30 Ways to Breathe Better

In this episode, know about 30 different breathing methods that can help with energy, sleep, physical performance, mental performance and more. Also get some fascinating information from the book Breathe by Belisa Vranich.

Ben Greenfield
9-minute read
Episode #317

Merkaba breathing: A meditation that consists of seventeen breaths, each visualized as a different geometric shape.  It’s based on the theory that the physical body and spirit can be transported through different dimensions. Also called “spherical breathing”.

Nadi shodhana pranayama (aka “alternate nostril breathing”): Used to destress, relax, and balance the mind.  To complete the first round, press the thumb on the right nostril and breathe out gently through the left nostril.  Next breathe in through the left nostril gently, then press closed with a finger.  Remove the thumb from right nostril and breathe out through the right nostril.  Breathe through the right nostril, close, and exhale from the left.  Continue with inhales and exhales, alternating between nostrils.

Patterned breathing: Use a certain “count” on the inhale and the exhale.

Some have “holds” or “retentions” at the top of the inhale or top of the exhale, while in others the exhale starts immediately after the inhale is full.  The goal of patterned breathing is to slow down the breath and either distract (from pain) or help focus on the breath.

Perfect breathing: Promotes slower breath and fosters an alert state of mind and a relaxed state of breathing.  The technique is to used several times a day and should show immediate benefits.  Don Campbell, proponent of the method, reports improved mental focus and increased energy.  Related practices include: energy wave breathing, waterfall breathing, and imagination breathing.  Also termed “conscious breathing”.

Pranayama breath: Yogic breathing techniques that help control the “prana” or vital force (also known as “chi”, “qi”, or “ki”).  The most popular are dirga pranayama (three- part- breath), ujjayi pranayama, (ocean breath), nadi shodhana pranayama (alternate nostril breathing), and kapalalabhati pranayama (light skull breathing).

Pranic breathing: A six-step form of breathing that aspires to increase, control, and direct the prana, or vital life force.  The first step clears negative emotions and limiting beliefs; the second utilizes a highly energizing breathing technique to boost vitality; the third manipulates energy (through scanning, sweeping, and energizing); the fourth step involves energetic hygiene; the fifth step, meditation; the sixth step (final step) consists of the two very powerful energy generation exercises.

Recovery breath: A fast breathing exercise that is a combination of all the preliminary exercises taught, that then goes into a state of “gentle’ “natural” breathing, rest, and a meditative state.  It helps to calm and recover after a competition or test.  Calming the body, lowering cortisol, and going back to a “rest and digest” alert but calm state and helps combat the effects of oxidative stress.  Recovery breath is also called “active meditation”.

Reichiam breathing (armor): Wilhelm Reich related difficulties in emotional wellbeing to functional problems on a bodily level, as reflected in disrupted breathing.  He induced a sense of peace and calm in his patients by guiding them to focus only on their breath.  In Reich’s opinion, the blocking of feeling, motility, and energy in the body creates an “armor” theta defends one from threatening internal impulses and from external dangers.

Resistance breathing: The goal is to employ resistance in order to strengthen the muscles used in respiration.  Apart from people with breathing disorders, many singers, divers, martial artists, and athletes incorporate resistance breathing into their regimen.  Resistance may be provided with the use of respiratory muscle trainers, or by creating physical obstacles – such as pursing the lips to increase resistance during breathing.

Rhythmic breathing: A breathing technique used for running described by Budd Coates in his book Runner’s World Running on Air.  It centers around the idea that rhythmic breathing increases lung volume; improves awareness and control; helps prevent injury and side stitches; improves running for those with asthma; allows runners to quickly set a pace for quality training and racing; and helps athletes manage muscle cramps.

Sithali: Referred to as “ tongue hissing” because during the inhale, air is drawn in through a protruding tongue folded into a tube.  As a result, the air passes over a moist tongue, thereby refreshing the throat.  Faster or slower inhalation makes possible variations in loudness and softness and smoothness of a reversed hissing sound.  The tongue is drawn back into the mouth, and the lips are closed at the end of inhalation.  One can breathe out either through the mouth or alternately through the nostrils.

Sports breathing: Breathing techniques related to improved performance during such sports as swimming, biking, or weight lifting, or breathing exercises for endurance and conditioning that train inspiratory and expiratory breathing muscles.  Also used after competitive events to reduce stress and tension and induce a calmer state. 

Tao Yin breathing: Consists of postures, meditation, and breathing patterns to strengthen and relax the back and energize and relax the lumbar area.  The goal explains Taoist master Mantak Chia, is to achieve harmony between chi and external energies, and revitalize the body and spirit.  Also known as Taoist Yoga.

Taoist reverse breathing: Traditionally used by quigong practitioners, healers, and martial artists, it reverses the in-and-out movements of the abdomen present in natural breathing: the abdomen contracts inward during inhalation and relaxes outward during exhalation.  When the diaphragm moves downward and the belly contracts inward during inhalation, the resulting pressure in the abdomen “packs” the breath energy; when the diaphragm relaxes upward and the belly releases outward during exhalation, the pressure is suddenly released.  Taoist reverse breathing is an advanced method and should only be undertaken with guidance. 

Thoracic breathing: A dysfunctional, ineffective way of breathing that does not use the diaphragm, but rather the intercostal muscles.  Thoracic breathing tends to be inefficient, shallow, and rapid, which may result in too much carbon dioxide retained in the body and respiratory acidosis. 

Transformational breathing: Popularized by Dr. Judith Kravitz, who posits that this technique facilitates the natural healing process for all types of trauma and for beneficial maintenance of optimal health, Transformational breathing is an active exercise that uses the breath to release tension within the body.  The breathing technique is a deep breath in through the mouth while inflating the abdomen and a gentle sigh out on the exhale.  There is no pause between inhale and exhale.

Yogic breath: Incorporates three types of breathing – collarbone (clavicular) breathing, chest breathing, and abdominal breathing – thereby utilizing full lung capacity.  With the inhalation, the abdomen extends forward and the chest is expanded; with the exhalation, the chest and the abdomen return to their original position, united into a flowing wave.

Whew! While this may seem like a dizzying array of breathing patterns to learn and to play with, just remember: breathing exercises are – well –exercises! Just like squats, lunges, push-ups, etc. you can learn each one at a time and eventually possess a potent arsenal of breathing techniques that I guarantee will enhance your body and brain performance, your sleep, your focus, your health and beyond.

Finally, be sure to grab the Breathe on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, Booksamillion, or Audible. Check out the special audiobook clip below from the introduction of the book and tuen in in the player in the top right hand corner of this page to hear a special bonus breathing exercise. If you have questions, comments or feedback about these 30 ways to breathe better, you can join the conversation at Facebook.com/getfitguy!


About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.