Water, Whiskey, Coffee – Breathing Exercises Explained

Article by Lucas Rockwood

You probably know that breathing exercises can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve sleep, balance energy, and boost digestion. But with so many different books and teachers, it can be challenging to determine which practice is right for you.

In this report, we’ll segment breathing into three simple categories water, whiskey, and coffee—and then we’ll experiment with a single practice in each of the three styles. Water practices balance your nervous system. Whiskey category practices, like the name suggests, make you sleepy; and coffee category practices rev you up for activity.

Water Category Breathing (Balancing)

Balancing practices are designed to calm you down if you’re over-stimulated, and to boost your energy if you’re feeling lethargic. Just like a glass of water, balancing practices are appropriate at any time. Your goal is to target four to six breaths per minute which is about half the rate you’re breathing now—but double the volume. Think of this as steady, deep breaths.

Here’s how to practice:

  • Inhale through your nose 1-2-3-4
  • Exhale through your nose 4-3-2-1
  • Repeat for 10 rounds

Whiskey Category Breathing Exercises (Relaxing/Sleep-Inducing)

Deeply relaxing breathing practices stimulate the parasympathetic, rest-and-digest branch of your autonomic nervous system. The slow rate of breath boosts your carbon dioxide levels, opens your breathing passageways, slows your heart, and lowers your cortisol levels. Whiskey category breathing practices typically follow a rate of three breaths per minute or slower. Think of this as super slow, deep breathing, and since it makes you sleepy, we usually do this before bed.

Here’s how to practice:

  • Inhale through your nose 1-2-3-4
  • Exhale through your nose for 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1
  • Repeat for 10 rounds

Coffee Category Breathing Exercises (Stimulating/Energizing)

Like the name suggests, coffee category breathing exercises rev up your sympathetic nervous system. These practices are most appropriate first thing in the morning or right before exercise. The go-to coffee category practice is called, kapalabhati or breath of fire. It sounds and feels like a sharp sneeze as you use your abdomen to force the exhale. The inhale happens automatically as you relax between forced exhales.

Here’s how to practice:

  • Forcefully exhale by engaging your lower abdomen
  • Sneeze the breath out in a short, sharp sneeze
  • Relax and allow the inhale to happen naturally
  • Repeat for 20 rounds at a pace of 1 exhale per second

Download PDF guide

Best Practices

  • Coffee Practices – 20 x rounds, first thing in the morning or before exercise
  • Water Practices – 10 x rounds, anytime
  • Whiskey Practices – 10 x rounds, at night before bed

Breathing Exercises and Safety

Please remember that whiskey category breathing exercises make you sleepy. So, you should never practice them while driving or operating machinery. Always make sure that you’re sitting down and in a safe environment.

If you are pregnant or suffer from asthma, COPD, or any other respiratory illness, avoid coffee category breathing practices. In all cases, you should check with a trusted healthcare provider before starting any self-care routine.