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The Secret Weapon to Calm and Focus

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‘You need to be meditating’ is a request that might be met with other than the affirmative by most people even though the word is out that meditation can be good for your health. The resistance to mindfulness is slowly melting away with positive psychology becoming more mainstream though discussion and the writings of Barbara Frederickson of UNC Chapel Hill, Carol Kaufman of Harvard and even famed TED talker Brené Brown of University of Houston, but still, many people still may think it’s just too woo-woo for them. I get it. As a frustrated beginner meditator, albeit 20-year yoga practitioner, I understand how hard it can be to quiet the mind. Instead of causing myself more tension for failing to develop a more consistent meditation practice, I have a secret weapon that is more accessible to the masses: 3 deep breaths.

We all have to breathe; we don’t all have to meditate. I’ve found taking 3 deep breaths to be very effective — in through your nose and out through your mouth, as a calming or refocus method. I don’t call it anything but what it is: breathing. No client of mine has ever told me that stopping to take three breaths is too woo-woo, in fact it’s rare that someone hasn’t found that it shifts the energy, allowing calmness in. I might stop someone mid-track if they are rolling anxiously through an issue or perhaps they are going too fast to make sense of what they are saying. In fact, I do it myself and can attest to its helpfulness. There is something quite mindful about focused breathing—it’s short, simple and perhaps an invitation to something more, or not. I might even suggest that it become an experiment, which could turn into a practice or not. It’s essential for our own growth and success to take the opportunity to find out what works for us in both focused energy and mindset.

The more skeptical might appreciate new research published in March 2017 in Science Magazine by Mark Krasnow, MD, PhD, professor of biochemistry of Stamford University. Krasnow’s research concludes that there are neurons in the brain that connect breathing to states of mind. Said neurons link breathing to relaxation, attention, excitement, and anxiety, which does connect to the practice of yogic breathing (pranayama), leading toward meditation. I might not be giving myself enough credit for the mindfulness practice I do employ through yoga even as I struggle with meditation. Indeed, the development is that you can change your mood by focusing on your breathing. The neurons in your brain can be triggered into letting you relax just by taking that deep breath and thus give you more focus. The best leaders utilize mental training techniques for emotional intelligence, which in turn makes them better leaders. Could this focused breathing be an entré into mindfulness that’s more accessible?

I recently read 10% Happier by Dan Harris, the ABC news anchor, a memoir about his “on-air meltdown” and exploration into mindfulness, which he realistically touts as making him 10% happier. He was skeptical, like me, and many people that I come into contact with, and wasn’t sure of how meditation could appeal to a mainstream audience or himself. He wasn’t into any self-help mumbo jumbo, and took on mindfulness as a journalistic project that ultimately changed his life for the better. For the questioning person, this type of mindfulness journey is relatable. I contend that the small step of trying three deep breaths is something easy to try to employ as a strategy for getting more focused or calming oneself down. But don’t do it once and give up, play with it for at least a week and see what happens when you direct your energy to this simple task.

There are many types of breathing exercises that one can try, but I’m going for simplicity. The next time that you’re feeling unfocused or anxious, try to stop yourself and take those three deep breaths, perhaps take three more or do it as many times as you need to shift your mind and avert your focus to your breath—deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. Rest on the science developing that this might make a difference in the neuropathways of your brain. Or perhaps, don’t think any more about it than what it is: breathing.

Last year, at the start of a triathlon I was doing, an age-group winner and business professional said to me, “I’m still doing your trick! I always take 5 deep breaths just like you said, and it calms me down and gives me focus.” I smiled and remembered to take my three breaths too. And now, some scientific research confirms what I have believed all along.

Prefer a meditative breathing guide? Try the video in the image box.

*Stanford Study source link:  http://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2017/03/study-discovers-how-slow-breathing-induces-tranquility.html
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