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Sunday, January 27, 2019

Breath-Based Practices for Mindfulness or Stress Reduction

updated January 27, 2020

Photo by Neil Bates on Unsplash

by Catharine Hannay

“If you can breathe, you can meditate.” 
Sharon Salzberg 

Here are several approaches to breath awareness for adults and kids. Some of them are intended to reduce stress and anxiety, while others help us focus on whatever is happening in the present moment.

But first, a note to new teachers: I've been asked several times,
"Where can I find mindfulness scripts for my students?"  

Rather than reading from a script, please do the practices yourself several times before leading a group or class, so the phrasing feels natural to you. 

In fact, you may actually want to use recordings with your students for a while before starting to lead the practices yourself.

Why Focus on the Breath?

In Looking at MindfulnessChristophe André gives several advantages of breath-based practices.
  • "It is easier to fix [our attention] on something that is always present but never still. This is why we can remain fascinated and awake for long periods looking at the waves of the sea, the flames of the fire or the passing clouds—they are always there, but never the same. No breath is just like the one before or after.
  • We can exert a limited but real control over [the breath] by speeding it up or slowing it down. 
  • Our breath is invisible; we constantly forget it is there, but its role is vital—we have an absolute need to breathe. Similarly, there are many other things in our lives that we rely on but are unaware of.
  • Breathing is at once voluntary and involuntary, teaching us to accept that we cannot control everything. This is something that our society is keen to have us unlearn, trying to make us think that everything can be controlled and mastered."

For more on the advantages of formal, breath-based mindfulness practice, see 6 Reasons Why Mindfulness Begins with the Breath by Ed Halliwell at

And at Edutopia, John McCarthy explains how Getting Mindful About Breathing can help educators "manage stress, listen more deeply, and defuse tense classroom situations."

Breath-Based Practices Here at Mindful

Additional Breath-Based Practices

For Kids:

For Adults (at

Using the 'Breath Ball'

    photo courtesy Renee Metty

    A popular resource for teaching mindfulness to kids is a Hoberman Sphere. You can see one in the picture above, from an interview with Renee Mettythe founder of The Cove School, a preschool specializing in mindfulness and social and emotional learning.

    In case you're interested in ordering a Hoberman Sphere or finding out more, here are the links to Amazon and  (I don't have an affiliate account and don't track or benefit from purchases made through links from this site.)

    You may also be interested in Mindfulness and Yoga for Young Children: Tips, Books, Apps, and Activities.

    Recommended Audio Recordings

    Dr. Dzung Vo includes two breathing practices with his Guided Meditations at They're also appropriate for adults; in fact, when I use guided meditations personally I almost always choose something from Dr. Vo's site.
    You can either click on Guided Meditations or on the links below to listen to and download the recordings (sound will start immediately):
    5-Minute Mindful Breathing Practice
    3-Minute SOBER Breathing Space (Stop. Observe. Breathe. Expand. Respond.)

    (If you work with adolescents, you may be interested in a Mindful Teachers post on Teaching Mindfulness, Meditation, and Yoga to Teens.)

    Recommended Videos

    [I've removed the broken links to two videos by Timothy Scott, Jr. (a.k.a. 'JusTme') a mindfulness instructor and mindful hip-hop artist. He seems to have deleted his youtube account and I can't find the videos elsewhere. He does have a vimeo account with short videos about mindfulness.]

    "What kinds of things do you do when you're waiting?" Rather than feeling impatient, Fred Rogers suggests taking a few slow, calming breaths.

    The next video is simply a shape that expands and contracts. This can be a nice alternative to verbal instructions, and a good way to practice slowing down the breath. 

    Or you might prefer to take some calming breaths with Elmo and friends:

    For those of you who teach young children, there's a wonderful series of SEL songs by Narwals and Waterfalls, including this video about different types of breathing:

    The final group of videos are from the 'Breathe with Me' PBS series by songwriter and kids' yoga expert Kira Willey.

    I hope the above resources are useful for your classes or for your own personal practice. You can keep exploring different approaches to mindfulness and complementary practices (like compassion and gratitude) in the links below.