Scanlan Center for School Mental Health
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Achieve Calm and Focus: 4 Mindful Breathing Exercises Every Educator Should Try

written by

Zeus Pichardo Jr., MA

Educator Wellness
Skill Development

Throughout my graduate training, I have had the opportunity to work with talented educators across several different grade levels, buildings, and districts.

While the setting changed, one thing remained constant: our teachers are tired, stressed, and burnt out. Despite this, they choose to remain committed to the students in their classroom and their community at large.

In response to this, we’ve seen a large emphasis on self-care.

Take a moment to scroll through your social media and you’ll likely come across at least one post with a focus on mental health and self-care.

And, it’s not just social media promoting self-care, school districts have shifted to using professional development for self-care and some even have dedicated days for it.

Yet despite this focus on self-care, it can be difficult for educators to find time to engage in this practice without it feeling like it is one more “to do” on a never-ending list of responsibilities.

Fortunately, there are some practices proven to support mental well-being that are quick and easily accessible to everyone. 

“How?” you ask. Two words: Mindful breathing.

The magic of mindful breathing

Mindful breathing is a mind-body practice that aims to bring attention to and focus on one’s breathing to feel the effects of the breath in the body.

It’s a practice rooted in mindfulness, a state of awareness of your thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and actions that is free of judgment for yourself or the experience.

Over the years, we’ve seen evidence of mindfulness-based treatments providing benefits for medical and mental illnesses such as chronic pain, fibromyalgia, cancer, anxiety disorders, depression, and stress. While not a “cure-all,” this is one manageable step toward improved health and well-being.

There’s no magic number as to how many times one should practice mindful breathing in a day.

Some people aim to engage in the practice 2-3 times a day or incorporate it into their routines. Others choose to do mindful breathing for a set number of minutes per day, usually 5 – 10, fitting it into their day whenever they can.

Mindful breathing exercises can be guided or unguided, so take some time to find what works best for you and your routine.

4 mindful breathing exercises to reduce stress and boost productivity

Here are 4 unguided mindful breathing exercises that you can try incorporating into your day:

4-7-8- Breathing

This exercise can be repeated for a certain number of rounds or a set amount of time (5 – 10 minutes).

  1. Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit upright or lie down.
  2. Take a deep exhalation, letting all the air out of your lungs.
  3. Breathe in for a count of 4 seconds, inhaling through your nose.
  4. Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  5. Exhale for 8 seconds, out through your mouth.

Belly Breathing

Often repeated one to four times a day for 5 to 10 minutes at a time.

  1. Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit or lie down.
  2. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly, below the ribcage.
  3. Allow your belly to relax, without forcing it inward by squeezing or clenching your muscles.
  4. Breathe in slowly through your nose. The air should move into your nose and downward so that you feel your stomach rise with your other hand and fall inward.
  5. Exhale slowly through pursed lips.

Box Breathing

Repeat for 5 to 10 rounds or set amount of time (5 – 10 minutes).

  1. Exhale to a count of four.
  2. Hold your lungs empty to a count of four.
  3. Inhale to a count of four.
  4. Hold the air in your lungs to a count of four.
  5. Exhale and begin the pattern again.

Counting Breaths

  1. Find a comfortable, quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.
  2. Set a timer for 10 minutes, close your eyes, and start counting your breaths from 1 to 5. Count on the exhale, and restart when you get to 5.

More resources to boost your mindful breathing practice

The University of California – Los Angeles Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) is dedicated to fostering mindful awareness, promoting well-being, and contributing to a more compassionate society. 

Through their work, they’ve created guided mindful breathing activities that are available for free on their website.

The center’s free, guided meditations come in several different languages and are offered in audio and text formats. These guided meditations, as well as additional meditations for individuals in the hospital or suffering from any health-related difficulties, can also be accessed through their free UCLA Mindful App (Apple App Store / Google Play Store).

They’ve also published Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness and The Little Book of Being: Practices and Guidance for Uncovering Your Natural Awarenesswhich teach you how to incorporate mindfulness and awareness into your daily life.

Remember to embrace the wander

As you start to engage in mindfulness and mindful breathing, remember:

  1. It is completely normal if your mind starts to wander – this is the natural function of your brain. When you notice this wandering, gently return to your breath.
  2. Do not judge yourself, accept that your mind wandering is perfectly normal.
  3. If you have difficulty noticing your mind wandering, consider setting a gentle alarm every few minutes that will cue you to return to your breath when you hear it.
  4. Be patient with yourself and offer yourself grace and compassion as you start this practice.

Zeus Pichardo is a former student clinician at the Scanlan Center for School Mental Health Clinic and a doctoral candidate in Counseling Psychology at the University of Iowa College of Education.