12 Best Books on Breathing and Breathwork - 2021

Our editorial team pools in their knowledge to round up the best books on breathing, how to breathe, and breathwork - spiritual, scientific, and everything in between.

man reading books on breathing and breathwork

It may invoke hysterics when we say we need books on how to breathe. Shrug it off. People have always been curious about the breath. Why not? It’s an odd thing to be ignorant about, especially since you do it roughly 23,000 times a day.


But what defines the breath? Is it a biological function necessitated by survival? The movement of life energy controlled by breathwork? A secret source of ecstasy and enlightenment? Or an actionable science-backed exercise to optimally deal with mental and physical tasks?


Books on breathing and breathwork range a wide span of topics such as –

  • Biographical books on breathing traditions

  • Books on breathwork in spiritual practices

  • Books on breathing techniques that are lab-tested and backed by science

  • Books on breathing to relax or supercharge (non-spiritual)

From Wim Hof's zealous ideas to change consciousness to eastern breath secrets of Tibetan Tantra and Yoga Kundalini, there is a common consensus among the best books on breathing - it should be conscious. That when done correctly, the breath improves every facet of life.


Some readers search through a scientific lens and others seek books about the relationship between breathing and consciousness. We took the liberty to include everything from books on breathing in yoga to Buddha's teachings and the anatomy of the apparatus involved.


Here, a list of our favorite books on breathing to deepen your understanding of the breath.


1. Breathe, You are Alive by THICH NHAT HANH

'Breathe! You are alive' by Thich Nhat Hanh book cover

Breath, You are Alive is one of the bestselling books on breathing for the spiritually curious beginner. Thich Nhat Hanh outlines the conscious breathing practices based on the teachings of Buddha. He details 16 breathing techniques for better physical/mental health and spiritual exultation. Hanh’s book draws from Buddhism but it is not religious. It can be used by anyone to wishes to breathe to their benefit.


What is the book about?


The book uses simple, easy-to-understand language and direct, actionable words. Hanh explains how to breathe at various levels. They range from ways to combat stressful situations to more progressive meditation practices. Hanh succinctly walks the reader through easy-to-implement breathwork without clouding it with esoteric philosophy. They are profound methods but equally approachable by a beginner. Breath, You are Alive does not promise enlightenment, but it guarantees your time and money’s worth.


Type: Buddhist / Conscious Breathing | Exercises: 16 | Pages: 104 | Buy on Amazon


2. Anatomy of Breathing by Blandine Calais-Germain

Anatomy of Breathing Book Cover

Scientific jargon is confusing and intimidating to a layperson. It poses a challenge to most writers who set out to elucidate the framework and complex network of breathing. Not this book. The Anatomy of Breathing outlines the minutest details about the breathing apparatus, the mechanisms involved, and how it relates to other activities – both physical and mental.


What is the book about?


The book is a tome of knowledge that details the role of organs, muscles, and other forces involved in breathing. Blandine communicates these concepts using approachable, non-specialist language. She employs exceptional illustrations to convey her ideas effectively. The second half of the book outlines the different types of breathing and how to find out which category you belong to. To conclude, Blandine details costal, abdominal, and diaphragmatic breathing with some exercises.


Type: Science/Biology | Exercises: Multiple | Pages: 232 |Buy on Amazon


3. Breathing: The Master Key to Healing by Dr. Andrew Weil

Breathing by Andrew Weil book cover

Andrew Weil is a celebrity doctor best known for his take on integrative medicine and the 4-7-8 breathing technique. I have enjoyed listening to Dr. Weil since I first bumped into him on the Joe Rogan Podcast many years ago. He has compiled his wisdom on breathing in this book. Well, this one is an audiobook on breathing, but an equally commendable one nonetheless. You can get it on iTunes or, better yet, listen to it using Amazon Audible's 1-month trial (free).


What is the book about?


The Master Key to Healing contains two parts. The first part is a talk by Dr. Weil on the mechanisms and importance of breathing. The second part contains the actual exercises. You can use it as a ‘guided’ breathing until you remember them. The exercises are actionable and easy to follow. Breathwork can be done anytime and anywhere with no spiritual connotation (except a few with a meditation element). The exercises include techniques to lower resting heart rate and blood pressure, tackle sleep disorders, and ways to calm the nerves and mind.


