Why is it a good idea to focus on breathing?

A focus on the breath helps calm the body by slowing your heart rate, sharpening focus, and supporting brain functioning.

How does controlled breathing help?

Controlled breathing (i.e, paying deliberate attention to drawing the air into the body, and expelling air out of the body) reduces stress and anxiety by overriding the “fight, flight, or freeze” response that may be set off by the amygdala and in turn gives control to conscious thought (refer to the section on Mindful awareness). When breathing is regulated, the brain is primed to focus, think first, and then respond. However, this requires practise. Learning to focus on and control your breathing can help you to become less reactive and more reflexive when you feel anxious or stressed. As you practise controlled breathing, your brain develops and reinforces the habit of responding to stress and anxiety by focusing on this practice. The more controlled breathing is practised, the more self-managed and mindful you can become.

Instructions for Controlled Breathing:

  • Sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes if it’s comfortable.
  • Pay close attention to your breathing. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Deliberately slow your breathing down.
  • Breathe in to a count of 4, pause, and then breathe out to a count of 4.
  • Do this at least 4 times.
  • Keep your shoulders dropped and posture relaxed. Think about the air coming into your body through your nose, and the air going out of your body through your mouth.
  • If your mind tries to think about other things that’s OK. Bring your attention slowly back to your breath.
  • Make sure that your breaths are smooth, steady, and continuous.
  • When you are finished, open your eyes slowly as you take a slow, deep breath.