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Julie Gagnon-Erickson Explains the Proper Breathing Techniques for Meditation

In order to fully capitalize on all the benefits that meditation offers, it is important to discover the proper way to breath during a session. Doing so can help a practitioner continue to enjoy the incredibly positive effects of this ancient tradition throughout his or her everyday life.  Learning to control the breath leads a student to a much better understanding of mind-body control, can reduce stress and improve overall well-being.

Some meditation fans have yet to find a breathing technique that works well for them. So, what are some of the most common practices for s? 

Same Duration in and Out

One of the most common breathing techniques is called the “equal” breathing style. This style of breath requires the person to spend the same amount of time taking an inhale as he does on the exhale.

This style of breath can be highly personalized.  Each person has a unique ability to find a comfortable pace, duration and expansion for an individual breath.  Over time, each portion of the breath will become longer and more equal in power and duration.  

Folks with greater lung capacity can work on durations heading up into the 30 second range!  But starting off with a 5 or 10 count is generally best for folks new to a meditation and breathing practice.

This effortless style is always accessible, easily learned and can be practiced anywhere and at anytime, thus is very easy to integrate into a busy lifestyle.  It can calm the mind, decrease the heart rate and settle nerves in a very short time period with very little effort or practice.

Combining the Airways

Another very popular method of breathing used in a mindful meditation practice is the combination and control of the two different breath pathways or airways- the nose and the mouth- in a series of interdependent breaths. This can be done by inhaling through the nose, then consciously deciding to exhale through the mouth.  The opposite process can hold true as well. A practitioner is in charge of his or her chosen airway, duration of breath and timing of each particular phase of the breath.

This particular breath helps to minimize stress and requires focus as it is necessary to think about each breath and the choice of airway.  A student can investigate comfort with different patterns and will continue to challenge and stimulate the mind by mixing up their airway choices.

Alternating Nostril Style

According to a long-time yoga instructor, Julie Gagnon-Erickson, there are millions of people who have developed a habit of sleeping with their mouth wide open. This is sometimes caused by a practitioner’s inability to breathe through the nose unless he is awake.  Unfortunately, this particular manner of breathing leads to less efficiency in oxygen exchange, greater effort in achieving full breaths and less restful sleep!

For a number of different reasons, a person that is usually able to breathe easily through the nose during the day, automatically shifts and starts using the mouth upon falling asleep. It is important, however, to do everything in one’s power to learn how to breathe through the nose as second nature at all times of the day, awake or asleep. 

In order to achieve this, according to Julie Gagnon-Erickson, the alternate-nostril technique can be very effective when practiced during the waking hours. Like the name states, it relies on breathing through the nose while constantly changing the nostril through which the air flows. 

A practitioner naturally becomes more adept at taking in a sufficient amount of air through one nostril, then emptying it from the other.  The process can be reversed and eventually, this breath style provides as much oxygen, stillness, relaxation and control as other methods of breath.  Practicing during the day encourages the mind and body to rely on nostril breathing at all times, resulting in more restful sleep, reduced stress and anxiety and an overall sense of control. 

The Evolving and Relaxing Style

Ultimately, almost anyone who meditates on a regular basis will be familiar with the relaxing technique that requires them to take a shorter inhale to begin and to focus on lengthening the exhale, fully emptying the lungs.  A practitioner attempts to draw the exhale out as long as possible, and then eventually matches the inhale to the exhale with time and practice.

Each breath presents an opportunity to control the pace of the inhale and the exhale and to eventually pause at the end of each, creating a significant length of time where a student is in complete control over this important body process.  This manner of breathing can significantly reduce stress and anxiety in the moment and can be very helpful in achieving a greater sense of control and balance in any life situation outside of the meditation room.