Breath Work To Deepen Your Meditation and Create Calm

  1. For thousands of years yogis have known the amazing benefits of breath work. Science has corroborated these techniques with data about the nervous system; specifically, the ability of certain breath practices to actually switch the body from the sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, or freeze) to the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). As few as five to ten cycles of 4-4-4 breathing can calm one’s body-mind as much as a mild tranquilizer or herbal remedy.

It can also be very helpful to notice whenever you’re holding your breath. This is a very common unconscious habit that exacerbates mental and physical stress. See if you can when you do it and take a conscious breath. You will immediately feel a difference.

(As with all suggestions on this site, if you have pre-existing health problems or current health concerns, please consult with your physician about the safety and appropriateness of any particular technique.)


First, make sure that you are bringing your breath all the way into your diaphragm (the area just below your navel).  The easiest way to develop this ability is to lie on the floor with a rolled up hand towel under your knees (this relaxes the back).  Put one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen.  As you inhale, draw the breath deeply into your abdomen.  The hand there should rise a little, while the hand on your chest should remain stationary. One of the simplest relaxation techniques is to practice this diaphragmatic breathing for 20 minutes with your eyes closed.

The 4-4-4 BREATH is simple but powerful:

Inhale to a slow count of four.

Hold your breath for a slow count of four.

Exhale to a slow count of four.

Hold your exhale for a count of four.

Five to ten cycles should leave you feeling calmer and refreshed.

This technique works best when you imagine an actual image of a box.

Your first inhale is from the bottom left corner of the box up to the top left corner.

Your first hold is horizontally across the top from left to right.

The exhale is from the top right down to the right corner.

The last hold is from the bottom right corner to the left corner.

When you’re done, finish on your exhale without the last hold


Lengthening your exhale enhances calm.

Lengthening your inhale is energizing.

Equalizing the length of inhales and exhales is meditative and sleep inducing.


Inhale for the count of four.

Hold your breath for the count of four.

Exhale for the count of four.

Hold your breath for the count of four.


Inhale two times with the first one longer than the second and exhale through your mouth. Practice this for five minutes.


Start by breathing naturally and observing how many counts or beats it takes to inhale and how many to exhale. If your inhales and exhales are not equal, which is the case for many people, consciously and gently equalize them. Once that feels comfortable, increase your exhalations by one count. When that feels easy, increase your exhales by another count. Do this until you reach a ratio of 1:2, with your exhales twice as long as your inhales.

If you feel relaxed with the 1:2 ratio, experiment with a 1:3 ratio, where your exhales are three times as long as your inhales.

Both these techniques engage your parasympathetic nervous system, helping you calmly rest and digest.


Inhale slowly and deeply, hold for 2-3 seconds and exhale slowly.

This helps you switch from sympathetic to parasympathetic.


Though quite easy to learn, this is a very relaxing and balancing technique.

Inhale slowly and deeply to your diaphragm through your nose with your mouth closed.

Keeping your mouth closed, exhale 2/3 of your breath through your nose and the last third through your mouth.

Repeat for a minimum of five minutes.


Sit comfortably or lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.

Make your mouth a soft “O” shape and roll the sides of your tongue to create a tube shape.

Breathe in slowly and feel the cool air.

Close your mouth, let your tongue relax, and exhale through your nose.

Repeat 5-10 times.


This is very relaxing as it wonderfully focuses the mind relieving it of most distractions, and engages the parasympathetic nervous system.

Take a deep, slow breath through both nostrils and exhale.

Now, without touching your nose, focus on inhaling through the left nostril and counting ONE

Exhale though the right and count ONE

Inhale through the right, TWO

Exhale through the left, TWO

Inhale through the left, THREE

Exhale through the right, THREE

Inhale through the right, FOUR

Exhale through the left, FOUR

Inhale through both nostrils, FIVE

Exhale through both nostrils, FIVE.

Inhale through the left, SIX

Exhale through the right, SIX…

Continue in this manner with every multiple of FIVE inhaling and exhaling through both nostrils.

If you lose count you have to go back to the beginning and start with ONE.

This technique is beautifully explained on Swami Janakananda’s Yoga Nidra CD, if you would like someone to talk you through it.


Gently rest the index and middle finger of your right hand on your third eye, the space between your eyebrows.

Take a slow breath through both nostrils and exhale through both.

Block off the right nostril with your thumb and inhale through the left.

Block off the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale through the right.

Repeat each cycle two more times.

Now, with the left nostril still blocked with your ring finger inhale through the right.

Block off the right nostril with your thumb and exhale through the left.

Repeat each cycle two more times.

Rest your hand in your lap and take two full deep breaths to resettle.

This is a very centering and relaxing technique as it creates balance between both hemispheres of the brain.


This technique is from the ancient healing art of Jin Shin Jyutsu. The idea is you don’t take a breath, your receive it.

(You can find more information on this easy-to-use modality here:

Begin by counting your exhalations,

One, exhale, inhale.

Two, exhale, inhale.

Continue in this manner.

If you lose count start again.


Inhale, count one

Exhale, count two

Inhale, count three

Exhale, count four

Inhale, count five

Now reverse:

Exhale, count four

Inhale, count three

Exhale, count two

Inhale, count one

Keep repeating until you feel calm, grounded, centered, and focused.


Inhale and say, “Breathing in, I’m breathing in.”

Exhale and say, “Breathing out, I’m breathing out.”

Repeat until you feel relaxed.


Here are the five steps for the 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise:

  1. Exhale through your mouth making a whoosh sound.
  2. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose for a count of 4.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  4. Exhale through your mouth making a whoosh sound for a count of 8.
  5. That was one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.


(This is taken from qigong master Lee Holden’s blog.)

You can start seated or standing, but we recommend seated to start out.

Close your eyes and take a nice, full breath into your lower abdomen (Dan Tien).

Relax and let your jaw unclench as you exhale.

Repeat this kind of deep breath into your lower abdomen for about 30 seconds until you feel relatively relaxed (you can tell you’re relaxed when your shoulders drop down).

On your next inhale, lightly squeeze your perineum (the spot in between your genitals and anus) and imagine a river of golden honey flowing up your spine to the top of your head.

As you exhale, relax your perineum and lightly touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Imagine the same river of golden honey flowing down the front of your body…back to your perineum.

Repeat this for as long as you wish.

When you’re done, take a moment to check in with your body.

How do you feel?


Good. That’s the point 🙂


Simply hum on your exhalation, slowly and gently.

This makes lengthening the exhalation easy and natural. Continue for about 5 to 10 cycles.

Humming, with your mouth closed, is great for tiredness too. You produce nitric oxide in the nasal cavities, which is an antiseptic, antiviral and anti-inflammatory.


Just yawn.

This has the added benefit of relaxing all the muscles around the eyes.

(You can find other breathing techniques, especially for anxiety, under the Anxiety category.)

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang

Nicole Urdang

Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM is a Holistic Psychotherapist in Buffalo, NY. She holds a New York state license in mental health counseling and a doctorate in homeopathic medicine from the British Institute of Homeopathy.