2 Breathing Exercises for Beginners (+ 1 Exercise to Level Up)

Do you breath properly? Do you enjoy the benefits of proper breathwork?

Breathing is central to our lives, but most people pay no attention to it. With these exercises, you’ll evaluate your breathing, practice basic carbon dioxide training, and learn a relatively advanced exercise that can take you to the next level of breathwork.

Read on for two breathing exercises for beginners and one that will help you level up and enjoy further benefits.

Exercise 1: Evaluate Your Breathing

As we try to lead healthier lives, one thing we rarely consider is being mindful of how we breathe. Science journalist James Nestor argues in his book Breath that, while the power of the breath is central to many Eastern traditions, it’s been largely ignored in the Western world. Modern medicine treats chronic congestion, sinus infections, and lung disease but puts little emphasis on teaching people how to breathe correctly. However, Nestor asserts that, by learning how to breathe well, we’ll improve our well-being, balance our emotions, and find more energy to live the lives we want.

Nestor argues that, due to a combination of genetics, soft foods, and self-reinforcing cycles of congestion, most of us have developed poor breathing habits. It may be that, while reading this, you’ve been self-conscious about how you’ve been breathing. This first breathing exercise for beginners will help you assess how you normally breathe.

  1. Take a few deep breaths through your nose, letting your stomach expand as you do so. Exhale slowly as you breathe out, letting your stomach naturally contract. After several repetitions of this cycle, what effect (if any) has it had on your mood? Do you feel calm, or more agitated? How much of a difference did breathing slowly make?
  2. When you were consciously breathing through your nose, did it feel natural or did it feel forced? If it felt forced, do you think it’s because you normally breathe through your mouth? When you stopped being deliberate about your breathing, was your next breath through your mouth or your nose?
  3. Think back to the last time you did something strenuous (working out, climbing stairs, moving boxes). Do you remember whether or not you were breathing through your mouth? If so, did it feel like you were getting enough air, or did it feel like breathing itself was exhausting?
  4. How easy or difficult do you feel it would be to make a lasting change to how you breathe?

Exercise 2: Basic Carbon Dioxide Training

Imagine there was a miracle cure that could help you feel less stressed, lose weight, sleep better, run farther without losing your breath, and live longer. According to breathing coach Patrick McKeown, not only does this cure exist, but it’s also free to anyone with a set of lungs—it’s practicing proper breathing. He says modern living conditions cause the average person to breathe too much, but, by training yourself to breathe less, you can greatly improve your physical fitness and overall health. McKeown wrote The Oxygen Advantage, published in 2016, to further raise awareness of the benefits of proper breathing.

In this breathing exercise for beginners, evaluate the way you breathe and practice one of McKeown techniques.

  1. Assess your current breathing habits. Describe your relationship to breathing—how conscious are you of your breath from moment to moment? What symptoms, if any, do you have that may be due to excessive breathing? (For example, you may feel out of breath frequently, have a consistently stuffed-up nose, or wake up feeling lethargic.)
  2. Practice McKeown’s basic carbon dioxide training exercise. Place one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. Breathe mindfully through your nose for a few minutes, keeping your breaths small and maintaining a slight craving for more air. After you’ve finished, write about how you feel mentally and physically. (Ideally, you’ll feel more relaxed and mentally alert.)
  3. What’s one habit you can start today to improve your breathing? (For example, you could block out 10 minutes in your schedule every morning for breath training or buy paper tape to keep your mouth closed during sleep.)

Exercise 3: The Wim Hof Method

Most of us shudder at the thought of jumping into a cold shower, but what if doing so could make you healthier? In The Wim Hof Method, renowned motivational speaker Wim Hof (a.k.a. The Iceman) makes that exact claim. Hof, who gained fame and baffled scientists with his record-breaking ability to survive dangerously low temperatures, argues that, by following the Wim Hof Method—a system based on cold exposure, conscious breathing, and mental dedication—you’ll transform your health, reduce your pain and stress, and maximize your mental energy. 

Hof’s breathwork technique provides three key benefits: increased energy, disease reduction, and inflammation reduction. It enhances your energy by increasing the oxygen level in your body and, subsequently, the ATP molecules (energy sources for cells). The increased energy also helps resist disease. Moreover, breathwork regulates the immune response to lessen inflammation associated with disease and discomfort. A study demonstrated that practitioners of Hof’s technique could suppress their immune response after exposure to harmful bacteria, suggesting potential control over the autonomic nervous system.

As Hof notes, his breathing exercises are relatively difficult and might cause fainting. Prior to performing the following exercise, sit or lie down, and don’t do the exercise anywhere near water (just in case you faint).

  1. When you’re comfortable, take about 30 deep breaths. Once you start to feel tingly and lightheaded, take up to 10 more breaths—40 breaths total. 
  2. After breathing out the final time, hold your breath for as long as feels comfortable. The moment you feel you want more air, inhale deeply and hold for 10 to 15 seconds before exhaling again.
  3. Repeat the process above (starting with the 30 deep breaths) up to three more times. With each repetition, you’ll likely be able to comfortably hold your breath for a few seconds longer.
  4. Relax until you feel ready to face the rest of your day.
2 Breathing Exercises for Beginners (+ 1 Exercise to Level Up)

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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