Can the simple act of changing our breath improve our wellbeing, focus, and concentration?
Let’s think about it this way: when you meet someone for the first time you exchange names.
Then you strike up a conversation and maybe find out you have a bunch in common. But then, at some point, a familiar panic sets in; you can’t remember their name.
This is a moment we’ve all experienced. How is it we can’t remember a vital piece of information that was just given to us moments ago?
There are so many thoughts that flood our minds when we meet someone.
Expectations, judgments, anxieties, memories, comparisons, and more all come rushing at us in a single moment.
Combine that with all the other things that drain our focus like screen time and lack of sleep, and it’s no wonder we can’t remember a darn name.
So how do we root ourselves in the moment and make sure we absorb everything that is happening right in front of us?
It starts with our breath.
The way you breathe directly influences your brain’s chemistry.
According to a recent study published by Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, there’s an actual physical link between breathing patterns and the brain’s focus network.
The study suggests that breathing rhythms affect noradrenaline levels in the body.
Noradrenaline is both a hormone and a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in attention and thinking.
It helps us boost focus, sustain concentration, and maintain alertness and motivation. This brain chemical is released when we’re engaged in the present, curious, or emotionally engaged.
Michael Melnychuk, the study’s lead author says that “Practitioners of yoga have claimed for some 2,500 years, that respiration influences the mind. This study has shown that our attention is influenced by our breath and that it rises and falls with the cycle of respiration.”
He goes on to say that by focusing on and regulating your breathing you can optimize your attention level and likewise, by focusing on your attention level, your breathing becomes more synchronized.
So what is the “right” breath for concentration?
According to the experts, there is one thing that everyone can do with their breath to see quick improvements in concentration, focus, and overall wellbeing.
It’s as simple as breathing through your nose.
Nasal breathing has recently become a hot topic. New scientific research has found a whole host of benefits to the simple act of breathing through the nose.
James Nestor, author of the book Breath: The New Science of the Lost Art, addressed some of these findings in a recent interview with NPR.
“The nose filters, heats and treats raw air. Most of us know that. But so many of us don’t realize — at least I didn’t realize — how inhaling through the nose can trigger different hormones to flood into our bodies, how it can lower your blood pressure, how it monitors heart rate … even helps store memories,” he says.
Breathing through the nose also triggers a relaxation response which primes us to be fully aware and mindful of the present moment.
“Nose breathing also slows the breath down because it provides more resistance and this has a direct effect on the nervous system,” says Anne Dutton, director of the Yale Stress Center mindfulness education program. “Specifically, slower breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing anxiety and signaling the body to calm down.”
What’s your name again?
So is this to say that if you are simply breathing through your nose all the time you’ll remember everyone’s name that you meet?
Not exactly. But, what correct breathing techniques will do is put your brain in an optimal state for concentration.
By consciously controlling your breathing, you also anchor yourself in the present moment. Over time, using your breath as a focal point will lengthen your attention span and improve your ability to be mindful.
For those who have tried (and struggled) with meditation, using your breath to keep you in a state of awareness can be a huge gamechanger. Give it a try in this meditation challenge.