Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present, being aware of your body, mind, thoughts, feelings, sensations, and environment. It’s basically practising being in the now. 

Jon Kabat-Zinn (1979), an American Professor and the founder of Mindfulness meditation, defined it as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally” By focusing on the breath, the idea is to cultivate attention on the body and mind as it is moment to moment, and so help with pain, both physical and emotional. 

In this Blog, we will be discussing the following points 

  • The Process of Mindful Breathing
  • Benefits of Breathing but Mindfully
  • How do Mindful Breathing techniques work in the context of mental health?
  • Some therapies that use and benefit from the techniques of mindful breathing
  • Effect of Mindful Breathing on Different Psychological Disorders
  • Exercises and Techniques that are widely used 

The Process of Mindful Breathing

Mindful breathing is a simple practice available to all. Regularly engaging in it can provide benefits such as a reduction in stress, increased calm, and clarity, as well as the promotion of happiness (Catherine, 2010; Kar, Shian-Ling, & Chong, 2014).

The way we breathe affects many aspects of our health, including brain function, blood pressure, sleep, mood, and the body’s ability to fight inflammation. Though most people aren’t aware of their own breathing patterns, many of us are shallow chest breathers. Shallow breathing day in and day out causes a stress response in our sympathetic nervous system. (The sympathetic controls our fight-or-flight response; the parasympathetic is responsible for the calming rest and digest response.)

Mindful breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is your body’s “rest and digest” system. When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, your heart rate and blood pressure lower, which can help reduce anxiety in the process (Vago & Silbersweig, 2012).

When we become mindful of our breathing, we can control the breaths we take and how they impact our overall health.


A person with stage anxiety or stage fear, before their performance, might feel an increased pace in their breathing along with increased heartbeats or even heaviness in their breathing. This is when mindful breathing would help.

Practicing being aware of the rest and digest system, consciously taking deep breaths – holding them in and then a lengthened exhale would help calm the anxiousness, and fear, reduce the feeling of being keyed up to such an extent that the anxiety won’t hamper the day to day behavior and life.

Benefits of Breathing but Mindfully 

There are a few advantages or benefits of mindful breathing (Fletcher, 2019) 

  • Releases endorphins from the brain to promote a sense of relaxation and calm (this can be very helpful when trying to fall asleep)
  • Relieves stress from the body to give us more energy
  • Releases muscle tension and decrease pain
  • Helps the heart balance its ability to respond to stressors
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improves immunity and decrease inflammation in the body
  • Improves cognitive abilities such as attention, maintaining focus and concentration, memory, and thinking – especially in the context of logic and reasoning and audio – visual processing.

How do Mindful breathing techniques work in the context of mental health? 

  • Chronic stress can impair the body’s immune system and make many other health problems worse. By lowering the stress response, mindfulness may have downstream effects throughout the body (Cresswall et al., 2019). A study investigated whether mindful breathing could help caregivers manage their experience of caregiving, which many associated with hardship. The study found that 20 minutes of mindful breathing helped caregivers experience less distress than 20 minutes of supportive listening (Tang, Ching & Lam, 2019). In addition, research from 2016 found that 5 minutes of mindful breathing helped people with cancer manage feelings of distress in their care settings. (Guan Ng et al, 2016)
  • Just as mindfulness has been shown to be related to aspects of positive mental health, it also seems to constitute an essential protective and psychological resilience factors for mental disorders like posttraumatic stress disorder (Thompson et al., 2011) and depression (e.g., Schut & Boelen, 2017). 
  • Mindful, non-judgmental awareness of painful memories and trauma-related thoughts and feelings counteracts avoidance behaviors and diminishes the risk of PTSD after a traumatic experience (Thompson et al., 2011). 
  • In the context of depression, one explanation is that mindfulness promotes a detached, decentered relationship with negative feelings and thoughts, which, in turn, leads to increased disengagement from ruminative processing (Teasdale et al., 2002; van der Velden et al., 2015). So, practicing mindfulness breathing techniques will be an effective approach in the initial stages of depression. If this does not prove beneficial, seek the help of an online psychiatrist for depression treatment.
  • Practicing mindful breathing exercises may help you manage anxiety. According to  research, students who practiced mindful breathing before a test had less test anxiety and more positive thoughts beforehand, than students who did not. ( Cho, Ryu, Noh &  Lee, 2016).
  • Some evidence suggests mindful breathing may improve your ability to focus.
  • A report suggests that college students who practiced mindful breathing before reading had better reading comprehension than the control group. (Clinton, Swenseth & Carlson, 2018)
  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is defined by emotional instability and insecurity. Mindfulness can help someone with BPD get perspective on how to react to these internal and external symptoms of BPD. When they remember to take a breath and observe the present moment before reacting or responding, they can objectively view their emotions and thoughts about the situation first (Mercedes Perez-Rodrigues, et al, 2018).

Moreover, various studies have proven that mindfulness therapies work well with individuals who have ADHD, as they improve attention, calm the mind, and help control emotions. This meditation technique is commonly suggested by most ADHD therapists, in addition to the regular treatment plan.

Exercises and techniques

  • Counting Breaths
    The simplest breathing technique is to count our breaths. Start by counting 1 on the slow inhale through the nose, 2 on the long exhale through the mouth, 3 on the inhale, 4 on the exhale, 5 on the inhale and release. 
  • Slowing down the racing mind
    Making our exhales longer than our inhales slows down both our heart rate and thoughts. Breathe in slowly through the nose to the count of 3, then exhale through the mouth to the count of 6.
    If 3 and 6 are too long, try 2 and 4 breaths. Or to extend the exhale longer, try 4 and 8 breaths.
  • Deep Inhalation and Exhalation
    We’re not actually breathing into our belly here, but the belly will puff out when we fill up our lungs. It might be helpful to place a hand on the stomach so we can feel how it rises and falls when we direct our breath there. Slowly breathe in through the nose and feel the belly push out. Slowly exhale through the mouth and feel the belly draw inwards.
  • Box Breathing
    For this breathing exercise, it might be helpful to imagine a box and its 4 equal sides. This visualization will help us breathe and hold our breath for the same number of counts while we trace one corner to the next in our minds, all the way around the box. Take slow, deep breaths, inhale through the nose for 4, hold the breath for 4, exhale through the mouth for 4, and hold the breath for 4 before we inhale again.

In conclusion, the mindfulness breathing technique is a simple yet powerful practice that can have profound effects on our well-being and mental state.  Being mindful of your own self, being sensitive enough to understand simple things like how one breathes, requires patience and time. If one practices it long enough, consciously, it eventually becomes easier to be aware of how the breath is flowing through the body.  It is a basic human tendancy to either go back in the past or think about the future.  Mindful breathing, as mentioned previously helps us be in the present moment, be aware of the surroundings. Instead of thinking of the past and worrying about future, mindful breathing acts as an anchor – as if it’s making us stay in the present moment. Even if we drift away, just a bit, it brings us back in the now.

So let’s practice mindfulness and breathe mindfully together and live for today!