4 Breathing Exercises to Boost Focus and Ease ADHD

October 19, 2021, Publisher: Breath Hub

Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that affects the brain and behaviours, presenting with symptoms such as hyperactivity, lack of attention, forgetfulness and learning difficulties. Scientific research reveals that breathing exercises are a very effective method for managing ADHD. Conscious breathing techniques help alleviate symptoms by directly affecting the brain chemistry, facilitating attention, focus and learning. Now, let's look at breathing techniques that can be used to increase concentration.

1. Deep diaphragmatic breathing  

Studies by Harvard Medical School show that attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder originates from the reticular activating system located at the brainstem. The reticular formation is the part of the brain that regulates sensory perception, motor activity and behavioural responses and is referred to as the attention centre of the brain. Deep diaphragmatic breathing helps the reticular activating system work more efficiently by providing better oxygenation. With regular practice, deep breathing becomes automatic after a while, helping to regulate both mental and behavioural symptoms. It facilitates learning in children with specific learning difficulties by helping them focus for longer periods.

A study by the Ural Federal University showed that children with ADHD who practised deep diaphragmatic breathing were able to focus on complex activities for much longer. Experts state that the concentration level of children who participated in breathwork training three times a week for two to three months increased significantly immediately after the exercise. Positive effects were observed even one year after the training.

How to practise deep diaphragmatic breathing

  • Sit upright or lie down in a comfortable position.
    Begin by gently exhaling all your breath. Then take a deep breath in through your nose towards your stomach and exhale slowly through your mouth. Your stomach should rise and fall with each breath. But make sure you are not expanding your stomach by pushing.
    Try to breathe without moving your neck and shoulders.
    In healthy diaphragmatic breathing, the abdomen does not only move up and down but also expands to the sides. Control the movement by placing your hands on the sides of your stomach.

2. Breath awareness

A study by Trinity College Neuroscience Institute reveals a direct link between how our brain functions and how we breathe. According to the research, the way we breathe affects the locus coeruleus in the brain, which is known to play a key role in attention and thinking, and the amount of norepinephrine secreted from this region. Norepinephrine is oversecreted when we are stressed and undersecreted in ADHD, which can cause symptoms such as memory problems, lack of interest, and learning difficulties.

Breath awareness and meditation exercises help keep norepinephrine at an optimal level. This helps to increase attention, focus, alertness and motivation, facilitates learning by supporting the brain to establish new connections and regulates memory functions.

How to practise breath awareness

  • Sit in a comfortable position.
    Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
    Pay attention to the movements of the breath in your body.
    Be aware of every emotion, thought and perception that arises without judgment. Whenever you are distracted, gently bring your attention back to your breath.
    Counting your breaths from 1 to 10 can help you focus.

If you find it difficult to focus during breathwork, here are 7 tips to improve your concentration during breathing exercises. 

3. Coherent breathing

The autonomic nervous system is not balanced in people with ADHD. When the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the stress response, is activated, it goes into a higher gear than normal. At the same time, the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for the resting state is less active. In order to keep hyperactivity and impulsive behaviours under control and to facilitate focus and learning, both components of the autonomic nervous system must be in balance.

Dr Richard Brown, associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, states that the coherent breathing technique, which balances the autonomic nervous system, helps to facilitate focus and learning by keeping ADHD symptoms under control. Coherent breathing, which synchronizes the rhythms of the lungs, heart and brain, ensures better oxygenation of the brain and all other tissues. This way, parts of the brain that deal with attention, memory and complex problems work more effectively.

How to practise coherent breathing

  • Sit or lie down in a comfortable position
    Inhale for a count of 6 through the nose
    Exhale fully for a count of 6 through the nose

4. Vishama Vritti

Stress, the underlying cause of many illnesses, also damages brain cells. A single high-stress situation can kill neurons in the hippocampus, which plays a major role in memory and learning. Chronic stress can lead to a loss of synaptic connections between brain cells, resulting in decreased brain mass in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for attention, decision making, complex thinking and social behaviour. Shrinkage in critical areas of the brain triggers emotional and mental imbalances. In the long term, high levels of stress can cause focusing problems, attention deficit and learning difficulties.

Breathing exercises are a very easy, fast and effective tool for stress management. Through breathing techniques that calm the mind and body, we can counteract the harmful effects of stress on the brain. The pranayama technique called Vishama Vritti is one of the breathing techniques that helps us effectively manage stress.

How to practise Vishama Vritti  

  • In this technique, the exhalations are twice as long as the inhalations.
    If prolonging the exhalation is too challenging for you, you can reach this rate gradually. For example, if you're breathing in for 4 counts, try reaching the 4:8 ratio by practising at a rate of 4:5, 4:6, 4:7 for a few rounds.
    After you get used to this rate, you can increase the duration of your inhalations as well, for instance, by inhaling for a count of 5 or 6 and exhaling for a count of 10 or 12.

You can improve your attention, concentration and learning skills by practicing the breathing exercises in the Breath Awareness and Focus sections on Breath Hub. Start your breathing journey today to begin improving your physical, mental and emotional health.