Attend an in-person breathwork workshop

Attending a local breathwork workshop is a great way to test the practice out under the guidance of a trained facilitator. It also provides you with the opportunity to connect with others who are also just getting started. There are also different types of workshops with different themes or objectives, so you can commit to whichever one is best for you.

Why this is great for beginners:

  • Guided instruction from trained professionals
  • Opportunity to connect with like-minded people
  • 1-day commitment

2. Participate in an online breathwork class

If you can’t find a local workshop, another great option is to attend a virtual breathwork class. Online breathwork classes are great options for anyone who wants the guided experience of a workshop while being able to practice in the comfort of their own home. The virtual setting also offers more flexibility, so you can participate from anywhere in the world at a time that works best for you. You’ll also have access to many more types of classes than you would locally.

Why this is great for beginners:

  • Flexibility
  • Ability to participate from home
  • Guided instruction from host(s)
  • Wide variety of options
  • Minimal time commitment

3. Book a private breathwork session

Some trained facilitators, counselors, and coaches will offer private breathwork sessions. These are great for those looking for a guided experience, or for those looking for more therapeutic options. They are also useful for anyone who might feel anxious practicing in a group setting, but would still like a guided breathwork session with a professional. These sessions can be very relaxing and comforting, and are a great addition for those receiving therapy for their mental health.

Why this is great for beginners:

  • More privacy than workshops
  • Guided by a trained facilitator
  • Comforting
  • Allows for focusing on intentions

4. Use a breathwork app

For those that would prefer to learn and practice on their own, there are many different breathwork apps available for smartphones and other mobile devices. Many of these apps include resources and guided sessions that will allow you to learn breathwork online for free. Several of them also allow you to access premium features for an affordable fee. Using a breathwork app is great because you have full control over when and where you complete a breathwork session.

Why this is great for beginners:

  • Flexibility
  • Free and affordable options
  • Complete privacy

5. Travel to a breathwork retreat

If you want an adventurous breathwork experience, you can consider attending a breathwork retreat. Many retreats are intended for those who have more experience with breathwork. However, there are also options for beginners looking to progress quickly or participate in a guided healing experience. Retreats are great for anyone who wants to practice breathwork while meeting new people and spending time in different locations around the world.

Why this is great for beginners:

  • Travel to an exciting location
  • Bond with like-minded people
  • Guided by trained facilitators
  • Experience multiple breathwork sessions

5 great breathwork techniques for beginners

When you feel ready to try breathwork, there are many different breathing exercises that you can practice daily. Here are some of the best breathwork techniques for beginners.

1. Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing – also called belly breathing or abdominal breathing – is an easy, slow, deep breathing exercise that involves moving the diaphragm while breathing. This exercise is typically used to help return to an ideal breathing pattern and relieve stress. While many exercises make use of the diaphragm, this is the one that most closely resembles natural breathing.

A man breathing on the floor with his hands on his chest and stomach

Benefits

  • Strengthens lungs
  • Improves breathing pattern
  • Relieves stress and anxiety
  • Lowers blood pressure

How to do it:

  1. Sit or lie down comfortably on a flat surface.
  2. Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
  3. Slowly inhale through your nose. Feel your stomach push against your hand as you breathe in.
  4. Exhale through your mouth, allowing your stomach to relax as you do so. Be sure to keep your chest as still as possible.
  5. Repeat these steps as desired. Experts recommend 5 to 10 minutes of diaphragmatic breathing 3 to 4 times per day.

Try it now: Follow this 12-minute guided diaphragmatic breathwork meditation.

2. Box breathing

Box breathing, square breathing, 4-4-4-4 breathing, or Sama Vritti is a breathing exercise that involves inhaling, pausing, exhaling, and pausing again for equal amounts of time. Whatever you call this exercise, most of its names make it easy to remember how to do it. This is another technique that can help improve your breathing while also reducing anxiety.

