To be your best, it’s imperative that you learn to calm your mind. When you begin to feel pressure or stress, you’ll want to come back to simple, positive thoughts and controlled breathing. To become more centered and focused so that you can perform better, practice these helpful breathing strategies. Each of these breathing practices can be done in less than 5 minutes. If you only have enough time for a few, focused, deep breaths, that’s still better than nothing.
1. Square Breathing – For square breathing, you want to take deep, centering breaths counting up to 4 during the inhale, taking a 4 second hold, and then exhaling for 4 seconds, and holding again for 4 seconds before you inhale again. Do this at least 5 cycles and longer if you have time to really reap the benefits.
2. Counting Breaths – For this practice, you would simply count your breaths, with a nice controlled rhythm. Take 3 second inhale, and a 3 second exhale then say “1” in your mind. Then inhale again for another 3 seconds, and exhale for 3 seconds, then say “2” in your mind. So you’ll simple count and breathe. Repeating this pattern for up to 10, or 20 is one of the simplest ways to bring your focus back to something you can control, as well as calming your breathing cycle and being intentional about the pace.
3. Diaphragmatic Breathing – Lie down and put one hand on your upper chest and your other hand on your abdomen, just above your belly button. Allow your breathing to normalize for a minute or two, and then notice which hand is moving. If you find that the hand on your chest is the one doing the moving, then you can concentrate on breathing more from your diaphragm. The correct way to breathe is by moving your diaphragm, which means the hand on your abdomen should be moving up and down as you breathe, but the hand on the chest should be steady. Try this for 20 breaths.
4. Mantra Breathing – You do this practice by thinking about who you want to be, and what you want to feel like. Then, each time you inhale, think about the words and adjectives that you want to bring into your life at that moment. Examples of this would be “calm, patient, focused, relaxed, prepared.” You can just focus on deep, slow breathing and continuing to repeat positive words to yourself as you inhale. Then exhale and do it again and again.
5. “1-2 Breathing” – You do this controlled breathing practice by inhaling for a certain number of seconds, and exhaling for double the amount of time you inhaled. For example, let’s say you inhale for 3 seconds, then you want to take 6 seconds to exhale. Over time, you can build your capacity and challenge yourself to exhale very slowly.
When you’re focusing on your breathing, it takes your mind off of the stressful or anxious thoughts you were having. The more comfortable you can become regularly practicing these strategies in “non-pressure” or “non-stressful” situations, the easier it will be for you to implement them when you’re feeling jittery, nervous or unsettled.
No matter what situation or environment you find yourself in, you can always focus on your breathing by using one of these strategies. Focusing on your breathing, in a consistent way, will help you become centered, present, calm, focused, relaxed, and prepared. You have this tool in your toolbox whenever you need it, wherever you are.