Today, breathing practices help many bring greater focus and awareness to their daily lives. It is estimated by some breathing professionals and researchers that greater than 50% of the population has some version of breathing dysfunction.
Sometimes the dysfunctions can be stress induced. The facts are that many studies have linked stress with poor mental and physical performance. However, the great news is researchers have also proposed solutions to help us all improve our daily lives to reduce stress and strengthen our focus abilities.
For example, the negative effects of stress and emotions could be reduced or prevented by different forms of breathing techniques including relaxation and meditation, (Jerath et al., 2015). We will focus on those techniques here in this article.
(Source: The American Institute of Stress/https://www.stress.org/daily-life)
To underscore the scientific research, another study said that “Generalized Stress Response” symptoms can be physical, and behavioral in nature (Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, 2000), which may include anxiety, procrastination, impatience, slowed thinking or racing thoughts and other such issues.
This was supported in a paper titled, “Stress in the Workplace: A General Overview of the Causes, the Effects, and the Solutions” by Melanie Bickford. It makes you consider how breathing is affected when stress is present.
There are many reasons why it matters how to breathe but it demonstrates a clear linkage between mental thoughts of stress and physical wellness.
So, what are different breathing techniques that help counter the most stressful moments in life? Examples of some of these stressful moments can be how to relax during a panic attack.
How to calmly deliver a big presentation? How to decompress from misbehaved kids? Think about how you have stressed out in a moment. How did you handle it? How do you bring focus and attention to what is most important at the moment? Some breath techniques include lifestyle changes using yoga, meditation, breathwork, Qigong, Tummo and so many more.
What’s important is finding the technique that works best when you need it. Many times in life we have inflection moments that cause stress. Having the best preventative tool always available immediately and free with you is your most powerful resource.
Why Choose Breathwork
Breathwork takes a systematic approach with breathing techniques. Some techniques need more physical energy while others may be more about mental work. Many can find the mental focus work challenging in initial stages.
This is the main reason why many choose breathwork as it is a quicker and more powerful approach to get immediate and long term results for your health.
Below are some Breathwork tips, including types of breathing exercises, that can help strengthen your attention & focus:
Box Breathing Technique:
Box Breathing technique, also known as the Four-Square Breathing, includes breathing in, holding and exhaling all while slowly counting to four for four times. Mark Divine, former US Navy SEALs Commander, author of “The Way of the SEAL” and founder of SEALFIT, told Forbes that the focusing and relaxing effects of box breathing are noticeable within just a few minutes of practicing the technique.
To note, box breathing is used by the navy seals, which are considered America’s finest Special Ops forces. Thus, box breathing is a good bet if you are looking for breathing techniques for concentration.
How to do Box Breathing:
Step 1: Start with the visual of a box with four boxes. The technique lies in moving to one box to the next as one counts to four.
Step 2: Slowly Inhale as you count to four. Try focussing on the air filling your lungs fully.
Step 3: Hold your breath as you count four seconds.
Step 4: In the same way, count to four as you exhale slowly through the mouth and getting out all the air out of the lungs at once.
Similar to box breathing, this method includes counting to four. However, it differs because this technique focuses on slowing the breathing rate by breathing through the nostrils, limited to counting to four for every inhale and exhale and no breath hold after the inhale and exhale.
Ed Harrold, author, breath expert, coach and educator who is known for applying breath science to improve health, well-being and performance, recommends unilateral breathing.
Breathing at a rate of 10 breaths or less in this channel, this technique involves inhaling up the right nasal channel and exhaling out the left nasal channel without holding the breath.
Alternate Nose Breathing (Anulom Vilom):
Another breathing exercise is Anulom Vilom, which has a similar technique.
The 2013 study, “Effect of short-term practice of pranayamic breathing exercises on cognition, anxiety, general well being and heart rate variability”, was conducted to find out the impact of Bhastrika and Anulom Vilom Pranayam and yogasana on heart rate variability, general well being, cognition and anxiety levels of the medical students.
The research illustrated that practicing the slow breathing type of pranayam for six weeks enhances cognition and anxiety, increases the parasympathetic activity as well as general wellbeing.
How to Practice Anulom Vilom Breathing:
Step 1: Sit comfortably with your spine and neck straight. Close your eyes.
Step 2: Place the thumb on the right nostril with your ring finger on your left nostril.
Step 3: Close the right nostril with your thumb and inhale through your left nostril, slowly and deeply, until your lungs are full.
Step 4: Release the thumb on the nostril and then close your left nostril with the ring finger.
Step 5: Exhale slowly through the right nostril.
Step: 6: Practice it in reverse, inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling through the left
3. 4-7-8 Breathing Method: Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., a known name in the field of integrative medicine, which encompasses body, mind, and spirit, recommends the 4-7-8 method on his page.
According to him, it is a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system” and helps calm the mind. He proposes that one uses this relaxing technique whenever one feels internal tension or stress to bring oneself back to the present. Practice this at least twice a day but not too frequently, he says.
How to do 4-7-8 exercise:
Step 1: Exhale through your mouth completely while making a whoosh sound.
Step 2: Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose while mentally counting to four.
Step 3: Hold the breath while counting to seven.
Step 4: Exhale completely through your mouth, again making a whoosh sound while counting to eight.
Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four cycles.
4: Bellows Breath: The Stimulating Breath
A yogic breathing technique, the Stimulating Breath method is a yogic breathing techniques and a form of diaphragmatic breathing exercise. Dr. Weil says this breathing exercise works for focus and energy.
How to do the Bellows Breath:
Step 1: Keeping your mouth closed in a relaxed manner, inhale and exhale in rapid motions through your nose. (Note that your breaths in and out should be equal in duration, but remember to keep them as short as possible.)
Step 2: Go for three in-and-out breath cycles per second. This produces a quick movement of the diaphragm, suggesting a “bellows”. (Breathe normally after each cycle.)
However, the doctor cautions that it should not be done for more than 15 seconds on the first try. He recommends that each time you practice the Stimulating Breath(Bellows Breath), you can try to increase your time by five seconds, till you reach a full minute.
This will make you feel invigorated, similar to how you feel the heightened awareness after a good workout, if done properly.
You find that these practices may converge with other disciples in their techniques. So, while these may or may not be different, the journey and goals may surely be the same.
A Word of Caution
As a breathwork beginner, breathing techniques can be challenging and strenuous. If they are not done right, breathwork can have dangerous side effects as they may lead to hyperventilating, dizziness, anxiety, distress and such issues.
Please consult with your medical professional before ever changing any practices or consider signing up for coaching from a professional coach to master and practice breathwork.
In summary, we are all busy living without much thought about how the stresses in life can cause us to lose attention and focus. Our peak performance is disrupted time and time again causing potential breathing dysfunctions that could become serious over time.
We all experience stress in our lives. How we handle repeated stress determines our resiliency. Consider the long term effects on your mental focus and physical wellbeing when we repeatedly feel bad with poor mental and physical practice.
Breathing is a simple tool to achieve optimal health performance so you can achieve more of what you want in life.