Focused breathing is a powerful tool for relieving stress and managing difficult emotions. The breath is something one has access to without requiring a membership, special clothes or equipment. While taking one single deep breath might be enough to calm down and focus the mind, there is also a wide variety of breathing techniques to explore.

In reality, breathing is something that happens all day and therefore you might not give much attention to. The beauty is that with even a little more attention to the breath, one can experience benefits such as focusing the mind, relieving anxiety, and relaxing chronic tension in the body.

The practice of breath awareness, known as Anapana in Sanskrit, teaches one how to watch the natural breath in the present moment. This practice is considered the foundation for all other breathing techniques. The key action is to observe without judgment and without changing the breath to fit a preconceived pattern. Simply allow the breath to happen, without changing it to fit what you think it should be.

Before exploring other breathing exercises, practice breath awareness using the following steps.

How to practice breath awareness:

To begin: Find a comfortable position, either sitting up or lying down. If comfortable, close the eyes, if not narrow your focus to something slightly in front of you. Place one hand on the belly, the other hand on the heart.

Next: Observe the breath entering through the nostrils and filling the chest. Do not control the breath in any way.

Ask yourself one or two of the following questions to help you observe the breath:

  • Where do you feel your breath moving your body most – low belly? Ribs? Chest? Nostrils?
  • Can you feel where your breath begins?
  • Which is longer – the inhalations (in-breath) or exhalations (out-breath)? Or are they the same?
  • Are you breathing quickly or slowly?
  • Is your breath shallow or deep?
  • Would you describe your breath as smooth and flowing, or rough and choppy?

Continue observing the breath for a few minutes, increasing over time to 5-10 minutes.

To finish: Bring awareness back to the body by wiggling the fingers and toes. Gently lift the gaze or blink open the eyes if closed.

When to practice: Choose a time of day that works for you and practice regularly.

Benefits: Calms the mind, increases focus and concentration, aids in managing difficult emotions.