Breathing Techniques for Improved Focus and Memory

By Rachel Ellen Green, CPT

In today’s environment, staying focused while working from home can be difficult. It’s easy to get distracted by family, TV, snacking, chores and more. If you want to stay focused and boost your memory, try practicing deep breathing exercises! Deep breathing can reduce brain fog, improve focus and working memory.

Breathing effects noradrenaline/norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter and hormone released when you’re engaged or curious. During stressful periods, too much noradrenaline is produced and can hinder your ability to focus. If too little is produced, you may feel sluggish and unable to focus as well. Low levels of norepinephrine can cause memory problems, decreased alertness, and disinterest in activities. Low levels of norepinephrine are linked to ADHD, low blood pressure, depression, chronic fatigue, and more.

The locus coeruleus is the part of the brain involved with the physiological responses to stress and produces norepinephrine. Researchers at Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience found a link to breathing patterns and the locus coeruleus. As you inhale, activity in this area of the brain increases. When you exhale, activity decreases. In other words, your norepinephrine production cycles with your breathing. Deep mindful breathing can restore your norepinephrine levels and optimize your ability to focus. Taking deep, slow breaths when working or dealing with a stressful situation will increase your productivity.

We often use shallow breaths through the chest when stressed. You can practice enhancing your breathing and focus through breathing exercises and meditation. Breathing exercises increase the “Rest and Digest” part of our nervous system. This will lower the heart rate and allow you to relax. Deep belly breaths through the nose rather than the mouth are linked to greater memory retention. In addition, breathing rhythms help create an internal balance and restore peace.

Check out these breathing techniques to reduce stress and improve brain function:

4-3-8 Breathing

The 4-3-8 exercise forces the body to regulate breathing. This will reduce stress, enhance focus, and replenish your body’s oxygen levels. Practice this technique at least 2 times per day to see results. Below are 6 steps to get you started on 4-3-8 breathing:

    1. Sit-back or lay down in a comfortable space
    2. Close your eyes and place your hand on your belly
    3. Take a deep breath through the nose for 4 seconds and expand the belly
    4. Hold your breath and count to 3
    5. Exhale for 8 seconds while relaxing the belly
    6. Repeat 3 to 7 times

For more information on 4-3-8 breathing, Click Here.

Breath Focus

Breath focus uses calming phrases and imagery to release stress. You can do so by visualizing a peaceful setting and use the phrase, “I breathe in peace and calm. I breathe out stress and worry.” as you inhale and exhale. Below are 8 steps to practice breath focus:

    1. Sit in a comfortable position
    2. Close your eyes
    3. Take a few deep breaths
    4. Breathe in and imagine the air is filled with peace. Feel this peace within the body as you inhale.
    5. Breathe out and imagine the stress leaves with the exhale.
    6. During your inhale, repeat the phrase “I breathe in peace and calm”
    7. During your exhale, repeat the phrase “I breathe out stress and worry”
    8. Continue for 5-10 minutes or until you feel calm

For more information on Breath Focus, Click Here.

Mindful Breathing

Mindful breathing can be done by simply paying attention to the way breathing affects the body. Focus your attention on the legs, arms, hands, and chest as you breath. This will allow you to reduce tension in areas you hold stress and regulate breathing patterns. Below are 6 steps to practice mindful breathing:

    1. Sit in a comfortable position or lay down
    2. Close your eyes
    3. Observe your breath
    4. Focus on the rise and fall of the chest, the feeling of your nostrils as you inhale and exhale
    5. Focus on your arms, legs, and shoulders. Tense each body part for 3 seconds and relax.
    6. Repeat 3-5 times or until relaxed

For more information on Mindful Breathing, Click Here.

Pursed Lip Breathing

Pursed lip breathing slows down breathing rate and can be done during any activity. You can use this during walking, lifting, meditation, working, climbing stairs, and more. Below are 4 steps to get you started on pursed lip breathing:

    1. Relax your shoulders
    2. Inhale with your mouth closed for 2 seconds
    3. Purse your lips and exhale through the mouth for 4 seconds
    4. Repeat 4 to 5 times per day

For more information on Pursed Lip Breathing, Click Here.

Guided Meditation or Breathing

One of the easiest ways to experience the overall benefits of meditation and breathing is to listen to  or watch a guided meditation. Traditional unguided meditation techniques, while wonderful in their own way, do require some effort on your part. It’s your job to keep your mind focused and as clear as possible. But with guided meditation, you are guided into a state of meditation by spoken word guidance. Your guide will literally walk you through the process step by step. In addition, guided meditations can help you practice multiple breathing techniques and imagine peaceful scenery to encourage further relaxation in the comfort of your own home. You can find many guided meditation and breathing practices on YouTube or Smart Phone apps. 

Recommended Smart Phone Apps include:

    1. The Mindfulness App
    2. Headspace
    3. Insight Timer

Click Here for the Top Mindfulness and Meditation Apps of 2020

Recommended Youtube Videos:

Try incorporating breathing exercises in to your daily routine and see changes in your memory and ability to focus. For more information on breathing and brain function, click here.

Rachel Ellen Green is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer. She works at LoHi Athletic Club in Denver, CO. In addition, she conducts online strength training sessions. Her goal is to change her clients’ physical and mental health through exercise. Rachel focuses on retraining the body to create functional movement patterns and strength building. Rachel has a passion for fitness, nutrition, and helping others. Her background is in martial arts, gymnastics, kickboxing, and more. Rachel is currently pursuing her Exercise Science degree from Metropolitan State University, Denver.

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