Part Three: Exploring Breath Work, Where to Start?


Part Three: Exploring Breath Work, Where to Start?

If you have not read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series I highly recommend you do as this will give you an in depth look at what breath work is and why it is imperative we be teaching and coaching breath work in more trauma aware and trauma informed ways.  


I am passionate about helping all of my clients and athletes understand what breath work is and explore this practice with more awareness so that they may engage with the practice in ways that are centered around accessibility, safety and choice. These are what allow people to practice in ways that support them.  

There are a variety of ways to engage in breath work but more importantly you do not have to engage in it at all. This is why I highly encourage everyone to start by thinking about their goal or intention for breath work before embarking on a breath work journey.

Know that breath work is not a necessity for mindfulness, meditation, feeling calm, soothing yourself or achieving any award. Contemplative, mindfulness or somatic practices, grounding, or self-regulation skills are never a competition or destination. The ultimate goal is to find what works for you and supports you in your current state and find practices that support you in navigating life.



Start by connecting with your intention for breath work. You can use these reflections to get you started:

  • Why do you want to engage in breath work?
  • What is your intention or goal for your practice?
  • What are you trying to accomplish for your life or overall well being?
  • What have you heard about breath work that made you want to explore this practice?
  • What have you already been doing and what has been the impact?
  • What are you missing when it comes to navigating life things like emotions and tough stuff?

Getting clear on these will then help direct and steer your exploration in breath work practice. There is A LOT out there on the internet and social media when it comes to breath work. IF we set our intention first we can stay grounded in this as we begin to explore without getting distracted by everything that is out there.


Reflection and Awareness 

Getting clear on your intention and goals will also allow you to assess and reflect AFTER you engage in a practice. This is important. We can’t figure out what supports or us or doesn’t support us if we don’t take the time to notice and integrate what we are practicing. This process of reflection requires us to constantly be aware of how our practice impacts us and our nervous system. 

Ask yourself, “Does this breath work practice support me, feel safe to me and help me slowly move toward my goal or intention?”

  • If it does. Great. Respect the fact that just because a breath work practices supports you right now doesn't mean it will tomorrow or three weeks from now. 
  • If it doesn’t. Also great because now you know. Take that as information and adjust. Remove the shame and frustration and compassionately remind yourself that your practice is your own. This is solely about finding what DOES support you.
  • If you aren’t sure thats totally OK. You can keep exploring slowly or seek out professional help/support.



Here are a few directives I encourage all my clients to think about and take in to consideration when navigating their journey with breath work:

One: Go slowly and start with the feeling of your natural breath (no manipulation). Just gain awareness and begin to explore a relationship with your breath!

  1. Spend a few minutes (start with 1-3 minutes) a day taking some time to breathe naturally and tune in to the feeling of your breath
  2. Try my feeling the natural breath here for an explanation of how to do this
  3. Use props to help you explore like a block on the belly or Theraband around the ribs
  4. Periodically throughout your day just check in with HOW you are breathing and see what it feels like to take an intentional breath. The breath can give you a lot of wisdom with regards to how you are doing both mentally and physically if you take the time to notice it!


Two:  If you want to start with manipulation of the breath, start with simply slowing your breathing rate down or with lengthening exhale compared to inhale.

  1. Generally, slower/deeper breathing has been shown to help us shift in to more of a parasympathetic state
  2. We also know (from blog 1 in this series) that our exhale is linked to a more parasympathetic shift in our nervous system via the vagus nerve and SA node on the heart
  3. Slower and deeper breathing that engages the diaphragm has been shown to send signals, via the stretch receptors in your lungs, to the brain to calm the nervous system. (Weber, 2018 and Jerath, 2006).
  4. The vagus nerve also passes through the opening of the diaphragm and can be stimulated by deep breathing, humming or singing which can influence the nervous system in to a more parasympathetic state.
  5. Again I want to preface – The science doesn’t dictate your experience. Slower, deeper breathing is not for everyone and it can actually do MORE harm for some given where they are in their nervous system state. (i.e: if someone is already in what we call a dorsal vagal or shut down state, slower/deeper breathing has the potential to shut them down even more). I always advise against generically prescribing breath work without awareness and considering the nuances.
  6. You can explore slowing your breath down by seeing what it feels like to breathe with an equal inhale to exhale ratio (ex: 4 count inhale, 4 count exhale). Explore a rate/rhythm that feels good for you but generally when we explore an even inhale to exhale ratio it will inherently slow your breath down. 
  7. Then, slowly move towards lengthening your exhale relative to your inhale (ex: 4 count inhale, 5 or 6 count exhale). Go slow and find a ratio that feels best for you.  

Three: Play around with posture

  1. Explore a variety of postures to engage in breath work
  2. Try seated, standing, walking, laying down on your back or laying down on your side.
  3. Try exploring breath work in restorative postures like legs up the wall
  4. What feels most supportive and accessible to you?
  5. Get as comfortable as needed by using props like pillows or blankets to support the body


 Four: Ease in to retention

  1. After exploring the feeling of your natural breath and playing around with slowing down your breath you can explore breath retention or holding your breath
  2. If going to hold your breath, start slow and hold for 1-2 seconds and then increase from there
  3. You can explore holding your breath at the top of your inhale (lungs full) or holding your breath at the bottom of your exhale (lungs empty). I find more often than not people find holding the breath at the top of the inhale feels more accessible than lungs empty holds.


 Five: Keep eyes open or hold on to something

  1. Closing your eyes in not a mandate for breath work.
  2. Keeping the eyes open can feel more grounding and provide a sense of safety for people!
  3. You can pick a spot to gaze on or keep the eyes roaming if you find that helpful
  4. Holding on to something like mala beads, stones or crystals or a pillow can also provide us with a sense of safety or grounding


Six: Explore breath work with movement based practices

  1. Yoga is the union of the mind and body and the integration of your breath is a big part of the practice
  2. Try yoga or other movement based practices that allow you to feel and engage with your breath as you move throughout postures!


Seven: Integration 

  1. Pause and pause often. After you engage in a breath work practice pause. Come out of the practice and do nothing. Allow yourself a moment to notice how the practice impacted you. 
  2. Sometimes we dont truly understand or "feel" the impact until later (can be minutes, hours, or days). Being aware and taking the time to notice is how we understand if a practice supports us or not. 
  3. At the end of the day, we can't know how a breath work practice impacts us if we don't take the time to notice and tune in. 


These are great places to get started with breath work and great things to keep in mind for all teachers and coaches!


Now lets get in to part four

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






Jerath, R., Edry, J. W., Barnes, V. A., & Jerath, V. (January 01, 2006). Physiology of long pranayamic breathing: Neural respiratory elements may provide a mechanism that explains how slow deep breathing shifts the autonomic nervous system. Medical Hypotheses, 67, 3, 566-571. .

Weber, K (2018). , The Yoga and Neuroscience connection. Subtle Yoga Health, LLC. Teacher Training.









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