How to Breathe Better for Focus & Calm

With distractions coming at us from every direction on a daily basis, it’s no wonder why many of us have difficulty staying focused and getting things accomplished efficiently. That’s when stress really kicks in and we forget even the most basic, important tasks like proper breathing. Unfortunately, stressful situations are usually when we should focus on our breathing methods and use our breath to help us focus and relieve stress. Bad breathing habits are a detriment to everyday performance.

Luckily, we can learn how to breathe better, not just when stress hits, but every day. Just like professional athletes and yogis use breathing to focus on their training and further their practice, you too can incorporate breathing techniques into your day that slow distracting thoughts and help you find the clarity you need. So try out one of the following techniques to find out how to breathe better for focus and productivity.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

While breathing is an automatic function, breathing correctly does not always come naturally to everyone and it can become even harder under pressure. Improper or inefficient breathing comes from the upper chest area. We also fall into shallow breathing patterns when we get stressed out. The best way to breathe better is to use your diaphragmatic muscle, your natural breathing muscle, to inhale and exhale.

To correct your breathing pattern and engage in diaphragmatic breathing, start by relaxing your shoulders and sitting back or lying down. Place one hand on your belly, under your ribs, and the other on your chest. Inhale until your stomach pushes your hand out and air moves into your abdomen. Your hand on your chest shouldn’t move at all. Then slowly exhale the breath from your belly through your lips; you should feel your stomach deflate with your hand on it.

When you need a moment to catch your breath, close your eyes and practice this deep breathing technique. Utilizing this breath muscle will help you practice proper breathing in the long run.

Pursed-Lips Breathing

Pursed-lips breathing gives you a moment to slow down your breath. Some find this exercise easier to learn than diaphragmatic breathing.

Start by inhaling slowly through your nostrils. Then you’ll pucker your lips, as if you’re about to blow on something, and breathe out slowly through those pursed lips. Your exhale should take twice as long as as your inhale breath.

Repeat until you feel your breathing pattern slow down and your mind clears up.

Focus on Deep Breathing

Deep, equal breathing can bring focus to your breath and calm your nerves. Start by taking a deep breath in through your nose, counting to four as you inhale. As you breathe in, focus on the feeling of your lungs filling up with air and your belly rising. Then, slowly exhale to the count of four. As you exhale, focus on the breath leaving your body and how it feels.

Do this five to 10 times, each time counting to four. If you’re a more seasoned breather, try lengthening the breath by one second each time you inhale, up to eight seconds.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Another technique you can use is alternate nostril breathing, which increases focus and energy. Studies have shown that breathing through your left nostril can have a calming effect while breathing through your right nostril will give you energy.

To try this simple technique, simply close off your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale slowly through your left nostril. Pause for a moment. Now release your right thumb and close your left nostril with your left thumb and exhale slowly through your right nostril. Then alternate sides by inhaling through the right and exhaling through the left. Repeat several times, starting with just a few repetitions and building up over time.

This may look a little silly at the office, but it will help you breathe better and become more focused.

Mindful Breathing

Find a quiet and comfortable place, if possible. If all you have is your desk, that works too. Just try to find a time when you’re least likely to be disturbed by coworkers or other distractions. Close your eyes if it helps.

Start breathing in slowly through your nose, and exhaling slowly through your nose. Try to take 10 breaths, with each breath being longer than the one before. While you’re breathing, try to quiet the chatter in your mind by focusing just on what your body is doing. Focus on your lungs filling with air and expanding. Then focus on how your body feels as you exhale all of the air out of your lungs. If a stress-evoking thought enters your mind, dismiss it and go back to focusing on your breathing.

How to Breathe Better for Focus & Calm

Breathe to Find Focus

Before a Presentation:

If you’re feeling nervous about an upcoming exam or presentation, breathing exercises can make a huge difference. When you’re nervous, your breath becomes more shallow and restricted, decreasing the flow of oxygen to your body. Without adequate oxygen to the brain, your concentration and energy start to dissipate. Taking deep breaths before a big event can get that oxygen flowing once again, improving your focus and quieting the butterflies that are flying around in your stomach. Not only that, but studies have shown that practicing breathing exercises before exams can lead to reduced anxiety.

Focus in the Office:

You’re faced with multiple deadlines, your boss keeps adding items to your list of things to do and your colleagues keep coming to your desk to discuss the latest Games of Thrones episode. If, like many of us, you find yourself distracted at work, focusing on breathing can help you concentrate and stay present. It doesn’t take much time out of your busy day.

HOW TO Breathe Better for Health

Controlling Your Cortisol:

Cortisol, the hormone released in stressful situations that raises your blood pressure, is a sure way to set your body and your mind into panic mode, shifting your focus to anything but what you’re trying to accomplish. By breathing through stressful situations, your stress levels decrease and you reduce the level of cortisol in your bloodstream.

According to Dr. Andrew Weil, “Practicing regular, mindful breathing can be calming and energizing and can even help with stress-related health problems ranging from panic attacks to digestive disorders.”

Quiet an Anxious Mind:

Many people suffering from anxiety also find that their breathing feels restricted and shallow. This restricted and shallow breathing doesn’t allow for adequate oxygen to the brain and muscles, resulting in more stress. This cyclical pattern is what causes people to become entirely overwhelmed and lose focus on their personal and professional lives.

Dr. Miriam Adahan says, “When you keep breathing calmly or moving purposefully, your muscles will teach your brain that there is no real danger.”

You can work to deepen your breathing and let go of the tension in your body and lungs by focused breathing exercises. By trying any of the breathing techniques above, you can quiet your anxiety and find calm and balance. It might not be easy at first, especially if you have moderate to severe stress or anxiety. Over time, however, your body will become trained so that deep breathing becomes second nature.

Have some favorite breathing techniques that help get you focused? Please share them in the comments section.

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