Mindfulness will likely be very useful this school year, given the uncertainty that many music teachers are facing. The last post, Mindfulness For You and Your Students, was an introduction to mindfulness and why it is beneficial for music teachers and music students. A great way to dip your toe into mindfulness is through focused breathing. Most musicians are very aware of their breath, and may even have dedicated practice in this area. However, mindful breathing is as much about the breath as it is the mind.

Focused, mindful breathing is a great way to reduce stress. As you breathe deeply, your brain begins to relax and your body feels like it does when you are relaxed.

Mindfulness: Focused Breathing

Breathing exercises don’t have to take long, five minutes a day is very valuable. However, most of the breathing suggestions here can be completed in as little as one minute. Even that is better than nothing! Start with a minute and work up to more as you feel comfortable. Trust that it is worth the time!

Three Calming Breaths

I will frequently use this breathing technique at the beginning of a band rehearsal or after a transition. As the name implies, it’s great for calming you and the students!

  1. Close your eyes or softly gaze down at your feet.
  2. Take a deep breath in through your nose, being aware of how your body feels as you inhale.
  3. Slowly breath out through your mouth, continuing the awareness.
  4. Repeat 2 more times. 

Mindful Breathing

Mindful breathing is something you can do anytime, anywhere: in between classes, waiting for the copy machine, while heating up lunch, you name it. Focus on the sensation of your breath. If your mind wanders, just acknowledge it and bring your attention back to the breath.

  1. Close your eyes or softly gaze down at your feet. Keep your back straight and feet grounded.
  2. Place one hand on your abdomen or chest. 
  3. Slowly inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
  4. Focus only on your breathing.
  5. Continue for 1 minute (or more).

Square Breathing

Some people like square breathing more than others. I prefer more of a rectangle (longer vertical lines and shorter horizontal lines), while others have mentioned they find rounded corners to be more relaxing. Do what works best for you!

  1. Close your eyes or softly gaze down at your feet.
  2. Imagine a square, drawn in the air in front of you. 
  3. Trace the square in your mind: inhale through the vertical line going up, hold the breath on the horizontal lines, and exhale through the vertical line doing down. 
  4. Repeat several times.

4-7-8 Breathing

The 4-7-8 breath is meant to be a relaxing breath, as it helps relieve stress. This technique is credited to Dr. Andrew Weil. The ratio of 4-7-8 is important, but it can be completed at any speed.

  1. Quicky exhale all the air from your mouth – this can be audible.
  2. With the mouth closed, inhale quietly for 4 counts.
  3. Hold your breath for 7 counts.
  4. Exhale through your mouth (audibly) for 8 counts.
  5. Repeat for 4 cycles.

Breathing With Visuals

Sometimes having a visual to accompany your breathing can be helpful. It forces you to keep the breath slow and steady while concentrating on what you see. The Apple Watch comes with the Breathe App for this exact purpose! The app guides you through seven breaths in one minute.

Here are some other sources for focused breathing that contain visual aids:

Next Steps

If you haven’t paused to try one of the above exercises, what are you waiting for? Take a minute, breathe, and relax. Then make a commitment to yourself. Commit to finding time each day to focus on your breath. Consider setting an alarm on your phone, or hanging a reminder Post-it on the computer.

All the exercises here can also be used with your music students! Focusing their breathing, and their attention, will lead to more productive rehearsals, fewer behavior problems, and a greater appreciation of the music you are making together. It takes very little time from a class period and gains you a better experience all around.

For other quick mid-day break suggestions, check out TACET for Teachers – Take Five.

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