10 Tips for Teaching Mindfulness of Breathing Practices

As a mindfulness teacher, one of the first practices that you may introduce to your students or clients is mindfulness of breath. Because breathing is something we all do, this makes mindfulness of breathing a very accessible beginner practice. It requires very little explanation beforehand and doesn’t even need to be introduced as a meditation.

If you’re teaching mindfulness in a setting where people aren’t familiar with meditation, starting with the breath can be a great way to bring them to the present moment and into their bodies.  Mindful breathing practices can offer a direct experience of mindfulness without having to call it meditation which can loosen any potential resistance people may have to the idea of meditating.

Yet just because mindfulness of breathing is a simple practice doesn’t mean that its benefits are limited. Like most mindfulness practices, mindfulness of breathing can benefit people in many ways including:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Improved emotional regulation
  • Enhanced regulation of the nervous system
  • Greater feelings of calm, ease, gratitude
  • Higher levels of self-awareness

As you teach mindfulness of breathing, it’s important to be thoughtful about how you approach it. Consider the audience you’re interacting with and be mindful of their unique needs. Teaching mindfulness in a workplace setting, for example, might be different than teaching it to teens. So make adjustments as needed based on what intuitively makes the most sense to you.

10 Tips for Teaching Mindfulness of Breathing Practices

As you teach mindfulness of breathing, it’s important to be thoughtful about how you approach it. Consider the audience you’re interacting with and be mindful of their unique needs. Teaching mindfulness in a workplace setting, for example, might be different than teaching it to teens. So make adjustments as needed based on what intuitively makes the most sense to you.

To help you feel more confident in guiding mindfulness of breathing practices, here are some tips you can consider trying:

1. Encourage students to trust the natural flow of their breath

When it comes to meditating for the first time, people often have exceptactions or worry that they’re not meditating correctly. Yet many of us rarely wonder if we’re breathing correctly throughout our day. Remind students that there is no wrong way to breathe. Breathing is something natural that their body already knows how to do without any effort. This means they don’t have to strive or try hard to achieve anything. Encourage them to simply notice their breath, trusting it exactly as it is without feeling the need to change it in any way.

2. Recognize the tendency to control the breath

As you teach mindfulness of breathing, you’ll find that some people naturally want to control their breath. This is very normal but it might make it hard for them to relax into the sensation of breathing. While there are breathing practices and techniques that focus on regulating the breath to either increase focus or decrease stress, mindfulness of the breath is more about noticing the breath as it is.

One way to help students move through any sense of rigidity is to guide them to focusing on other physical anchors. This can include relaxing or sensing into different areas of the body such as the legs, the feet, or the jaw. 

3. Decrease mind-wandering with specific instructions

The more specific the invitation to notice bodily sensations associated with the breath, the easier it may be to follow. Asking people to be mindful of “the breath” can feel vague, making it easy for the mind to wander. When the intellectual concept of the breath gets in the way of the felt experience of breathing, providing anchor points can help.

The invitation to notice specific bodily sensations is easy for most people to understand. Focusing on a narrow point of awareness can also help them cultivate higher states of concentration. Below are some ideas of anchor points to try.

4. Provide anchor points to increase focus

The experience of breath can be as vast, deep, or narrow as we make it based on where we place our attention. There are many ways to directly experience the breath in our bodies – and with this, many possible anchors of attention. Here are some anchor points that you can guide your mindfulness of breathing practices with:

If you’re teaching over a period of several sessions, you could choose one specific anchor of focus for one session and then another one for a different session. This can help introduce the practice of mindfulness breathing from several different angles.

10 Tips for Teaching Mindfulness of Breathing Practices

5. Invite a sense of curiosity and appreciation

Even when focusing on an anchor point, some may still find themselves judging themselves or wondering if they are doing the practice correctly. Inviting a sense of curiosity and appreciation for the breath can help the mind shift away from judgemental thoughts.

Encourage people to explore the sensations of the breath as if it was the very first time they’re breathing. Offer gentle guidance to allow them to fully appreciate the magnificence of the breath and the body that carries them through this life.

6. Replace self-judgment with self-compassion

When we’re focusing on a certain anchor point in mindful breathing it can be helpful to put our hand on that area to connect on a deeper level. But in the case of belly breathing, for example, this can sometimes trigger self-consciousness or self-criticism. To help bring attention back to the breath in a non-judgemental way, heart-based practices such as self-compassion can help.

Consider inviting students to say soothing things to themselves such as “May I breathe with ease” or “May I be well.” Also, don’t forget to practice self-compassion for yourself as you lead mindfulness of breathing practices for the first time or in new settings.

7. Empower them to address distractions with kindness

As we focus our awareness on the sensations related to the breath, distractions will inevitably arise. These can come in the form of thoughts, emotions, or physical distractions. Help people feel empowered by letting them know that such distractions are to be expected and absolutely normal.

Remind students that rather than resisting distractions (as they might normally have a tendency to do), they can choose to meet them with a welcoming, kind curiosity. This gentle friendliness and allowance can make it easier to return attention back to the breath. 

8. Use mindfulness of breathing to help people embrace the changing nature of life

While mindfulness of breathing is often used as beginner’s practice, it can also open the doors to introducing other practices. The breath can be a simple way to experience the changing nature of things, introducing the concept of impermanence. You may invite students to notice how as every breath goes out, a new breath is also coming in. Extend the invitation to notice the changing rhythms in daily life and to trust that as anything old falls away, it creates the space for something new to arrive.

Mindfulness of Breathing

9. Use the mindfulness of the breath to introduce the concept of beginner’s mind

You can also use the breath as an invitation to the concept of beginner’s mind. While breathing is something we do on a daily basis, that doesn’t make it any less wondrous and magnificent. Paying attention to the breath and the senses can help us feel the freshness of each breath, seeing it through a fresh lens. By experiencing something so “common” in a new light, it can remind students of the power that a shift in perception can make. As they see “ordinary” things through the eyes of wonder and awe, this can bring a sense of lightness and ease into their days. 

10. Bring attention to physical sensation without judgment

Practicing mindful breathing offers an opportunity to help people notice life at the raw level of sensation – free of the mind’s judgements and commentary. As you lead a mindful breathing practice, encourage students to simply become more aware of the physical sensations in their own body without feeling the need to label any of the sensations as good or bad. This can be a good way to introduce the body scan meditation. It can also be used as a moment to explore how noticing sensations without judgment can help us notice thoughts and feelings without feeling overwhelmed by them.

Guided meditation scripts to lead mindful breathing practices

Need inspiration for guiding mindful breathing exercises? Here some of our guided meditation scripts that you can use for free:

Continue your own mindfulness and mindful breathing practices

Last but not least, it’s important that as you teach mindfulness of breathing, you also find new ways to go deeper with your breath practice. The more you pay attention to the breath, the more you’ll notice its subtleties. So approach your own breath  – and life  – with gentleness, kindness, gratitude, curiosity and awe. By doing so, your own life will be imbued with the deep richness of the present moment.

If you need some inspiration for your own practice, try out these 6 mindful breathing exercises which include many of the techniques mentioned here, including belly breathing, affectionate breathing, or whole body breathing.

If you’d like to become a certified mindfulness teacher so you can teach mindfulness to others with confidence and skill, learn more about how to get certified through our Mindfulness and Meditation Teacher Training program here.

About the author 

Sean Fargo

Sean Fargo is the Founder of Mindfulness Exercises, a former Buddhist monk of 2 years, a trainer for the mindfulness program born at Google, an Integral Coach from New Ventures West, and an international mindfulness teacher trainer. He can be reached at [email protected]

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