Type: Breathwork | Exercises: 8 | Available on Amazon Audible


4. Exhale by Richie Bostock

Exhale by Richie Bostock book cover

Richie Bostock is better known as the 'Breath Guy.' – a modern-day breathing coach who has dedicated his entire life to the discipline. He has coached several high-profile athletes and organizations such as Unilever, Ernst & Young, and Google. Richie Bostock draws upon his vast knowledge of scientific and spiritual traditions across the world.


What is the book about?


This 240-page book is about learning and understanding the impact of breathing through scientifically validated exercises. Bostock uses every known resource to formulate 40 'breathing strategies' for varying benefits and better health. Some techniques are based on ancient traditions, and others are lab-derived breathwork used in sports and combat training. The exercises can be used for athletic training, improving endurance/performance, better cardio-health, among other things. It includes easy practices that teach you how to breathe to reduce stress, control anxiety, improve focus, and achieve better sleep.


Type: Practical | Exercises: 40 | Pages: 240 | Buy on Amazon | Free on Audible (Trial)


5. The Wim Hof Method: Activate Your Full Human Potential

'The Wim Hof Method' by Wim Hof book cover

Wim Hof achieved cult status in the past decade thanks to his charming personality, incredulous resilience, and insatiable hunger to spread his knowledge about the spiritual connection between breathing and well-being. This book is the definitive guide to his method, written by the legend himself. It presents his spirited insights on how to breathe and a regimen for pushing past your conditioning via exercises and exposure to the elements.


What is the book about?


In the true bombastic fashion of a wild yogi, Wim "The Iceman" Hof takes you on a journey of self-healing with the perfect blend of spirituality, science, and storytelling. His book is positive, inspiring, and full of scientifically backed techniques worth exploring. Wim also offers the same knowledge through his (completely) free app. However, the book is worth reading for its die-hard enthusiasm and superb storytelling. If you are intrigued by the man, as you should be, the hard copy is the next best thing to breathing and “chilling out” with him. All pun intended.


Type: Wim Hof Method | 232 Pages| Buy on Amazon | Free on Amazon Audible


6. Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor

'Breath' by James Nestor book cover

This book on breathing presents James Nestor’s fascinating (and thoroughly researched) take on the innocuous act of breathing. In doing so, it has been decorated with NPR’s Best Book for 2020 and a New York Times Bestseller. The compelling book explores the technical and mystical significance of breathing only to discover that modern civilization has botched it up – big time.


What is the book about?


Roughly 300 pages, the book is divided into ten chapters that examine breathing through a scientific and spiritual lens. From deep diving to pulmonology labs, the author travels the world to track how we breathe, and why it is crucial to build and teach the science of breathing. It explores the cultural impact of stress and pollution, the spiritual traditions like kriyas and pranayama, and scientific tinkering that tests new and ancient ways of breathing as something more than a simple inhale-exhale process.


Type: Biographical | 304 Pages| Buy on Amazon | Free on Amazon Audible


7. The Oxygen Advantage by Patrick McKeown

'The Oxygen Advantage' by Patrick McKeown book cover

McKeown has trained thousands of people before he wrote this bestselling book on breathing. His clientele includes some impressive names of professional athletes, celebrities, and business leaders. The crux of his book is adopting the right approach to how much oxygen you use by controlling the rate of your breathing. In simple words, how to use less oxygen for more impact. It’s an approach that applies to weight loss/gain, athletic performance, and improving focus, among other things.


What is the book about?


The Oxygen Advantage addresses how to breathe, chronic over-breathing, and how breathing can become a hurdle to good health when not done correctly. Over-breathing refers to breathing more times per minute than your need to. McKeown explains the bidirectional relationship between the body and the breath (oxygen). It is based on a BOLT Score – Body Oxygen Level Test – which measures how efficiently we use oxygen. The breathwork techniques in the book address how to increase fitness levels, lose or gain weight, and improve cardiovascular health among other things.


Type: BOLT Based Breathing | Exercises: 8 Programs| 368 Pages | Buy on Amazon


8. Light on Pranayama by B.K.S Iyengar

Light on Pranayama by BKS Iyengar book cover

You say we breathe air; he says we breathe energy. We (Prana Sutra) agree – we breathe energy, and this book does a great job at justifying our existence as a website. We have said it before - Light on Pranayama is the ultimate compendium on yoga breathing.


B.K.S Iyengar has gone farther than any of his predecessors to compile his vast knowledge about pranayama. It is a must-have book for anyone who is into yoga. We won’t venture into details, but you can read our full review in the best books to learn pranayama.


