Part Four: Prioritizing Safety, Accessibility and Choice in Teaching Breath Work


Part Four: Prioritizing Safety, Accessibility and Choice in Teaching Breath Work

If you are just tuning in here is a recap of this Four Part Breath Work series. If you haven’t checked out these previous blogs I highly encourage you do so prior to reading this as Part 1-3 frame the context for this piece.


The first thing I always encourage others that are interested in teaching or coaching breath work to do is self exploration. Self exploration should be the first place we start and I whole heartedly believe we should not be teaching or coaching breath work practice that we haven’t spent time with ourselves. You are your own best teacher. I fully believe that we can teach others by way of intimately knowing the practice. Part Three: Exploring Breath work, Where to Start? Can help you with this!


Getting Started

Lets start with a common cue I often here which is “Feel the Breath.” What I often find is that many teachers and coaches are leaving too much room for error with a LACK of cueing in breath work.

When I was first getting started with breath work I often felt confused by “feel your breath” or a less guided breath work practice where we were encouraged to just breathe or breathe deeply. I spent a lot of time asking:

  • Where am I supposed to feel my breath?
  • How am I supposed to that?
  • What am I supposed to be focusing on?

We know the impact this may have on those who HAVE experienced significant trauma. But, I often find that even my athletes who haven’t experienced significant trauma can really struggle with this at times. This often deters them from the practice when the reality is, if we give them more direction and clarity they might find it more accessible. The other piece of this is when we don’t give enough clarity it leaves room for clients to then shift in to “thinking” mode rather than “being mode.” Feeling our breath is not thinking about how to feel our breath. We want our clienst to settle in to the “being” and felt sense of breathing rather than be in cognition mode. 

As mentioned in Part Three of this series I think the best place to start is the natural breath.

When we say “feel the breath” what we are encouraging exploration around is the feeling of our natural breathing pattern.

Start with the path of inhalation and exhalation. Take the time as a teacher/coach to really familiarize yourself with how this works. Feeling there breath requires us to know where we are feeling this path within our body.

Common places people can feel their breath will be the inhalation or exhalation at the

  • Nose
  • Upper clavical or collarbones
  • Ribcage (360 degree movement, front/side/backbody)
  • Belly
  • Some people find it easier to feel the “full operation” but that may be more advanced and too much to take in at once to begin with.

Some cues we might give are:

  • Where do you feel your breath the easiest 
  • Explore feeling your breath at the _ (go through all the places to feel the breath)
  • How do you know you are breathing?
  • What does your breath feel like at the (nose, belly, ribcage, etc)
  • Explore feeling 1 breath(inhale) in
  • Explore feeling I breath(exhale) out
  • Get curious about the rhythm or depth of your breath (shallow/deep, short/long)
  • Feel the temperature of your breath
  • Explore the sound of your breath (not a feeling but it is a sense!)
  • What movement do you feel as you breathe?

I think the more direction we can give up front in order to help people access the feeling of their breath and explore it, the better. What we are working towards is helping people develop a RELATIONSHIP with their breath!


Prioritize Safety, Accessibility, Choice

There are many benefits and advantages to breath work and being able to manipulate the breath. I am ALWAYS going to advocate for spending as much time as possible with the natural breath prior to manipulation.

If we are going to start manipulating the breath I am an advocate of starting with helping people simply explore what its like to either slow the breath down or slowly extend the exhale. In general slowing the rhythm of your breath down and engaging in a slightly deeper or fuller breaths is physiologically “safe” and grounding for many people. This is not the case for all.

Remember that safety is not a cognitive experience but an embodied one (Detailed explanation in Part One and Part Two).

The science and data on slow deep breathing can say one thing but what we need to trust is our clients. Our clients need to be their own guides. We can honor the “science” and data on slow/deep breathing while respecting and honoring that no science will ever define safety for an individual.

This is why we step in to our trauma aware and trauma informed teaching with breath work. We need to acknowledge that more likely than not, in any setting we are working in, someone has been through something significant that may or may not have left an impact on them . Someone in the room will probably struggle to connect with their breath.


