The Power of the Breath
Whenever I train athletes to perform at their maximum potential, I always start with skills that improve focus. A basic skill I teach is how to use the breath to build our concentration muscle in the mind. When we build mental concentration it becomes easier to focus on learning new skills at practice and getting into an optimal state in games.
Here are five reasons focusing is so important:
Allows you to fully concentrate on what you are doing
Teaches you to ignore distractions
You are able to master skills faster and place your attention on what’s most important
Research shows people who are more focused are happier
Focusing is a key ingredient to achieving the “Flow State” more often – the optimal state of performance
The flow state is when you are completely engrossed in what you are doing – when your abilities are matched with the challenge. Mihaly Csikszentmihaly is the Godfather of the Positive Psychology movement and a professor at Claremont Graduate University. He’s studied the science behind how to consciously control our attention to more consistently get into an optimal state of experience known as Flow. Paying attention to the breath is the first step to training our minds to get into Flow.
How can breathing exercises help me focus?
It is amazing how powerful the breath is for regulating our internal nervous system and our mood. If we engage the diaphragm and slow down the breath we are able to trigger the parasympathetic part of our nervous system - which lowers are heart rate, blood pressure and can put us in a state of mind that is less stressed. Using our breathe as an anchor of our awareness is the key to building our concentration muscle. Over and over again our mind wanders, doing what it does best. When we consciously train our mind to gentle come back to the breath over and over again, we are training our minds to focus on one thing - our breathe. So when go out in the world and need to focus on someone talking to us, or a skill or to write a paper the breath awareness training will make it easier for us to consciously direct our attention to the desired task.
How do I get started?
I suggest starting with a breathing exercise for two minutes every day. Creating a two-minute daily practice helps us start to create healthy habits. I teach deep belly breathing and dynamic breathing because sometimes we need to calm down, but sometimes we need to energize. This gives athletes options depending on what they need throughout the day. Set a timer for two minutes and notice the breath, it's really that easy!