“Our breathing has the added virtue of being a very convenient process to support ongoing awareness in our daily lives. As long as we are alive, it is always with us. We can’t leave home without it.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.
Breathing gives us a direct tie to our physical and emotional state. And fortunately, it’s always with us (as Kabat-Zinn points out above). That means whether we’re between meetings, walking down the hall, or replying to an email, we can take a breathing break to recenter and rebalance.
In this post, you’ll learn 5 simple breathing techniques you can use for more energy, focus, or to relax and recharge. Let’s start with the most basic approach: one mindful breath.
One Mindful Breath
This exercise comes from Chade-Meng Tan in Joy On Demand. You can perform it anytime, anywhere. Simply take a slow, deep breath in and out through your nose. Place all your attention on the breath from the beginning of the inhale until the end of your exhale. This is the simplest breathing exercise available, and it will instantly bring you peace and calm.
The Centering Breath
This exercise comes from Organize Tomorrow Today by Dr. Jason Selk and Tom Bartow. You inhale through your nose for 6 seconds, hold for 2, and exhale for 7 (out your nose or through pursed lips). The ratio of 6-2-7 is most important, so count as slow or fast as you need to make it comfortable.
You can perform one Centering Breath when you find yourself distracted or do 4-8 of them before a meeting or important task to enhance focus.
This pranayama technique is less discreet but can quickly increase your energy. It works by acutely activating the body’s sympathetic nervous system, raising alertness and focus.
Kapalabhati is done by exhaling quickly and relaxing as you inhale. All your focus should be on your exhale, allowing the inhale to come naturally. You can imagine you’re blowing your nose or imagine a fly just under your nose you’re trying to blow away. Exhale forcefully from the belly button region. Do 10 quick breaths steady and evenly, approximately 1-2 every second. With time, you can build up to 30 breaths in a row.
Warning: This exercise should be done on an empty stomach and avoided if you are pregnant, have had recent abdominal surgery, have a hernia, glaucoma, uncontrolled high blood pressure, or are menstruating.
The Physiological Sigh
Stanford Neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman has popularized the use of sighing for quick relaxation. In general, spontaneous sighs act to reset your emotional state. However, this exercise is more deliberate, slowing down your breath rate and activating your body’s intrinsic “relaxation response.”
To do it, take two quick nasal inhales, with the first being slightly longer than the second. Then, perform a relaxed and extended exhale through the mouth, making a “haaaa” sound. You only need to perform a few of these to experience a noticeable change, so they’re easy to incorporate into your day.
Breathwalking consists of counting your steps with your inhales and exhales. For example, inhaling for 5 steps and exhaling for 5 steps. It’s a powerful combination of breathing, meditation, and physical activity that will increase energy and focus. Breathwalking is perfect for walking around the office, during your commute, or to and from your car.
A good place to start is with the 5/5 pattern described above. However, test different counts to discover what works with your walking pace and respiratory fitness.
Now you have five breathing techniques you can use to relax, reset, and increase energy and focus throughout your busy day. Test them out and find which ones work best for you so you can better handle life’s stressors and end the day feeling relaxed and clear-minded.