Type: Yoga/Pranayama | Exercises: Loads| 344 pages | Buy on Amazon


9. Conscious Breathing by Anders Olsson

'Conscious Breathing' by Anders Olsson book cover

Conscious Breathing is a comprehensive book on breathing for modern readers who want a systematic guide backed by research. Anders Olsson couples his expertise with empirical evidence to show how breathing sets you on the path to be healthier and happier. The book introduces the reader to the tremendous impact breathing has on us. It proceeds to the common obstacles and rounds them up with good breathing habits and how to achieve them.


What does the book cover?


This book has several tools to improve quality of life, health, energy levels, among other things. Olsson communicates his ideas in a well-structured manner using easy-to-grasp language. There is lots of work with in the book, but much of it lies buried under other material. Olsson goes into great (perhaps, too much) detail about the benefits of breathing at times. It may have been better to have a separate section of actionable exercises.


Type: Self-Help | Exercises: Multiple | 267 pages | Buy on Amazon


10. A Life Worth Breathing by Max Strom

'A Life Worth Breathing' by Max Strom book cover

Those who are on the path of spiritual growth know it to be richer in self-doubt than self-improvement. Max Storm walks you through a series of thoughts, ideas, and transformative exercises bereft of classical terms in this book. Strom borrows from the eastern philosophy to demonstrate how to live a life of gratitude rather than being hypercritical or self-sabotaging.


What is the book about?


The book is best described as the author’s reminiscence of lived experiences and sharing the wisdom attained through it. The text exhibits an authentic and sincere tone, which is why it's all the more relatable. His anecdotes are inspiring; a charming retelling of how he discovered yoga and the circumstances in which it transformed him. While it is mostly about spiritual insights and lessons, they are soul-stirring enough to prompt you to cultivate an earnest practice.

The book has more to do with self-help than it has to do with breathing or outlining a yoga regimen. Nevertheless, it does a great job of reminding the reader why awareness and forgiveness are at the heart of self-discovery.

Type: Anecdotal/Storytelling | Exercises: N/A | 240 pages | Free on Audible


11. Art of Breathing: Secret to Mindful Living by Danny Penman

''The Art of Breathing' by Danny Penman book cover

The Art of Breathing is a concise book about learning how to navigate the inner and outer world through mindful breathing. It is anchored to the concept of mindfulness as a means to inner peace. The book has a foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine. The author, Danny Penman (PhD), advocates forming an intimate relationship with the breath. And, as the book emphasizes - all you need is a chair, fresh air, and the willingness to regain control of your life.


What is the book about?


The book does not delve into anatomy or science. It takes astronomy, changing seasons, mindfulness and pieces them together with the thread of mindful breathing. It is partly philosophic, and somewhat esoteric, but will appeal to anyone who aspires to mindful living. That said, the book also demonstrates ideas on how to breathe to manage stress, improve quality of life, and unleash your mind. It promises to open doors to a more mindful life where you can discover what makes you happy and at peace.


12. The Illuminated Breath by Dylan Werner

'The Illuminated Breath' by Dylan Wener book cover

Dylan Werner drums up his years of yoga practice to find breathing exercises for everyday life. In doing so, he has created a book full of breathwork exercises backed by a rich history. He does well to explain prana – the flow of energy – and how it is the breath cycle that influences our everyday life. For a Western audience, especially those with no prior experience with yoga, this could be a much-needed guide to pranayama practices.


What is the book about?


The author’s writing style is affable, inviting, and rife with pockets of humor. The book structures content in the best manner possible, with masterful use of storytelling and a generous dose of science and spirituality. The book also includes some of the best ideas on how to breathe to improve performance, sleep quality, cognitive function. Additionally, you can find practical sequences to manage stress and reduce anxiety through optimal breathing.


Parting Thoughts


Our list of the best books on breathing is an amalgam of the scientific and spiritual literature on the subject. After all, the two terms aren't antagonistic. The modern reader knows that we must draw from both worlds as we move forward. We highly recommend learning advanced or complex breathing interventions from properly trained experts or physiotherapists.


There is no doubt in our minds that there are immense benefits of books on how to breathe. Breathing techniques have many therapeutic uses but are not a silver bullet. Some books on breathing peddle overblown claims about the benefits of breathwork. They should meet a skeptical eye and proper research on part of the reader. Never use breathing exercises as an alternative to ongoing medical treatment without discussing it with your healthcare giver.


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