How concentrated breathing acts like “brain fertilizer” for more focus and less stress
The following comes from PowerSpace, the self-mastery newsletter I co-founded:
There is a great, if slightly oversimplified, scene from Karate Kid II in which the protagonist laments to his calming sensei that his life is out of balance after getting dumped by his girlfriend and wrecking his car the night before. To help him quickly move to the present, the beloved Mr. Miyagi encourages his devoted student “Daniel San” to deliberately concentrate on his breathing.
“When you feel life is out of focus, always return to basic of life: breathing,” the master says. “No breathe, no life.” From there he instructs both the protagonist and viewers to inhale deeply and slowly from the nose. Followed by exhaling deeply and slowly through their mouths several times while using both hands as a guide to the inward and outward exercise.
Afterwards, Daniel returns to work and drives a nail into a two-by-four with a single thwack!
Since I was a kid, I’ve tried to follow this advice anytime I need to bring myself to the present and return to the basics of life. Although I’ve yet to thwack a nail into a piece of wood with a single stroke, the point stands: if we want to jolt ourselves back to the present, increase our focus, and reduce stress, we must all embrace concentrated breathing from time to time, if not daily.
Of course, breathing is usually an unconscious and automatic activity that helps us stay alive. But consciously regulating our breath can manage our moods, feelings, and even energy levels.
“Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body,” according to the University of Michigan’s School of Medicine. “This is because when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body. Those things that happen when you are stressed, such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure, all decrease as you breathe deeply to relax.”
Furthermore, science says that focused breathing can activate our attention, clear our thinking, improve our memory, and reset our emotions. It’s not science fiction or a silly Hollywood trick. Deliberate breathing really works to instantly improve our nervous system!
Don’t believe me? Try inhaling through your nose slowly for 10 seconds until your lungs are completely filled. Then exhale just as slowly through your mouth. Repeat this three, five, or preferably 10 times and tell me you don’t feel instantly better.
Alternatively, you could try what the Indians call “purifying breath” (or Nadi Sodhana Pranayama), which is exceptionally relaxing. To do this, sit in a comfortable position with your back straight. With your right hand, gently close your right nostril with your thumb. Inhale slowly through your left nostril, and then close it with your ring finger. Then exhale slowly through your right nostril, then inhale through the same before alternating your breaths between each nostril. Do this for 10 minutes and you’ll channel your inner Miyagi in no time. Do this before bed, after waking up in the middle of the night, or whenever you’re especially stressed out.
This advice might seem silly, hokey, or overstated. Especially this late into our curriculum, but it’s not. Meditative breathing is a proven life hack that ancient philosophers and some of the smartest people alive have been doing for millennia.
Disregard it to your own detriment.
CHALLENGE: Schedule 10 minutes of deep breathing twice a week on your calendar and see how you feel. Although you can do this any time you need, the trick is to get in the regular habit of resetting your mood with simple but powerful deliberate breathing.