It always sounds lame when someone tells you to deal with stress by taking a few deep breaths. It’s easy to respond with: “You take a few deep breaths! I need chocolate or a glass of wine.” But some of us, when we encounter a stressful situation, tend to hold our breath, creating even more anxiety and tension for ourselves. Scientists have discovered that breathing—especially through a form of meditation called pranayama, along with mindfulness meditation that focuses on the breath—can powerfully impact our…everything. It can focus our minds, help us be more creative, slow the aging of our brains, and even change the way our DNA is expressed. And that’s just breathing. It costs nothing. You can even do some brief forms of mediation at work without attracting any funny looks.
Research about breathing meditation, conducted by researchers at Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience and the Global Brain Health Institute, showed that breathing “directly affects the levels of a natural chemical messenger in the brain called noradrenaline. This chemical messenger is released when we are challenged, curious, exercised, focused or emotionally aroused, and, if produced at the right levels, helps the brain grow new connections, like a brain fertilizer.” In other words, hold your breath and you’re preventing more than your oxygen intake.
Scientists have discovered that breathing, along with mindfulness meditation that focuses on the breath, can powerfully impact our... everything.
Breathing is just one of several quick, 60-second meditations that can bring down your heart rate and help you focus. Here are a few other things you can try, right at your desk.
1. Practice ‘Triangle Breathing’: Triangle Breathing is a pattern of breathing that asks you to inhale, hold, and then exhale for equal measures of time, in increments that feel comfortable for you—say 4 beats. You can increase the number of beats as you progress. By taking just a few minutes to turns your attention inward, you allow your body to de-stress and your mind to refocus on everything going on outside you.
2. Watch clouds pass: Not literal clouds, emotional clouds. Often when we have negative or stressful experiences, we mentally grab hold of them and tend to follow them down an angry path of related thoughts and feelings. We tell ourselves that if we stew long enough, we'll find a level of resolution. Usually, there is no end; one angry thought bleeds into another. But there’s a different approach. Buddha said: Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. Instead, we can see the negative words or moments like clouds passing. After all, last week’s stressful moments are gone, right? So will this moment, this customer’s frustration, this day of misadventures. Give yourself a minute to notice your feelings and witness their journey.
Instead, we can see the negative words or moments like clouds passing. After all, last week's stressful moments are gone, right?
3. Focus on your body: Are your shoulders creeping around your ears? Are you thirsty? Hungry? Are your eyebrows furrowed or are you squinting at your screen? When was the last time you stopped for a bathroom break? Take 60 seconds to check in with yourself—and then take care of yourself.
4. Tune out by tuning in: Pull out your earphones and plug in to some relaxing sounds. That might include Tibetan singing bowls, binaural beats, chanting, forest sounds or ocean waves. Taking a quick auditory retreat is an easy way to distance yourself from your surroundings.
- Who am I?
- What do I want?
- What is my dharma or purpose?
- What am I grateful for?
The answers to these questions may change the trajectory of your day, once they’re in the forefront of your mind.
[Also read: Is it time to redefine wellness in the workplace?]
Most workplaces in the U.S. haven’t yet embraced the science of meditation and how it can make life and work better and more manageable. So rather than hoping someone or something else will make your day less stressful, take a minute to find your own peaceful spot, right there in the middle of everything.