Skip to main content

Do This One Thing to Focus Like a Navy Seal

Our brains normally control our breathing automatically. At the base of the brain is the brain stem, which includes the medulla oblongata, which monitors things like carbon dioxide levels in the blood and signals the lungs to adjust as appropriate.

According to Doctor Matthew MacKinnon, taking control of your breathing for a while can be relaxing and calming. Let’s give it a test. Beginning right now, sit up straight, relax your shoulders, put your hands in your lap. Exhale and empty your lungs. Take a slow deep breath. Try to count slowly up to four as you inhale. Hold your breath for a count of four, then slowly exhale counting 1 2 3 4.  Repeat ten times.


By the time you complete ten reps, you’ve probably cut your respiration rate from about fifteen breaths per minute to six. If you’ve followed along, you should be more relaxed and concentrating better. The Navy Seals call this technique four-box breathing and use it to calm down and focus. And they are likely in more high-pressure situations than the rest of us ever face. If it works for them…
Back to Doctor MacKinnon. He uses an auto metaphor: the sympathetic nervous system is an analog to the gas pedal, while the parasympathetic nervous system is the brake. Sensors in our lungs use the sympathetic system to notify the brain stem that our lungs need to expand, e.g.-put on the gas.  Then the parasympathetic system kicks in telling the lungs to put on the brakes.  When contracting, the lungs push the blood, freshly filled with oxygen, throughout the body. By consciously instituting deep breathing, we take control away from the brain stem temporarily and give everything an oxygen booster shot. Further, by relaxing and remaining still, we reduce the need for oxygen.

Dr. Patricia Gerbarg, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the New York Medical School, is a founder of Breath Body Mind. She is a medical practitioner of Integrative Psychiatry, using a holistic approach to restore and maintain health. She employs a similar technique called pranayama breathing. Pranayama is a Sanskrit term that has been translated in multiple ways. For our purposes, let’s say it is a method to control breathing to extend the time of each part: inhalation, retention and exhalation. Dr. Gottfried’s work noted the effect of breathing on parts of the limbic regions of the brain. According to Dr. Gerbarg, the slow breathing technique of pranayama can have a further beneficial effect. In her view, it is likely that vibrations in the larynx cause signals to be sent to the vagus nerve that in turn help create a calming effect.

When you need to concentrate, calm down when feeling stressed, or need to create some energy, listen to the doctors. Inhale, hold it, exhale.

Want to learn more about deep breathing, better focus and other benefits of meditation? We love Suze Yalof Schwartz’ book unplug. offers research-based products to help maintain brain health and grow a bigger brain.


Popular posts from this blog

Book Review: What Matters Now by Gary Hamel

Interview of Eric Schmidt by Gary Hamel at the MLab dinner tonight. Google's Marissa Mayer and Hal Varian also joined the open dialog about Google's culture and management style, from chaos to arrogance. The video just went up on YouTube. It's quite entertaining. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Cover of The Future of ManagementMy list of must-read business writers continues to expand.Gary Hamel, however, author of What Matters Now, with the very long subtitle of How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Competition, and Unstoppable Innovation, has been on the list for quite some time.Continuing his thesis on the need for a new approach to management introduced in his prior book The Future of Management, Hamel calls for a complete rethinking of how enterprises are run.

Fundamental to his recommendation is that the practice of management is ossified in a command and control system that is now generations old and needs to be replaced with something that reflects an educat…

7 Ways to Fix Your Gut and Help Your Brain

Author Peter Andrey Smith titled his article on the relationship of the brain to the intestines, and, in particular, the tiny creatures that live in our intestine beautifully: “The tantalizing links between gut microbes and the brain”. If the human brain is the frontier of medical science, the microbiome, those tiny creatures that live in our intestinal tract, is Jupiter. The linkage between what goes on in the gut and the brain is indeed tantalizing, and the subject of research worldwide. There are over 1,000 different kinds of those things living inside us. There are hints that having the wrong mix of gut microbes, or the absence of any particular type, is linked to asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and more. Further, antibiotics, illnesses and other factors can deplete the population. Here are seven things we can do to help keep our little creatures happy and healthy.
Eat the right stuff. There is evidence that the right diet helps keep …

Get REM Sleep; Manage Fear

A good night’s sleep may help you manage fear and risks better.

A study just posted in Journal of Neuroscience describes the importance of a good night’s sleep to controlling strong emotions, especially fear. Previous studies in this area attempted to discover what happens in the brain after a frightful experience.  These prior studies, for example, show how Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects sleep. A team at the Rutgers University Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, led by Itamar Lerner, has taken a different approach. They wanted to see if there is a relationship between adequate sleep and prevention or management of the brain’s reaction to subsequent stressful events. Research Team Lerner is a Postdoctoral Fellow in sleep research. Along with fellow researchers Neha Sinha-also doing Postdoctoral research-in her case in brain imaging, Shira Lupkin and Alan Tsai, they used new technology that allows mobile tracking of sleep habits over a period of time, not j…