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Sharp Health News

Take a breath

Jan. 3, 2018

Take a breath

Taking a deep breath or two to relax isn’t a new idea. Many people take a few deep breaths when they are feeling overcome by stress or upset. Mindful breathing can be a valuable practice to deal with distractions, complexities and stress.

“In a world where our daily lives are more complex and busier, many people find it hard to focus, deal with stress and regularly practice good health habits,” says Robert McClure, a certified mindfulness facilitator with Sharp HealthCare.

“Mindful breathing can improve our ability to pay attention and regulate our emotions. We become calmer and experience fewer negative effects on our physical and emotional health,” he says.

McClure shares three mindful practice exercises that we can perform in meditation or in the flow of daily life:

Sitting mindfulness meditation
In sitting mindfulness meditation, the breath is used as a focus of attention. Place the attention wherever the breath is strongest. For example, at the nostrils, feel the breath come in and out; at the chest feel the movement up and down; or at the stomach feel the in and out of the breathing. Naturally, the attention on the breath will drift to a thought, a sound, an emotion or a feeling in the body. When you notice that the attention has left the breath (this is the moment of mindfulness), gently bring the attention back to the breath. In meditation, we do this over and over again.

A practice called 7/11 involves a slow inhalation on the count of seven, and a slow exhalation on the count of 11. Research suggests that this intentional breathing with a shorter in-breath and longer out-breath engages the vagus nerve (cranial nerve X), which affects numerous organs in the body and helps regulate both respiration and heart rate. Engaging the vagus nerve can help calm the sympathetic nervous system, which is activated during times of stress.

Another helpful practice is called STOP, which you can do any time of day when you encounter stress, challenges and difficult emotions.

  1. Stop what you are doing for a moment
  2. Take a few deep breaths
  3. Observe what is going on (most often bring your attention to the sensations in the body where your stress and emotions register)
  4. Proceed with your day.

“Mindful breathing is a set of skills that can be developed,” explains McClure. “So, like playing the piano or learning to be good at a sport, practice is required. It is only in using the regular practice of mindful breathing in daily life that we reap the benefits.”

“We carry our cellphones everywhere, but for meeting the challenges of life, the breath is the best portable app for health we have. It never needs recharging and we have it everywhere we go,” he says.

For the news media: To talk with Robert McClure on mindfulness and the breath for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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