Water, Whiskey, Coffee Breath: Breathing as a Health Tool

by Lucas Rockwood

Have you ever accidentally stepped or drove into a street to see an oncoming car? What was your reaction?

Let me guess… a big, fat inhale; a gasp. That’s your body’s automatic reaction to controlling your breath as it sees fit for the situation.

But what if I told you you could very simply, with some practice, take control of your breathing?

Your breathing pattern is defined primarily by your rate of breathing, meaning how fast or how slowly you breathe. As you’re reading this now, you’re probably breathing about 8-15 breathes per minute. This slightly-elevated breathing pattern is the “normal” in today’s busy world.

Breathing is something we rarely think about and yet the power of smooth, calculated breaths positively affects us both mentally and physically. Alternatively, the overuse or misuse of such techniques can leave you feeling weak, anxious, and fatigued.

Here, you’ll learn three breathing techniques you can use when you are in need of a pick-me-up, reduced stress, or energy; using water breath, whiskey breath, and coffee breath, respectively.

Let’s begin with the most important breathing technique: Water Breathing.

Water Breath (AKA Balanced Breathing) moves at 4-6 breathes per minute.

When you breathe 4-6 breaths per minute, it has an adaptogenic effect on your nervous system. If you’re up, it will bring you down; if you’re down, it will bring you up. You can practice Water Breath standing, seated, lying down, and even while driving.

Like drinking a glass of water, it’s always safe, always appropriate, and always healthful.

  • Practice any time, day or night
  • Use before high-stress meetings or presentations
  • Use if you’re feeling sluggish midday
  • Use during all yoga practices and low-intensity exercise

How to Practice:

  • Inhale through your nose to the count of 1-2-3-4
  • Exhale through your nose to the count of 4-3-2-1
  • Repeat for at least 10 rounds (approx 5 min)

Now I’ll teach you the second most important practice: Whiskey Breath.

Whiskey Breath (AKA Down-Regulating Breath) moves at < 4 breaths per minute.

When you reduce your breath below 4 breaths per minute, it triggers a strong parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system response, reduces your heart rate, reduces activity in skeletal muscles, and improves digestion.

This type of breathing is great after meals, in the evening, and most commonly, right before bed. This practice should be done seated or lying down, and never while driving or doing anything standing or active.

It’s common for students to fall asleep while using Whiskey Breath, so it should be used with care.

  • Use primarily before bed
  • Can be used (with care) to reduce intense stress or anxiety
  • After eating, this breathing pattern can aid in digestion

How to Practice:

  • Sit down or lie down in bed
  • Inhale through your nose to the count of 1-2-3-4
  • Hold 1-2-3-4
  • Exhale through your nose to the count of 4-3-2-1
  • Hold 4-3-2-1
  • Repeat for at least 10 rounds (approx 10 min)
  • Practice only while seated or lying down (never while driving)

The final practice is Coffee Breath. This is the practice everyone wants, but rarely the one we really need – except in very small amounts at very specific times.

Coffee Breath (AKA Up-Regulating) moves at > 20 breaths per minute.

When you breathe at the rate of 20 breaths per minute or more, it stimulates your sympathetic nervous system which is ideal before exercise, before busy or task-related work, and also in the morning. Rapid breathing reduces CO2 in the bloodstream which leads to constriction of your breathing passageways and veins, so it should be practiced briefly, with care, and only at appropriate times. Never practice while driving.

  • Use first thing in the morning
  • Use just before yoga or exercise

How to Practice:

  • Sit down on the floor or in a chair
  • Exhale sharply through your nose as if sneezing
  • Keep your face, neck, shoulders, and chest still while you “sneeze” the air out
  • After you force the air out, relax and let the partial inhale happen all on its own
  • Repeat for 20 rounds
  • Rest
  • Repeat for 20 rounds
  • Rest
  • Repeat a third time

Do not practice this for more than 10 minutes (total).

Breathing, when controlled, can have all sorts of health-improving impacts when you learn how to harness your breath. You’ve learned the fundamentals of yoga breathing: water, whiskey, and coffee and some simple practice to get you started, and now it’s up to you to get back in control.