Although we hear all the time about the benefits of yoga, meditation, and all kinds of other techniques for improving focus, flexibility, mindfulness, and calm, they’re not for everyone.
Not all of us have the physical ability to do yoga—although chair yoga can be gentle on achy joints.
Not all of us have half an hour to devote to meditation every day—although, really, you only need about 2–5 minutes to get some benefits.
And not all of us have the focus required to clear our minds and sit still as mindfulness requires—although moving meditation can be just as effective.
There’s always an excuse for why you can’t do whatever healthy trend is currently all over Instagram, even if it’s just that you don’t have time between all your other obligations.
So what if I told you that there’s a form of relaxation and focus therapy that you’re already doing every minute of every day?
Breathwork is, quite simply, focused breathing.
You can do that! You breathe all day, every day, without even thinking.
All breathwork asks you to do is to think about it for a change.
Whether you call it breathwork or pranayama, the formal yoga name for controlled breathing, it’s quite simple: a series of focused, controlled breaths that help you relax, focus, concentrate, and be present in the moment.
Although there are hours-long classes devoted to many different kinds of breathwork, some of which even add group therapy sessions to the lineup, and there are hundreds of pranayama classes in yoga studios all over the world, focused breathing at its most basic is incredibly accessible.
All you have to do is count and breathe!
It takes only a few minutes, requires no special equipment, and can be done sitting in your desk chair.
Best of all, you’ll likely find yourself recharged, refreshed, and even experiencing less anxiety and depression, according to some studies. That’s because when we get stressed, we tense up and start breathing shallowly, reducing the amount of oxygen coming in. That makes our bodies start inching into fight-or-flight territory, snowballing into the land of stress and making it hard to calm down and get back into your groove.
When we consciously relax and breathe more deeply and purposefully, we’re short-circuiting that negative loop and giving our bodies what we need to focus.
Six Steps to Refresh
Focused breathing is super-simple to get started with. It only takes 6 steps and less than 5 minutes!
1. Sit Comfortably
To get ready for focused breathing, just sit comfortably. If you want to sit cross-legged on the ground, go for it. If you’d rather hang out in your desk chair, that’s fine, too.
Relax your arms by your side and sit up straight, with your spine lengthened and your shoulders square. Keep your chin lifted slightly.
Close your mouth and breathe through your nose.
2. Breathe from the Belly
To get the most out of your breathing practice, take conscious, deep breaths from your diaphragm.
In simple terms, that just means breathing from your belly, deeply, and feeling your chest and belly expand as you breathe. Most of us take shallow breaths, only inflating the very top of our chests—we never get the deep intake of air that refreshes our bloodstream and floods our bodies and brains with healing, revitalizing oxygen.
3. Find Your Pattern
When you first start doing focused breathing, you might find it hard to take super-long breaths.
That’s okay! Everyone has different inherent rhythms and it’ll take you a little experimentation to find what works best for you.
Start out by breathing in while counting slowly to 2, then breathing out to the same beat. As you get more comfortable, try extending your inhale and exhale.
Most practitioners and coaches suggest that the optimal exhale is twice as long as your inhale: so aim for inhaling for 2, 3, or 4 beats and exhaling for 5, 6, or 7…or even more. Counts of 5 to 10 are totally normal.
You might find that you’re comfortable holding your breath for a little while between the inhale and exhale. Wellness expert Dr. Andrew Weil suggests a pattern of breathing in for 4 counts, holding for 7 counts, and exhaling for 8 counts.
Experiment and see what reduces your stress and boosts your concentration the best. Whatever works for you is the right pattern!
4. Lengthen Your Exhale
When we get stressed, our breathing gets choppy. Count to 3 as you inhale deeply, then count to 5 as you let the air out slowly.
Lengthening the time it takes you to breathe out forces you to relax more of your muscles and focus more on the pattern of your breathing, letting go of whatever might be bothering you.
5. Feel the Rhythm
As you relax, your breathing becomes almost like a wave—the pattern of in-out-in-out matches the feeling of your chest and belly rising and falling.
Focus on that pattern and pretend there’s an ocean wave cresting and falling inside your body, washing away whatever’s bothering you and bringing in a tide of calm, focused relaxation.
Just breathe in and out in a continuous, rolling stream—don’t hold your breath or make any choppy inhalations or exhalations. Ride the wave.
6. Cycle It
As you get used to focused breathing, you’ll figure out when you start to feel refreshed, as your body relaxes and oxygen starts flowing freely to your brain, giving you a boost of focus and concentration.
A lot of people feel great after about 10 cycles of in-and-out, but you may do well with more or less.
Regardless, it usually doesn’t take more than 5 minutes to perk yourself up and come back to whatever you’re doing with an improved mindset!
Once you’ve got the hang of basic breathwork, you can try doing some advanced techniques…which are still pretty darn simple.
Most of these involve blocking one of your nostrils on the inhale and then blocking the other nostril on the exhale, or using different patterns of breathing and different inhale-exhale counts.
If you’re interested in learning more, check out this great article on Yoga Journal.
So the next time you find yourself stressed out by an impending deadline, a character that just won’t cooperate, or even the piles of laundry you’ve been trying to ignore, take a minute and just breathe.
Focusing on deep breathing can help calm and focus you, boosting your concentration and wellness.
For more on how to be more mindful and improve your health, read on:
- Meditation Basics: A Busy Person’s Guide to Mindful Focus
- 3-Step Action Plan to Overhaul Your Mindset for Success
- 4 Ways to Practice Mindfulness and Master Your Mind