Learning to Breath for Better Focus & Improved Performance
Breathing affects every system in your body (cardiovascular, nervous, endocrine, lymph, immune, digestive, and of course, respiratory). The way you breathe has a lot to do with your quality of life.
Breathing properly can decrease stress and muscle tension, calm your nerves, sharpen your focus, minimize negative and distracting thoughts, reduce fatigue, and promote stamina. Unfortunately, proper breathing is often an overlooked component of daily living.
If you watch a baby breathe, you will see the infant’s belly rise and fall with each breath. Unfortunately, most of us long ago stopped breathing the way we did when we were babies. Our cultural upbringing (“suck in that gut”) and the development of bad habits (like slouching) have resulted in shallow (or chest) breathing.
Compared to diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing, chest-breathing results in increased heart and breathing rates. Shallow breathing can make your neck and shoulder muscles tense and activate your body’s stress response.
The good news is that with a little training, you can learn – or relearn – a simple way of breathing that can transform your health.
To practice diaphragmatic breathing:
- Sit upright in a chair or lie down on the floor with your knees bent. Close your eyes and visualize your shoulders melting away from your ears.
- Place the hand that you write with beneath your navel and the other hand just above your navel.
- Breathe in deeply through your nose into the hand just below the navel. Allow this area to fill like a balloon. Next, feel the rib cage, where your other hand is, expand as the middle portion of the lungs are filled. Finally, fill the upper third of the lungs.
- Exhale slowly, contracting your belly as you breathe out.
- Keep the focus on breathing – “being with” each inhalation for its full duration and with each exhalation for its full duration.
- Repeat for five to 10 minutes and then go about your daily activities. Slow, rhythmic diaphragmatic breathing gives you a feeling of relaxed energy.
During times of stress, notice your shoulders, neck, and jaw. Try to relax these areas and visualize your breath flowing into and out of the deepest part of your lungs.
Anytime you would like to reduce tension and stress and enter into a calmer state of mind and body, shift into slow, abdominal breathing for a minute or two. You’ll feel the results almost immediately.