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Medically Reviewed by
Cimone Safilian-Hanif, PhD in International Psychology, on January 31, 2024


If there is one thing that we do everywhere all the time - it's breathing. We don't think about it, and yet - it keeps us alive. This exercise, Mindful Breathing, is an all-time favorite exercise. It requires so little, it can be done at any time and place, and it is very powerful, grounding and effective. If you feel anxious or if you are starting to panic, you breathe. If your mind is clouded with thoughts that you are not aware of - you can turn your attention to your breathing and go from there. Breathing is inherent to the human body which is why going back to it feels like going back to the basics, to something familiar and grounding.

This page will walk you through three different types of Mindful Breathing exercises: Counting Breaths, Sensations of Breathing, and Diaphragmatic Breathing.

DBT Mindfulness: Mindful Breathing lets you calm your mind when you are losing control.

We will provide three versions of this exercise, so you can experiment and find the one that works best for you. This exercise may seem simple, but it is very effective. Do the breathing exercise once a day for a week.

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Counting Breaths

What is Counting Breaths in Mindful Breathing?

Counting breaths is a mindful breathing technique that involves using numbers to help maintain focus and attention on your breath. It provides a structured approach to the practice of mindfulness meditation.

How to Practice Counting Breaths:

You will need a comfortable and quiet place where you won't be interrupted for 10 minutes. Sit comfortably. Before starting the exercise just become aware of what your mood is today. How do you feel? Are you relaxed? Are you stressed because you have too much work? Do you have worries on your mind? After noticing what your mood is like today, start with the exercise.

Set your timer for 10 minutes. Relax, and start counting your breaths from 1 to 5. Count on the exhale. One... two... three... four... five. One... two... three... four... five.

Do this for 10 minutes. Don't try to change your breath in any way, breathe as you usually do. It is completely normal if your mind starts wandering. When you notice this just gently go back to counting your breaths. Do not judge yourself, just accept that your mind wandering is perfectly normal, and just nudge it back to counting your breaths. Be patient with yourself.

At the end of these 10 minutes, notice if your mood is any different. How do you feel? Do you feel more relaxed? Is your mood any different before? Maybe it is and maybe it stayed the same. Then write down what this experience was like for you in the worksheet provided.

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Sensations of Breathing

What is Sensations of Breathing in Mindful Breathing?

Focusing on the sensations of breathing in mindful breathing involves directing your attention to the physical sensations associated with your breath. This practice helps cultivate present-moment awareness and relaxation.

How to Practice:

Again, find a comfortable and quiet place where you can sit uninterrupted for 10 minutes. Like the previous version, notice your mood for today. How do you feel? How would you describe your mood today? Do you feel happy or sad? Perhaps you feel bored or sleepy. Now, set the timer for 10 minutes.

Breathe normally. Gradually start becoming aware of your breathing. Feel the sensation of the air entering your nostrils. Be present and aware of how that feels. Remember, if your mind starts wandering around, without judging yourself, bring the attention back to the sensations of breathing. Is this feeling new to you? Have you ever been fully aware of the contact that the air makes with the skin in your nose? Do this for 10 minutes.

After you have finished, try and notice if your mood changed. Maybe it stayed the same, maybe you feel better or calmer. How would you describe your mood after the exercise? Write it down in the worksheet that is provided below.

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Diaphramatic Breathing

What is Diaphragmatic Breathing?

Diaphragmatic Breathing, also known as belly breathing or deep breathing, is a breathing technique that involves using your diaphragm. In diaphragmatic breathing, there is an emphasis on engaging your diaphragm to promote deep, slow, and efficient breathing.

Practicing Diaphragmatic Breathing:

Find a comfortable place where you can sit uninterrupted for 10 minutes. How do you feel today? Try to become aware of the underlying mood for today. Are you rested or tired? Do you feel excited or relaxed? Maybe you are sad or worried and anxious. Just notice how you feel and then proceed to the other instructions.

Set your timer for 10 minutes. Position your hand on your belly. If you normally breathe through your chest, this is going to be a little different for you. Breathe in through your nose and feel your hand moving up as your belly moves. As you exhale and relax your diaphragm muscles, your belly will relax too. Notice how your hand that is positioned on your belly also moves down. It is normal if your mind starts thinking. When you notice that you've become distracted, gently and without judgment bring your awareness back to the belly breathing. Continue this deep breathing pattern, trying to maintain a steady and relaxed rhythm.

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After you've done this for 10 minutes, notice how you feel. Do you feel any different than before you started the exercise? Has your mood changed? Note down how this experience went for you in the worksheet provided.

DBT Mindfulness: Mindful Breathing Worksheet

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This exercise seems boring to me. How can I find it more interesting?

Try to see this exercise as a potential tool that might help you calm your mind and body. Thinking that it seems boring is a judgmental thought that may deprive you of a useful experience and skill. After trying it the first time, maybe you will find that you feel different than before, in a positive way. Try to be curious about how this exercise and experience might turn out for you. Maybe you will be surprised.

The techniques seem so simple. How are they going to help me?

Like the other mindfulness exercises, these techniques can help you refocus your attention to your breathing when you experience negative emotions or thoughts. The exercises activate the relaxation response in the body, leading to a reduction in stress levels. These exercises help to calm the nervous system, lower heart rate, and decrease cortisol levels, thus promoting a sense of relaxation and overall well-being.

I find this exercise very helpful and relaxing. Can I do it more than once a day?

If you find that this DBT exercise affects you in a positive way and you find it beneficial, you can do it more than once a day. The good thing about this exercise is that, after you've become familiar with it, you can do it anywhere - waiting for a bus, lying in bed, taking a break while you work or study. So, you can immediately get the benefits from it. The exercise can be particularly helpful if you have a tendency to feel worried or anxious.

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If you have any behavioral health questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare or mental healthcare provider. This article is supported by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from behavioral health societies and governmental agencies. However, it is not a substitute for professional behavioral health advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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Comments About Mindful Breathing

  1. I count back from 10 rather then up from one. Helps me move focus to breathing and away from my very busy mind.

    ADMIN- Hi Joel,

    Thanks for the tip!

  2. I do mindful breathing each and every day my mindful breathing help to clear my mind and help to clear my thought to I count back from 10 rather then one to help me with my wondering mind from me Patti Ann Vogel take care bye bye have a wonderful day today and Good morning okay now

  3. I started doing all of your worksheets about one month ago in March which was last month and my therapist says to me that the DBT Dialectical Behavior therapy has helped me to make faster progress in our sessions together.

  4. I think the point is just gently nudging yourself to pay back attention to the breathing, even if your mind wanders 100 times in those ten minutes, it’s still the practice of doing that.

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