What if there was a quick, easy, no-cost way to relieve stress? There is, and you're already doing it-every single day. This magic remedy is breathing.

Breathing is automatic and something we don't think about. However, the simple act of taking a few moments to be mindful of our breathing can be transformative. According to the National Center on Complementary and Alternative Medicine, practicing this type of mindfulness meditation appears to be associated with measurable changes to brain regions involved in memory, learning, and emotions.

Focused attention on breathing helps you develop increased awareness of the present and may reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. In one very small study, brain imaging uncovered increases in gray matter concentrations in the left hippocampus, which is involved in learning, memory, and emotional control and may play a role in producing some of the positive effects of meditation.


Stress triggers the fight-or-flight response: increased heart rate, muscle tone, blood pressure, and ability to concentrate in the face of a real or perceived threat. It serves an important, life-preserving function.

Chronic stress, on the other hand, can impair cognitive functioning, emotional regulation, even physical health. Deborah Schoeberlein, author of Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness, likens stress to a computer, which is running too many apps at once and negatively affecting the computer's performance.

Schoeberlein says a single, purposeful breath can help stop existing or anticipated stress by causing us to pause briefly. Pausing and taking a slow, deep breath helps the thinking part of the brain catch up with the emotional part, priming you to focus more clearly and make better decisions.

Mindful Breathing

It's easy to engage in mindful breathing. Settle yourself in a straight-back chair or on a soft surface, keeping your back erect but comfortable. Bring your awareness to the physical sensations you're experiencing, and focus on where your body makes contact with your sitting surface. Then, bring your awareness to the changing pattern of physical sensations as you breathe. Don't try to control your breath, just observe it. When your awareness wanders (and it will), don't become annoyed or upset; simply return to your breathing. Some people find it helpful to count breaths as a way to stay focused. Shoot for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.

Making mindful breathing a habit requires practice and perseverance, but the reduction in stress and improved clarity of thought are well worth the investment.


Schoeberlein, Deborah. "Why Mindful Breathing Works." HuffingtonPost.com. Web. 27 November 2012.


National Center of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "Mindfulness Meditation Is Associated With Structural Changes in the Brain." Web. January 2011.  http://nccam.nih.gov/research/results/spotlight/012311.htm

Stillmind.com.au. "Mindfulness of the Breath. Web. Mindfulness of the Breath - stillmind.com.au

Mindfulness Meditation Centre. "Mindful Breathing Gathas." Web.


TranspersonalScience.org. "Mindfulness of Breathing Meditation." Web.