In this anxious and uncertain period, it helps to take time out of each day to relax your body and mind and restore your focus. Meditation, in particular, is an excellent way to relieve stress and anxiety. When you add mindfulness and slow, deep breathing to a session, you end up with a powerful technique that’s said to help with depression, burnout, high blood pressure and even pain. What is meditative mindful breathing? Also called breath-focused meditation or mindful breathing meditation, meditative mindful breathing is the simplest type of breathwork or breathing technique, says Thomas Amiard, a psychotherapist and breathwork specialist from Balance Health in Hong Kong. “It’s about focusing your attention on your breath – just noticing it at first, observing it as it is and paying attention to nothing else. This is also called one-point focused awareness, because you’re focused on just one thing, which is your breath .” Meditative mindful breathing is a typical Buddhist practice that’s said to have been taught by the Buddha himself, according to Amiard. Every breath you take: the many health benefits of breathwork “Breathwork has, in fact, been used in various mystic traditions over the millennia. In India, there’s yogic breathing or pranayama breathing – the ancient practice of controlling your breath – and we see a similar technique in Sufi and Taoist traditions.” The “mindful” in this form of breathwork means to pay attention, in the moment and non-judgmentally. Mindfulness was made popular in the West by scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed the mindfulness-based stress-reduction programme (MBSR) in the 1970s and founded the Centre for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society, in Massachusetts in the United States, in 1995. “Mindfulness is a way of life and meditation is a form of mindfulness practice,” says Viv Kan, a corporate wellness coach from Kan Elevate in Hong Kong. The importance of breathwork Why is paying attention to your breath such a vital aspect of this form of meditation? Simply put, it keeps your mind from wandering. “Breathing is central to life and one of the easiest ways to keep our mind anchored, because we all breathe,” says Kan. Slow, deep breathing can cause positive reactions in the body Thomas Amiard “Most of us don’t realise how we’re breathing, though, so when we focus on our breath, we not only heighten our awareness of it; the very process helps calm our nervous system, because it triggers important receptors at the base of our lungs that signal to our brain to activate our ‘rest and relax’ response.” When your mind is completely focused on this task, you’ll find it easier to modulate your breath until you reach the state you want to be in. What can meditative mindful breathing help with? “ Slow, deep breathing can cause positive reactions in the body, changing its chemistry,” says Amiard. “It gives signals to the brain’s neurotransmitters and hormones to induce feelings of peace, calm and relaxation. “Your body also releases more endorphins, which are natural pain relievers, and dopamine, a neurotransmitter that increases your sense of pleasure.” Studies have revealed several other benefits of breath-focused meditation. A study by Trinity College Dublin in Ireland published in 2018 in the journal Psychophysiology found that it can help strengthen brain networks by directly affecting levels of noradrenaline in the brain. A natural chemical messenger, noradrenaline is produced when we’re challenged, focused or emotionally aroused. If produced at the right levels, it helps the brain grow new connections between cells. More brain connections are associated with a lower risk of dementia. Breath-focused meditation may also affect the immune system . Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina in the United States found that yogic breathing reduces the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines – molecules secreted from the immune cells that are associated with inflammation and stress. These findings were published in 2016 in the journal BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies . Getting your breathwork right Yes, there is a right way to breathe. “Breathing through the nose is ideal for a few reasons,” says Amiard. “One, it filters out any microscopic particles or contaminants from the air. Two, it warms the air before it reaches your lungs. And three and most importantly, it channels nitrous oxide through your airway. “Nitrous oxide is released in our nasal airways. When you breathe in through your nose, the gas follows the air into your lungs. Nitrous oxide has antiseptic properties and helps with oxygen assimilation. “So, as much as you can, breathe through your nose, or at least inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.” Kan recommends breathing in deeply and slowly from the base of your belly button. This helps with the uptake of oxygen and improves circulation. When breathing out, do so from your diaphragm. “Because of stress, poor posture and hunched-over sitting positions, many of us fail to use our breathing-related muscles effectively and thus don’t breathe properly. We need to train ourselves to breathe more mindfully, and this takes practice.” Meditation: a Silicon Valley executive’s secret to success The more you practise, the better you will get. Amiard suggests sitting in a comfortable position, in a space that’s free of noise and other distractions or disturbances. You can lie down if you prefer. Then, he says to observe your breath and do your best to stay focused on it. “At the start of the session, observe if you’re breathing from your upper chest or your belly, or if you’re breathing fast or slow. Just take notice of it. Then, little by little, breathe slower and deeper, counting your breaths if you need to. “At a certain point, you’ll want to slow down to reach a minimum of four seconds in and four seconds out. “At this point, patterns, images and even lights may start to appear between your eyes. When this happens, just observe what’s there. Even if nothing appears and you only notice shades of grey, monitor it. “Stay focused on this process and pay attention to your breath. Now you’re flowing with your breath and with what’s happening in that space between your eyes.” Like what you read? Follow SCMP Lifestyle on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram . You can also sign up for our eNewsletter here .