Can I say that through all my years of yoga and exercise, I never truly was a believer in focused breathing? I always tried to start off following the breathing "instructions" at the beginning of a yoga class but would always lose track of my breath once I got into the poses. I guess you could say I had considered the importance of breath itself, but I didn't understand the importance of the connection fully between breath and healing.
Even during guided meditations, the breathing thing just never clicked for me beyond "take a deep breath in and let it out slowly." I would get lost at the next prompt of "imagine yourself walking by <insert peaceful place here>."
My relationship with breathing has all along been albeit a little "strange" from having realized I used to hold my breath dancing in Irish Step competitions to super deep breathing through pain and anxiety during a couple of minor surgeries.
I was always confused by all the different types of breathing exercises too, until I watched Andrew Weil demonstrate the 4-7-8 Relaxing Breath. I've been using it daily and recommending it ever since.
Here's how it works.
First, you're going to keep your tongue in the yogic position - this means the tip of your tongue should be touching the bridge on the roof of your mouth just behind your teeth.
Before you start counting, let all the air out through your mouth.
Now, inhale quietly through your nose for a count of 4.
The hold it for a count of 7.
And exhale out through your mouth (remember to keep your tongue in the proper position while doing this) for a count of 8.
Repeat the above cycle of counting to 4, 7, and 8 for 4 breath cycles.
Be sure to keep the ratio of 4:7:8, but feel free to count faster or slower as you find comfortable, eventually slowing down your breathing to a more relaxed, deep state.
You can do this at least 2 times a day and after a month of practicing this type of breathing, try increasing the total number of breaths to 8 cycles.
Watch Andrew Weil demonstrate the 4-7-8 Relaxing Breath here.
Relaxing breath work like this nearly immediately calms the nervous system, works wonders for anxiety, and helps you enter a more focused, mindful state.