What Is Sequential Breathing?

4 different applications for this mind-body exercise

The term "sequential breathing" refers to several different types of breathing exercises that are designed to make you more conscious of your breath and increase the oxygen in your body. Sequential breathing may involve counting the length or number of inhales and exhales, or it can simply involve breathing in a specific pattern. It can be useful in mind-body exercises as well as in managing pain and anxiety.

Sequential breathing techniques in yoga

Major types of yoga breathing practice, or “pranayama yoga,” include shitali pranayama (breathing in through the mouth and out through the nose in a set number of repetitions), viloma pranayama (breathing with pauses at specific intervals), and anuloma pranayama (breathing through alternating nostrils). One of the most common pranayama techniques is dirga pranayama, or “three-part breathing,” in which you fill your abdomen with air, then your rib cage, then your upper chest.

Sequential breathing in meditation

Meditation often involves various forms of sequential breathing. The Zen Mountain Monastery, a Zen teaching center in New York, recommends a simple counting technique for beginners:

  • Begin by breathing deeply through your nose.
  • Count each inhalation and exhalation.
  • When you reach 10, start over at the beginning again.

This method of breathing helps keep the focus on your breath rather than on your thoughts, and sharpens your awareness.

Sequential breathing for managing pain

There are two recommended sequential breathing exercises to help manage pain in the book “When Your Pain Flares Up: Easy, Proven Techniques for Managing Chronic Pain,” published by Fairview Health Services. The first one is:

  • Count to two as you inhale, and again as you exhale.
  • On the next breath, count to three on the inhale and three on the exhale.
  • Finally, inhale for a count of four and exhale for a count of four. You can repeat the sequence as necessary.

The other one is called 8/4 breathing. Start by inhaling for a count of eight. Hold your breath for a count of four. Exhale for a count of eight. Hold your breath for a second count of four. Repeat as necessary.

Using sequential breathing to fight anxiety

Because it focuses your attention on your breath rather than on racing thoughts and gives your brain an influx of oxygen, sequential breathing exercises can be beneficial when you experience anxiety. Try sequential breathing techniques on airplanes if you have a fear of flying, or before giving a presentation.

Learn yoga and meditation expert Rodney Yee’s breathing techniques on GaiamTV.com!

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