If you’re looking to improve the way your brain works – and if you’re like me, you’re always looking for a way keep your brain as sharp as possible – look no further than thinking about the way you breathe.
Every breath you take affects your brain function and mood in surprising ways that you’re not normally aware of. For instance, the rhythm of your breathing has a powerful influence on the rhythm of your brain waves.
As the researcher Micah Allen, PhD., points out – “The brain and breathing are closely intertwined in a way that goes far beyond survival, to actually impact our emotions, our attention, and how we process the outside world.”
To harness and take advantage of this influence on your brain, you can quickly use some simple breathing techniques to help boost your mental focus and soothe your emotions. Here’s the story…
Fascinating research by Dr. Allen at Aarhus University in Denmark shows that the rhythm of your brain function mirrors the rhythm of your breaths. What this means is that when you inhale, studies show you’re more sensitive to what’s happening around you. But as you breathe out, your focus tends to go inward, away from the outside world.1
That shift in focus is why, when marksmen are shooting at a target, they are taught to slowly exhale and then hold their breath as they pull the trigger. Exhaling intensifies their mental focus and keeps out distractions that might interfere with their aim.
Even if you’re not a marksman, you can use this technique in your daily life to increase your focus and attention.
The Inhale-Exhale Technique Improves Focus
The research at Aarhus suggests that, in general, if you are engaged in tasks where you need to first take in sensory information and then respond (like a baseball batter at the plate watching for a pitch) it is better to inhale first – as the pitch leaves the pitcher’s hand – and then exhale – as you swing the bat.
This can be applied to other tasks as well. So, as you read something that you’re trying to memorize, slow, steady inhalations may make your brain more receptive to taking in the information. And when it is time to tap into what you’ve learned, a long exhalation may help you recall it.
Don’t Fall Victim To Screen Apnea
Another way to use your breath to boost your mental clarity, focus and memory is to avoid holding your breath as you work on your computer and have your eyes glued to the video screen.
According to researchers, many of us have a tendency to periodically hold our breath as we deal with the stress of working on the computer – stress that only worsens as we try to multi-task. They refer to this as “screen apnea.” What’s more, your stress gets even more damaging if you are using multiple video screens at the same time. That kind of interrupted breathing combined with shallow breathing that many of us do at our desks can intensify the exhaustion you feel by the end of the day.
Ways to combat this so-called screen apnea include:
- Do slow, deep breathing exercises: Take focused, slow, meditative breaths a few times an hour. For example, try doing this every 15-minutes.
- Try “audible sighing”: Research shows that this type of sighing, when you take a deeper, slow breath to inhale and then make a small sound as you exhale – and you exhale for longer than you inhale – can lower stress, recharge your energy levels, and help you escape shallow breathing.2
- Get up and walk around periodically: Hours of sitting in front of a screen increases physical and mental stress. If you can get outside for a quick break, then do it! Walking in a natural setting with trees and birds helps enormously.
- Use larger screens: Some experts believe that using larger screens for work puts less stress on your nervous system when compared to peering at small screens.
Other Ways Breathing Can Heal The Brain
Other studies have turned up additional ways that breathing patterns can be altered for better brain health.
For instance, research at the University of South Carolina in Columbia shows that biofeedback sessions that help people with concussions work by matching their breathing to their heartbeat. As a result, it can help these patients heal faster and suffer less severe concussive problems.3
In addition, tests of the effects of alternate nostril breathing – when you close off one side of your nose at a time and alternate inhaling and exhaling through each nostril – can improve your memory and learning abilities. Some studies show it can be particularly useful for learning a new motor skill like dancing or playing a sport.4
And one general way to help your brain is to simply sit and practice slow, deep breaths using your diaphragm. That basically means making sure each calm breath is pulled in and pushed out from your stomach (not your chest). Studies demonstrate that this easy-to-do activity boosts your mental focus and attention.
Try it. Your brain will thank you!5
The Awakening From Alzheimer’s Team