Learn relaxation breathing
and mindfulness in less 
than 15 minutes a day. 
October 2022 | The Learning and Wellbeing Team

Interest in breathing and mindfulness has exploded in the past ten years. There are now hundreds of programs — both online and off — that will teach you mindfulness and breathing over a number of weeks, asking you to devote as much as an hour a day to learning the skills.  Although the science documenting the lasting benefits of breathing and mindfulness — for everything from chronic pain, depressed and anxious moods, as well as poor concentration and even math anxiety — is clear, there are a lot of misconceptions about what mindfulness is, how to do it and how much time you need to learn it. 

Let’s be clear. The practice of meditation and mindfulness is a lot of different things. Relaxation breathing, body relaxation and awareness training are the basic elements upon which the more difficult skills, such as appreciating and being in the moment, non-judgmental acceptance, self-compassion and finding your spiritual self, are built. In this skill module, you will learn relaxation breathing and one of the most important elements of mindfulness, namely awareness training. These are skills that everybody can learn to do immediately and can benefit from in as little as 7 to 14 days of practice. 

Three key elements:

The first element, relaxation breathing, involves learning to breathe slowly and deeply. To learn relaxation breathing, find a quiet place to sit and breathe for 4 minutes (ideally in the morning). Four minutes gives you enough time to complete 15 cycles of breathing. For each cycle, inhale for 4 seconds (filling your lungs completely), pause for 2 seconds (holding your breath), then slowly exhale (emptying your lungs completely). Pause and then repeat one of these cycles 10 to 15 times.

Tip: Don’t overthink it. There are a lot of suggestions, on countless websites, about how to breathe, which nostril to use, and whether you should breathe from the diaphragm or from your chest.  But, breathing is one of the most basic activities – which is why it can be learned just by practising. Sit in a chair and relax your arms, and just breath deep and slow. Fill your lungs. Try to go as slow as you can go, while remaining comfortable. If you go too fast, you won’t really ever fill or empty your lungs and it won’t be very relaxing. Of course, if you go too slow, you will run out of air. Also not very comfortable. Relaxation breathing means learning to go as slow as you can go. With practice, you can actually slow down your heart rate just by breathing slowly. 

The second element, awareness training, involves being aware of what you are experiencing in your mind and body and about being able to refocus your attention (on demand) to the present moment (i.e., your breathing). To learn the mindfulness part of this skill, try to focus on your breathing until your mind wanders off. Keep in mind that your mind will always wander off sooner or later. That’s okay. The skill is to notice that your mind is wandering off and then to refocus and stay focused on your breathing until your mind wanders off again. With practice, you will notice (when you have wandered off) sooner, refocus (on your breathing) faster and stay focused (on your breathing) longer

Keep in mind that it is the ability to notice and refocus on your breathing and then return to whatever it was that you were doing before you became distracted that is the essence of being mindful (of the here and now). If you can train yourself to focus on your breathing, whenever and where ever you like, then you can always calm your body and quiet your mind.  

The final, third element is practice. Relaxation breathing and mindfulness are skills, which means that with practice you will improve. But as a skill, you do need to practice. If you don’t practise then it is really hard to improve. In our experience, the overwhelming majority of people can learn the skill and improve in just a couple of weeks. If you would like see how it is done, consider joining us for a Friday Afternoon Seminar. 

Two steps to learning and mastering this skill:

There are two steps to learning and mastering this skill. The first step is learning to breathe and be mindful before you need it. This is like batting practice before the big game. The idea here is to practice breathing and mindfulness every morning for 4 or 5 minutes. This way, you will learn how to breathe, relax and be mindful before you need it. The second step is learning when to use it and remembering to use it when you need it. Putting this skill into action goes fastest if you actively try to find two to three opportunities to use breathing and mindfulness to calm your body and quiet your mind each day. Don’t worry; there are lots of opportunities to use breathing to relax your body, focus your attention and quiet your mind. 

Here are some opportunities where many people have found relaxation breathing and mindfulness to be helpful:

• before EVERY presentation or exam 
• before CLASS, if you are not feeling focused and ready to go
• DURING every presentation or exam
• Whenever you start to drift off in class
• Whenever you worry or doubt too much
• EVERY night before going to bed
• EVERY night, you wake up in the middle of the night.

Tip: When you first start trying to make breathing and mindfulness part of your day, you will likely miss a lot of opportunities to use it. That is okay. If you notice later in the day that you missed an opportunity, then just make a mental note. There is a good chance that you will get another chance in a day or two.

Did you know?

The first written description of relaxation breathing and mindfulness was written some 1500 years ago. The Ānāpānasati (say ah-nah-pah-na-sa-ti) Sutta mentions the “mindfulness of inhalation and exhalation” as means of “quieting one’s body and cultivating enlightenment.” This is likely the first mental health intervention in our shared history.

Since then, relaxation breathing has been used as a treatment for chronic pain, depression and anxiety, as well as for poor concentration, inattentiveness and even math anxiety. 

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Brewer, J. A., Worhunsky, P. D., Gray, J. R., Tang, Y.-Y., Weber, J., & Kober, H. (2011). Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(50), 20254–20259. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1112029108
Cairncross, M., & Miller, C. J. (2020). The Effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Therapies for ADHD: A Meta-Analytic Review. Journal of attention disorders, 24(5), 627–643. https://doi-org.proxy.bib.uottawa.ca/10.1177/1087054715625301
Kabat-Zinn, J., Massion, A. O., Kristeller, J., Peterson, L. G., Fletcher, K. E., Pbert, L., Lenderking, W. R., & Santorelli, S. F. (1992). Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 149(7), 936–943. https://doi.org/10.1176/ajp.149.7.936
Luders, E., Cherbuin, N., & Kurth, F. (2015). Forever Young(er): Potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy. Frontiers in Psychology, 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01551
Sharp, C., Coltharp, H., Hurford, D., & Cole, A. (2000). Increasing mathematical problem-solving performance through relaxation training. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 12(1), 53–61. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03217074


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