There are a variety of ways to improve work performance. Some are well-known, such as the Pomodoro Technique, and others introduced in this blog. Paying attention to diet and sleep is also important, but perhaps one of the most neglected aspects of our bodies is breathing. Improving how we breathe can bring dramatic results. This article will introduce some breathing techniques that are beneficial for health and improve concentration at work.
How many seconds is a "deep breath?"
Right now, try to exhale as much as you can through your mouth. Try to blow air out of your mouth slowly and for as long as you can. How many seconds were you able to keep exhaling?
If it's more than 14 seconds, you're breathing deeply. You can also tell if you are breathing deeply or shallowly by the number of breaths you take in a minute; if it is less than 14 breaths per minute, you have passed the test.
Why is shallow breathing considered to be bad? Shallow breathing can cause tension in the body, which can lead to stiff shoulders, headaches, coldness, and lethargy. It delivers air to only part of the lungs, resulting in a lack of oxygen in the blood. The brain, which requires 20 times more oxygen than normal cells in the body, can also become depleted. If your brain is not fully oxygenated and your body is not in good shape, work performance can be affected. This can cause a decrease in productivity and an increase in stress, leading to a "negative spiral" that will make your breathing even shallower.
However, if you can control your breathing and get out of this negative spiral, you can return your body and mind to a better state. For many people, controlling your breathing is the only way to work on the autonomic nervous system which unconsciously regulates bodily functions.
Improving your body through breathing
So, what can you do to control your breathing when you are feeling sick or lightheaded and your work performance is decreasing?
The first step is to remember this rule: your mouth is for eating and your nose is for breathing. If you breathe through your mouth all the time, even when you sleep, you will wake up in the morning with chapped lips and a scratchy throat. When you breathe through your mouth, you are directly taking in dry air, as well as inhaling viruses and bacteria. Mouth breathing can also make your face sag and affect your beauty... You can avoid these problems by breathing through your nose. Dry air will be adjusted to just the right humidity, and many foreign substances will be filtered out.
Based on this premise, you should try the 4-7-8 breathing technique while working, an easy-to-follow abdominal breathing technique invented by Dr. Andrew Weil, a world-famous medical doctor. Below are the steps to follow:
1. Exhale completely through your mouth.
2. Inhale through the nose while counting for four seconds.
3. Hold your breath and count for seven seconds.
4. Exhale slowly through your mouth while counting for eight seconds.
Repeat these steps for approximately five to ten minutes. While doing this, you may want to relax your body and let your mind become clearer and clearer.
By exhaling fully at first, the abdominal space becomes smaller, and in this state, the veins are squeezed, reducing the amount of blood returning to the heart. This stimulates the body’s sympathetic nervous system - the “fight or flight” response” - to circulate blood throughout the body. When air is inhaled through the nose, the body detects the blood coming back to the heart and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system - the “rest and digest” response. When this system becomes dominant, the body is able to relax.
The key to this breathing exercise is that it can be easily done not only during work but anytime and anywhere. You can try it in tense work situations, when thinking about problems, when your breathing becomes shallow, or even before bedtime.
Work and personal life do not always go smoothly. We may not be able to control our external circumstances, but we can control how we react to them.
In times of trouble and stress, this breathing technique can help you maintain your peace of mind, concentration, and self-control.
Born in Japan, Kawai moved to China in 2008 to study the Chinese language in Chengdu, Sichuan province. Later, he deepened his learning in Hunan and Jiangsu provinces through close interaction with locals. He then spent a year and a half in Ghana, Africa, working to master English and the local language, Tui. Forced to return to Japan due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he now lives in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan.