How to Use the Breath to Strengthen Your Mind

Mind and breath—a shift in one impacts the other. We can train our breath to influence our emotional state, and loosen the grip of stress and anxiety. Here is a breathing technique to recalibrate the nervous system.

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Check in with your breathing right now: Is it short and tense, or long and smooth? How you’re breathing can tell you something about your current state of mind—maybe you’re feeling pretty good, thinking about happy hour cocktails with colleagues. Or maybe you’re feeling a bit stressed, trying to wrap everything up before the workday ends. While the breath acts like a barometer for how you’re feeling, it’s also a tool: breathing techniques can help you shift gears, and change your emotional state—particularly helpful if you’re under pressure.

Not to say that all stress is bad, says Emma Seppälä, Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford. But if you’re running on high-octane all the time, you can easily become a candidate for burnout.

“We know that short-term stress can be great. It can really help you get through a deadline and mobilize you,” says Seppälä in a recent video for Big Think, “However, if you depend on that day after day after day you’ll find that your body becomes worn out, your immune system is impacted and even your mind, your attention and your memory are impaired through that long-term chronic stress.”

“We know that short-term stress can be great. It can really help you get through a deadline and mobilize you. However, if you depend on that day after day after day you’ll find that your body becomes worn out, your immune system is impacted and even your mind, your attention and your memory are impaired through that long-term chronic stress.”

That’s where the breath comes in: it restores us, and helps us save our energy for those big moments when we need our mental resources the most. Below, Seppälä explores the link between emotions and breath, and how you can train yourself to introduce more calm into your day. Three minutes into the video, she introduces a short breathing exercise.