Woman pausing for a break
July 9, 2014 | by The Polyclinic

With the busyness that pervades our daily and weekly routines, we can sometimes find ourselves feeling depleted or unable to focus on what we are trying to accomplish in the moment. Sometimes we seem to be rushing through the whole day trying to complete tasks so that we can move on to the next one.   At other times, we have trouble maintaining our attention, feel sleepy, and question what might help us to be more effective and efficient.  

One simple way to improve mental focus and regain energy as well as reduce stress is to take a few brief moments to breathe. This can be practiced in the morning when we wake up, when we go to bed at night, at the end of a workday when we get home, or even on a break at work, or before an important meeting. We can access our breath in any moment. When we focus on our breathing, even for a few short minutes, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system that calms the body and counteracts stress. This technique has been shown to lower blood pressure, slow heart and respiration rate, and reduce the release of stress hormones. It is quick, easy and free.  

A growing number of schools now teach kids to sit quietly and follow their breath at the start of the school day. The result is better attention and learning in the classroom. Professional sports teams are spending time with similar exercises to improve their performance on the field.

Try these steps and notice what you feel:

  • Find a comfortable seat sitting upright. If sitting is uncomfortable you can try this lying down or standing.
  • Set a timer for five minutes.
  • Close your eyes gently or if you are quite tired, keep them slightly open.
  • Begin to notice the feeling of the breath as it moves in and out of your body. Pay attention to the sensation of breath moving in and out of the nostrils, or the expansion of the abdomen as you inhale, contracting as you exhale. 
  • If your mind focuses itself away from the breath when you notice this has happened, let the thought go and gently return to noticing the experience of breathing.
  • Some people like to count breaths, or maintain their focus by mentally repeating, “Inhale, exhale.”  
  • When your timer goes off, take a final deep breath in and out and gently open your eyes, noticing how you feel.

When we are busy or distracted we might find it is hard to keep our attention on the breath for even one minute. This is not a problem. Practicing brief pauses in the day will help to increase your ability to maintain focus and quiet your mind. Creating a new routine takes time, so start small. Spending a few minutes with a simple focus on your breath can have a real benefit.