December 15, 2021

Mindful Breathing: How to Optimize Health and Performance

This article breaks down the practice of breathwork and demonstrates how to use it for healing and high performance.

Breathing is often considered an unconscious behavior. The breath is not something we’re taught to think about-- nor are we trained to practice it. Yet, thanks to mounting research that demonstrates how mindfulness and breathing can transform your holistic health and optimize performance in the workplace, this is beginning to change. 

In the discussion to follow, we will dive into the powerful medicine that is mindfulness paired with breathwork. You will learn what breathwork is, what happens in your body when you’re mindfully breathing, and how to use it for healing and high performance. 

Breathwork, by its very nature, is a mindfulness practice as it requires intention or conscious awareness in order to be performed. In this way, we must become present to the moment, or mindful. We can then observe our physical and mental state more objectively, inviting the questions, “What do I feel in my body? What is the state of my mind?” When there is a need for breathwork, you might notice difficulty breathing deeply or slowly. In these moments, you might also observe a faster heartbeat or a busy mind that makes noticing the body seem difficult. Simply put, if it is challenging to feel calm in your body or mind, breathwork is a tool that will help. 

There are three basic elements you can practice to experience the immediate benefits of breathwork:

This works because each of these mindful breathing elements immediately elicits a “relaxation-response” throughout your body. This response is what instructs your brain to produce and release chemicals that your body needs to heal and that your mind needs to become more focused and creative. 

In our modern world, most of us live with a chronic stress-response that has the opposite impact on the mind and body. However, with consistent, mindful breathing over time, you empower your body to predominantly facilitate relaxation signals. The benefits that come from this are profound: you will experience higher levels of energy, greater sleep quality, and improved immunity. In the workplace, this translates to improved productivity and performance, because your brain and body have more energy (and enthusiasm) to focus on the projects at hand. 

The next time you’re at work and need to supercharge your focus, you can practice the elements of breathing slowly through your nose and into the lower belly within the structure of a helpful exercise called “box breathing”.  [Fun fact: This is the same exercise Navy SEALs use when they need to focus and find themselves in highly stressful situations.] 

Box Breathing

To begin, find a comfortable position on your chair and sit up straight. With your eyes open or closed, begin breathing in through your nose for 4 seconds. Next, hold that breath in your body for 4 seconds. Once this is complete, slowly release your breath for 4 seconds (nose or mouth). Lastly, hold the breath again for 4 seconds. You have just completed one round of a Box Breath! 

Summary:

  1. Inhale for 4 seconds
  2. Hold for 4 seconds
  3. Exhale for 4 seconds
  4. Hold for 4 seconds
  5. Repeat 3-4 times (or longer for deeper impact)

Continue to practice this for a few rounds to a few minutes. You can then observe and revisit the mindful questions, “What do I feel in my body?” or “What is the state of my mind?” The more you practice, the more you will become aware of your personal reality, and you will start to notice positive changes in your body, mind, and emotions.

Mindful breathing is one of the most impactful first steps you can take as you venture into the realm of thriving health and high performance in your field. Whether you experience chronic worry, poor sleep patterns, or struggle to focus on a regular basis at work, mindful breathing can help. It is a tool that you have at your disposal all hours of the day and for as long as you are alive on this Earth.