The first thing you do in life is inhale and the last thing you do is exhale. The breath is the glue connecting everything you do. The gift of breath is the gift of life. For many the breath is under appreciated, and it’s not uncommon for people to move through their entire life without paying special attention to it. The average person only breathes into 1/3 of their lung capacity. This is one of the main reasons why people are in an energy deficit and suffer from a lack of focus. They aren’t getting enough, of the important nutrient, oxygen into their body. Of course, people are tired and therefore turn to stimulants to give them a false energy boost.

There is a saying in meditation, “when you shape the breath, you shape the mind.” The breath and the mind are intricately related. Have you ever noticed when you got stressed or upset what happened to your breath? Most likely, the breath became choppy and suppressed. Adversely, have you noticed when you were happy and calm what happened to your breath? Chances are your breath was fluid and deep. By shifting the breath, you can shift the mind and produce powerful qualities like focus, balance, and calm.

In yoga, the science of breathing is called pranayama. Pranayama means the expansion of energy. Just like your muscles and organs need fuel so does the brain. Working with the breath will help you find optimal brain performance. Another bonus to a regular pranayama practice is that it can add longevity to your life. Animals that breathe the slowest live the longest. In addition to improving mental focus the following 5 breathing exercises can add years to your life!

The 5 Breathing Exercises to Increase Focus

Unless otherwise specified all breathing will happen in and out through the nose. Create a soft contraction in the back of your throat so that your breath becomes audible like a gentle wind. This is called victorious breath.

1) Even Breath

Even Breath is great for bringing the mind into steadiness. For this practice lie down onto your back. Either bring the soles of the feet together and let the knees open out (reclining butterfly), or spread the feet wider than the shoulders and allow the knees to knock into each other (reclining tee pee). Feel free to place one hand on the belly and the other over the chest. Start by taking a full inhale through the nose and then a full exhale out the mouth.

  • Inhale for four counts.
  • Hold for four counts.
  • Exhale for four counts.
  • Hold for four counts.
  • Repeat for 10 rounds.
  • When finished take several moments to notice the effects of the practice.

2) Alternating Nostril

This practice helps to balance the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Find a comfortable seated position and sit upright but not uptight. Start by taking a full inhale through the nose and then a full exhale out the mouth.

  • Close the right nostril with the right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril for four counts, and then hold for two counts.
  • Seal the left nostril with the right ring finger and exhale through the right nostril for four counts, and then hold for two counts.
  • Inhale through the right nostril for four counts, and then hold for two counts.
  • Seal the right nostril with the right thumb and exhale through the left nostril for four counts, and then hold for two counts.
  • Repeat the cycle eight times.
  • When finished take several moments to notice the effects of the practice.

3) Skull Shining

This practice massages the brain by compressing and decompressing the cerebrospinal fluid. It raises the alkalinity of the blood chemistry by releasing carbon dioxide out of the body. Skull shining breath invigorates the brain, increases clarity, and sharpens focus. Find a comfortable seated position with a tall spine. Start by taking a full inhale through the nose and then a full exhale out the mouth.

  • Pump air in and out through the nose, emphasizing the exhalations. The inhalation should be a natural reflex.
  • Focus your attention on your nose and nasal passages.
  • Perform one round of 36 skull shining breath repetitions, and then take five recovery breaths allowing your breath to normalize.
  • Repeat this cycle twice more for a total of 108 repetitions.
  • If you experience dizziness, slow down and soften the force of the breath pumping action.
  • When finished take several moments to notice the effects of the practice.

4) Unequal Ratio

This practice pacifies the brain and nervous system and helps to diminish stress. For this practice lie down onto your back. Either bring the soles of the feet together and let the knees open out (reclining butterfly) or spread the feet wider than the shoulders and allow the knees to knock into each other. Feel free to place one hand on the belly and the other over the chest. Start by taking a full inhale through the nose and then a full exhale out the mouth.

  • Inhale for four counts.
  • Hold for four counts.
  • Exhale for eight counts.
  • Hold for four counts.
  • Repeat for 10 cycles.
  • When finished take several moments to notice the effects of the practice.

5) Interrupted Inhalations

This practice heightens breath awareness and improves breath control. It also emphasizes the power of taking in or receiving. For this practice lie down onto your back. Either bring the soles of the feet together and let the knees open out or spread the feet wider than the shoulders and allow the knees to knock into each other. Feel free to place one hand on the belly and the other over the chest. Start by taking a full inhale through the nose and then a full exhale out the mouth.

  • Inhale for two counts.
  • Pause for two counts.
  • Inhale for two more counts to the tops of the lungs.
  • Exhale for four counts, emptying the lungs.
  • Repeat for 10 rounds.
  • When finished take several moments to notice the effects of the practice.

A study at Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience and the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity found that participants who focused well while undertaking a task that demanded a lot of attention had better harmony between breathing patterns and their attention, than those who struggled with focus. Science is just now catching up with what the yogis have been practicing for thousands of years. Next time before you jump into an important mental task take a few minutes and explore a practice above.

Breathe strong, focus strong!

About The Author

Travis Eliot

Travis Eliot is the CEO of Inner Dimension Media and a world-renowned yoga instructor, meditation teacher, kirtan musician and certified Ayurveda practitioner. He teaches his signature Holistic Yoga Flow classes in Los Angeles and in workshops and retreats around the world. His style is intensely dynamic and has inspired many of today’s top athletes, celebrities, and entertainers.

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