Breath Focus

Breath Focus

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May 04, 2023 • 5 min read
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Life is a present that can only be appreciated if we are fully present. When we attend to the here and now, even simple things, such as birds chirping outside the window, can make us happy. Living in the moment is simple, but becoming present is not. If your mind wanders to the past or future, analyzing what happened or worrying about what might happen, you are part of the "monkey mind" club.

Most of us live in this state of mind unless we are in a thrilling or life-threatening situation that forces us to be present. Mostly, we use our minds involuntarily, or even worse, our minds use us, and we do not even realize it is a problem. When we encounter words like these, we usually try to solve the problem with the same mind that created it, which is futile.

We cannot think our thoughts away.
Rupert struggles to tame his monkey mind.

To put our minds at ease, we need to become friends with it. When the mind gets the attention it needs without being judged, it will eventually come to peace—like murky water that becomes clear again. This will not last forever, but long enough to rest and enjoy the moment. Instead of bribing our minds with a cookie, we can practice presence by shifting our attention from our thoughts to our breath. We call this skill breath focus.

A breath focus is the simplest way to arrive at the here and now.

Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body with your thoughts.

— Thich Nhat Hanh

We can focus on any object, ideally on something that is always with us. This is not the only reason that makes breathing an optimal choice. Breathing correctly positively impacts our health, so much so that this is the only advice some doctors would give for living a healthier life if they had to give us just one.


Here are some benefits of breath focus:

  • Improved attention and concentration
  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Improved mood
  • Improved sleep quality
  • Reduced pain
  • Improved cognitive performance
  • Improved resilience
  • Improved self-awareness
  • Improved self-regulation
  • Improved quality of life

We have discussed correct breathing techniques. How does one breathe correctly to achieve these results? Most research agrees that we should inhale slowly through our noses, optionally holding our breath for a moment, and exhale even more slowly through our noses while engaging our stomach muscles. A good example is a 4-7-8 breathing technique: inhale for four seconds, optionally hold for seven seconds, and exhale for eight seconds. Because exhaling stimulates the relaxation response, spending more time exhaling than inhaling will eventually invert our feelings, and we will feel more relaxed. When thinking about increased taxes, we could spend more time exhaling than inhaling.

Nonetheless, we will not prescribe any particular breathing technique. Thinking too much about breathing can become an obstacle in our practice. Our breath will find its natural pattern on its own. In this context, we will focus on the breath to practice mindful presence.

Knowing what you are doing while you are doing it is the essence of mindfulness practice.

— Jon Kabat-Zinn
Rupert does not know what he is doing while he is doing it.

Action steps

Here is how you can focus on your breath:

  1. Assume a posture allowing you to breathe easily. You can sit, walk, lie, or stand while waiting for someone. Do not perform this exercise while engaging in an activity requiring attention, such as driving. Approach this exercise with a friendly curiosity, but do not expect anything particular to happen.
  2. Allow your attention to settle on your breath. Where do you feel it? Do you feel the air as it enters and leaves your nostrils? Do you feel your belly rising and falling? If you do not feel anything, that is okay too. Do not try to control your breath or judge it in any way. Your breath will find its natural pattern over time.
  3. Wait until you realize that you have been distracted. The moment you notice your mind has wandered off, you become present again. You might say "Oops" to yourself. The objective is to return to your focus rather than to maintain it. It is a practice of a thousand beginnings.

You can practice breath focus formally at a specific time every day. You can also practice breath focus informally throughout the day, such as when you wait for the computer to start, the water to boil, or the toaster to scare your cat. Such events can serve as inherent reminders. You can take as few as three or even one conscious breath at a time. The goal is not to meditate until you levitate.

The goal is to be consistent.

Yes, you have now learned how to meditate. Breath focus is a basic mindfulness meditation. Think of mindfulness as a muscle and meditation as your training. If you do not like the idea of meditation, call it conscious breathing. Before you continue, try to focus on your next three breaths.

Rupert is experiencing “Oops” moments.

How did your first attempt go? Any "Oops" moments? Were you wondering if a T-Rex could do pushups? Oops!

Practical tips

Here are some tips to improve our practice:

  • There is no such thing as a bad meditation.
  • Judging the meditation misses its purpose.
  • Do not think about meditation—practice it.
  • Do not expect anything particular to happen.
  • Keep a beginner's mind—every breath is new.
  • Even two minutes a day can make a significant impact.
  • The objective is to return to your focus, not to maintain it.
  • Meditation is a practice of a thousand beginnings.


There are other types of meditation to choose from. Although we recommend starting with a basic mindfulness meditation, such as breath focus, feel free to investigate other options. If you cannot stand formal meditation after you have tried it for at least two weeks, consider practicing informal meditation. Physical exercise or activities such as building puzzles or crocheting can also put our minds at ease and bring us into the present moment.

Now or never

For the next two weeks, focus on at least ten consecutive breaths once a day and notice your focus improve. Create a daily reminder.