Paying closer attention to your breath changes neurotransmitter activity in your brain in ways that help you focus better under pressure, according to a new study in the journal Psychophysiology.
Noradrenaline, the neurotransmitter responsible for enhanced attention and improved cognition, is released in the brain’s locus coeruleus, says study author Michael Melnychuk, a Ph.D. candidate of neuroscience at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. This region is sensitive to changes in carbon dioxide levels.
Since your breath controls CO2 levels in the brain, it’s also indirectly responsible for the release of noradrenaline. If you can’t focus because you’re distracted, overwhelmed, or you’ve hit your midday slump, practicing mindful breathing can strengthen attention networks in the brain and get you back on track.
Try this: As you breathe, pay attention to the sensations you feel as the air passes through your nose and across your lip. Notice the differences when you inhale and when you exhale. Don’t control your breath—just observe. Continue doing this until you feel a rhythm to your breath, Melnychuk says. Then, maintaining that cadence, return your attention to the task at hand.
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