Benefits

  • Relieves stress and anxiety
  • Improves sleep
  • Increases focus
  • Helps combat hyperventilation

How to do it:

  1. Get into a comfortable position either sitting, standing, or lying down.
  2. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4, drawing the air into your lungs.
  3. Hold your breath for another count of 4.
  4. Exhale through your mouth, also for a count of 4.
  5. Pause for a count of 4.
  6. Repeat these steps as many times as desired.

Try it now: Follow this 6-minute guided box breathing exercise.

3. 4-7-8 breathing

4-7-8 breathing is another easy breathing exercise with its instructions right in the name: inhale for 4 seconds, pause for 7 seconds, and exhale over 8 seconds. This exercise is part of a technique known as rhythmic breathing, which means its breathing pattern creates a relaxing effect. Due to this, it’s highly recommended for improving sleep. It also offers many other physical and mental health benefits. 

Benefits

  • Improves sleep
  • Relieves stress and anxiety
  • Decreases fatigue
  • Reduces both asthma and migraine symptoms
  • Helps combat hypertension

How to do it:

  1. Once you’re in a comfortable position, exhale the air out of your lungs.
  2. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  4. Exhale through your mouth for a count of 8.
  5. Repeat these steps up to 4 times or as much as desired.

Try it now: Watch this 5-minute video on 4-7-8 breathing.

4. Alternate nostril breathing

Two women practicing alternate nostril breathing

Alternate nostril breathing, also known as Anulom Vilom or Nadi Shodhana, is a breathing technique involving controlling the breath through the nostrils. Practicing this technique can greatly benefit the respiratory and circulatory systems, while also providing additional physical and mental benefits. While the steps might seem strange at first, it’s still a great breathwork exercise for beginners.

Benefits

  • Relieves stress and anxiety
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improves oxygen flow
  • Promotes calm and relaxation

How to do it:

  1. Sit up straight in a quiet location.
  2. Take your right hand and place your thumb on your right nostril.
  3. Slowly inhale through your left nostril.
  4. Lift your thumb off your right nostril and place your ring finger on the left nostril.
  5. Exhale through your right nostril.
  6. Now inhale through your right nostril.
  7. Lift your ring finger and use your thumb to close your right nostril again.
  8. Exhale through your left nostril.
  9. Repeat these steps as many times as desired for up to 10 minutes.

Try it now: Watch our 7-minute guided alternate nostril breathing exercise.

5. Pursed lip breathing

Pursed lip breathing is a technique used to help correct breathing patterns by slowing the breath. While it’s mostly used as a technique to improve breathing, it can also be done as a form of relaxation. It’s often recommended by medical professionals for those with COPD and asthma, but can benefit anyone who chooses to practice it.

Benefits

  • Slows breathing rate
  • Relieves shortness of breath
  • Promotes relaxation
  • Improves ventilation
  • Removes trapped air

How to do it:

  1. Sit up in a comfortable position, relaxing your neck and shoulders.
  2. With your mouth closed, inhale through your nose for a count of 2.
  3. Purse your lips as if you were about to blow air.
  4. Exhale through your lips for a count of 4.
  5. Repeat these steps as many times as desired.

Try it now: Watch this 1-minute explanation on pursed lip breathing.

How to get started with breathwork at home

If you’re ready to try breathwork, you might be wondering what the easiest way to get started is. Follow these tips for starting a breathwork practice at home:

  • Research techniques: Look into different beginner’s exercises and their specific benefits, and determine which ones you want to try.
  • Explore apps and virtual options: If you want a guided experience, look into online videos, apps, classes, and courses to find options that will work best with your lifestyle.
  • Create a schedule: Plan when you want to practice breathwork each day, and be sure to commit to doing so.
  • Set reminders: Add your breathwork sessions to your calendar, or leave yourself notes that will remind you to practice.
  • Change it up: Keep your breathwork practice exciting by trying different exercises and making note of which ones you liked the most.
  • Do what you can: If you miss a planned practice session or are short on time, it’s okay to do a quick breathing session. A little goes a long way!


If you’re ready to try breathwork, explore the Othership app for free today.