*WARNING This exercise should never become uncomfortable and you should never become light-headed. If you experience either of these or other negative effects, stop and return your breathing to normal immediately.
Usually, when someone has never actively controlled their breathing before, I have found that their breathing is continuous; in, out, in, out…
The next step in breath control and awareness is to add a pause. Two actually. This means that you will breathe in, then pause for a moment, breathe out, then pause again before breathing in again.
This is possibly one of the most common types of meditation and is taken from the Prana meditation exercise. It is called the 4-4-4-4 breathing exercise. This means breathing in to the count of 4, holding for 4, breathing out for 4, and holding empty for 4.
It’s important to note that this is to the count of 4, whatever that may be for you. This doesn’t have to be 4 seconds. To start with, go with whatever is a comfortable 4 count for you. This will vary from person to person depending on things like lung capacity, fitness, etc.
Once you’ve done this comfortably, consider adding an extra count so its breathing in to the count of 5, holding for 5, breathing out for 5, and holding empty for 5.
Then try for a 6 count and possibly a 7 count.
Over time, the more you practice, the slower your breathing will become. it’s good to push yourself slightly with this but remember to always keep it comfortable.
A variation on this technique and one that may suit some people better is to start with the 4 counts, then only increase the counts on the breathing in and out while keeping the pauses to a 4 count. For instance, breathing in to the count of 6, holding for 4, breathing out for 6, and holding empty for 4. See which version suits you best.
It is rare when meditating that you’ll keep this form of breathing up for very long. It is quite often only for the first minute or so to help you relax before returning your breathing to a normal rate.