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Want to focus better? Try breathing.

Toni-Ann DiSantis

Want to focus better? Try breathing.

When you hear the term “brain food,” what comes to mind? Fish? Green tea? There’s no doubt that a nourishing diet benefits your brain (along with the rest of your body, of course). But another form of “brain food” may be found within: your breathing. Breathing-related exercises have long been linked to brain health, including enhanced focus and more positive emotions. New research explains for the first time the scientific connection between breathing and attention. It all comes down to a brain chemical called noradrenaline, which is released when we’re challenged, curious, focused, or emotionally engaged. Breathing affects levels of noradrenaline, which, if produced at the right levels, helps the brain grow new connections. The researchers speculate that both mindful breathing and other types of breathing exercises can improve our attention and brain health. Here’s a sample of each.

Mindful breathing. Sit comfortably with your spine straight and your eyes closed. As you settle into your body, notice how you feel and relax any areas of tension. Breathe normally, and place your attention on your breath without trying to change or control it. Notice where in your body you feel your breathing most clearly and let your attention rest there. When your mind wanders to thoughts or feelings, gently guide your attention back to your breathing. Keep going for five minutes and work your way up to at least 15 minutes.

Belly breathing. Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight. Place one hand on your belly button. Take a deep breath in through your nose, causing the hand on your belly to move outward. Exhale through your mouth (or nose). The hand on your belly should move inward. Continue to breathe deeply, in through the nose and out through the mouth (or nose), causing your belly button to move out and in.