Here are some things to think about and prioritize if we want to honor this:



Giving context around breath work and the ways in which this practice can impact us is important and helps us prioritize safety and accessibility in teaching. Context is all about providing information so that clients feel like they are "in the know". Take the time BEFORE you engage in teaching or coaching breath work to talk about how breath work can be challenging and WHY. If you don’t feel familiar with this check out Blogs 1 and 2 for guidance with this and continue to do your own research.

Here are some helpful tips:

  • Write a script for yourself that feels authentic, simple yet concise.
  • Create a document or cheat sheet for your clients so they can have this information
  • Create and refer people to a resource list of information on breath work and a trauma aware approach
  • Let people up front know that you PRIORITIZE safety, accessibility and choice and what those mean to you. Ex: I clearly state something to the effect of “Please remember, any time you are with me in practice YOU are in control of your own practice.”
  • Make it very clear from the start how you want people to engage with you if they do have complications or difficulty with breath work. Don’t assume that everyone in the room will know to reach out to you for help!
  • Make it a point to check in at every session and remind people that breath work can be challenging and that each time we come to a practice we might respond differently.



Whether you are working with someone individually or with others in a group setting leaving people in choice around their own practice is important. As stated in Part One, choice is about control. Your clients should always be in control of their own body and practice. 

Allow people to have choice around:

  • Posture
  • Eyes open or closed
  • Engaging in the practice at all or manipulating the breath (holding, breath patterns etc)
  • Using a different anchor (body, sound, objects) for their attention or focus

Choice requires us as teachers and coaches to offer options (roughly 2-3) that they can choose from so that they are in control of their own practice and don’t feel forced in to anything. Here is an example:

When I teach something like side lying belly breathing I might have my athletes in a side lying position but then give them choice around engaging in that belly/diaphragmatic breath or just feeling the natural breath. After 1 minute I might then say “If this posture isn’t working for you or you might feel supported in a different posture feel free to adjust”



Make room for integration within your teaching and coaching. We have to provide the space for people to feel out how a breath work practice impacts or resonates with them. I highly encourage that after each breath work practice you take the time to PAUSE and invite people to explore how the practice lands with them. Ask them to notice any changes and use a mindful and compassionate approach.

Its also important to know that sometimes the integration happens AFTER class (1-3 days after). So giving this context and providing your clients with the awareness to continue to check in with themselves after class is key.



The language we use as teachers and coaches matters. Our cueing around breath work should always keep safety, accessibility and choice in mind. Essentially any time that are directing you should be using phrases, language and a tone of voice that allows your clients to know this is THEIR practice.

 3 things I emphasize when I teach/coach: compassion, curiosity and clarity. I want every single person in the room to feel that from me as I guide them through exploration. I also sample or show my clients as much as I can up front (providing context). Don’t hesitate to STOP a practice in the middle to break it down more or give more context. I do this all the time especially if I am combining movement with breath work.  

Here are some examples:                                   

Lets start by trying…

If it feels supportive …

If you would like to you can….

Explore what it would be like to …

Maybe you want you …

See what it might be like to..

Now, ill invite you to …

Here is what we are going to do _____. Ill demonstrate and show you one round and then we can explore together.

If you would find it helpful, push pause for just a moment and look at me. Let me see if I can break something down to help you.

Its also important that we continue to prioritize safety, accessibility and choice throughout our class! Several times a session I may state something like the following: “And if at any point what I’m cuing doesn’t serve you, you find it more activating or unsettling ill invite you to find something else that feels more grounding and supporting. Maybe feeling your body, looking around, adding movement back to your practice. Know you can always shift out of the practice.”


In conclusion

Being a trauma aware and trauma informed coach / teacher is an ongoing, every day commitment. We will absolutely make mistakes (I have been plenty) and the most important thing when we do is how we RECONNECT and repair with our clients.  The more open and transparent you are in your communication the better. Its also important to continue to get feedback from your clients on HOW the practices are resonating with them and how your teaching/coaching is being received. This will only help you get better.

I appreciate you taking the time to tune in to my Four Part blog series on breath work. I hope that this series has been clear and informative while providing you with some tangible takeaways. I believe in a trauma aware and trauma informed approach to all mindfulness and somatic practices because I believe it is the most compassionate and empathetic approach. All humans deserve to feel safe and in control of their mind and body when they engage in tools and practices that ultimately are meant to support them.



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