Breathing Mantras To Help Your Running Flow

This post is part of the The Balanced Runner Keys series.

A while back I wrote about how to reduce asymmetries in your gait and improve your endurance by alternating which foot you breathe out on. I teach this to my clients and in my online running camp, and some runners tell me they absolutely love the way it makes them feel. Others, however, tell me it’s hard to count their footsteps and hard to get used to the breathing pattern. They just keep getting confused.

I was out for a run the other day — my foot is finally healed enough to run again, hooray! — and found myself reflecting on the mysterious effects of this breathing pattern, which somehow makes running more rhythmic until it’s almost as if your body were running by itself. Or another metaphor: perhaps it’s like riding a train with a soothing, old-fashioned clickety-clack, clickety-clack as you look out the window at the landscape gliding by.

In other words, the effect is very meditative.

And that realization suggested a solution for runners who find the breathing pattern confusing and difficult. A common meditation technique is to pay attention to your breath, and to repeat a mantra, or repeated words or phrases, to help you do it. Examples include this one from Thich Nat Hanh and this one from Deepak Chopra.

Using a mantra can also help you find a groove that connects your breathing with your footstrikes in alternating fashion and even heighten the meditative effect of using the breathing pattern. I’m currently running at seven footfalls per breath cycle, so I made this little mantra to help me know when to breathe in and when to breathe out, and I repeated it silently in rhythm with my footfalls:

Running Breath Mantra

Now I breathe in,

Now breathe out.

That’s four syllables in the first line, matching up with four footfalls, and three syllables in the second line, matching up with three footfalls. Then I start immediately on the first line again on the very next footfall.

You could use this or, if you’re running at five footfalls rather than seven per breath cycle, try this one:

Now breathe in,

Now out.

Three footfalls per breath cycle could be:

Breathe in,


You could make up one for nine footfalls per breath cycle as well; I like to run at that pace though I haven’t been doing it lately. If you’re doing MAF training you’ll likely want that one, and though you should verify it with a heartrate monitor that might be an effective way to keep yourself in your aerobic heart rate.

You can also make up your own breathing mantras with things that matter to you, like maybe,

Running smoothly,

Running free.

That’s seven footfalls.

Let’s make a list to inspire each other! Next time you go for a run, try out different phrases and share ones you like in the comments.

7 thoughts on “Breathing Mantras To Help Your Running Flow”

  1. I’ve been using the 3 / 2 breathing pattern since having a taster session of your technique. I like it, but, when I want to up the pace, I also like to count strides to keep my cadence up. I can’t marry up the 3 / 2 and the counting (I’m obviously not up to simple mental arithmetic when I run). Any ideas?

    • Hi Francesca. Two things come to mind on this one. First, maybe counting isn’t the way to go, maybe you need a song in 3/2 meter to run to. Sting is always a good source of songs in interesting meters, for example. But the other thought is this: I’m not sure increasing your cadence and keeping it there is your best way of running faster. Increasing your cadence to accelerate to your new speed and then lengthening your stride to stay there while dropping back down to your usual cadence is a better strategy. If you just move your face forward more this will all happen automatically… give that a try and see how it works for you.

  2. Hi Jae,
    I really enjoy your posts. Thank you! For a couple of years I have been practicing nose breathing while running and it has been good. Also I tend to count my footfalls in groups of three figuring about three per second is around the cadence I want. In my quest to learn more about nose breathing I found Patrick McKeown, who writes about the Buteyko breathing method. It has been used for treating asthma, but more recently for improving performance in sports. Patrick McKeown just came out with a new book called “The Oxygen Advantage” that I am about half way through right now. It is already helping my running, allowing me to control my breathing and even it out and get more oxygen to my muscles. I think this book is really onto something and has more information than I have been able to find in other places all in one place. I hope you consider checking it out and maybe even doing an interview or something with Patrick.
    Thank you again for your great posts!

    • Thanks for the tip, Scott. I have mixed feelings about nose breathing when running, since closing your mouth reduces your ability to move your face forward. Still working on that one, though, and could use more information, so I’ll check out the book.

  3. Footfalls and Breathing pattern did not really occur to me until you talked about it in the CAP. My first try was difficult. I figured out why. The reason is that I was trying to adjust the footfall to the breathing. There is significant mass in your leg and it does not do well trying to adjust. The easy way is to adjust the breathing to your footfalls. I have not tried the mantra but I think that must help keep the focus on the breath and not changing the footfall rate. In any case, it is interesting to change from an odd number to even number and during the even number footfalls, change the exhale from side to side. What runners do during running is really interesting. Thanks for everything Jae. Tom

    • Great to hear from you, Tom, and glad you’ve sorted it out! BTW it’s an odd number of footfalls per breathing cycle that should result in alternating which foot you breathe out on…

  4. I’m not a runner due to past injuries; however, I still use Breathing Pattern Mantra as part of my routine and it works great.


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