Exercises to help you be mindful and present

6th May 2022

Breathing is essential for life but not often something we stop and think about. Mindful breathing is a type of mindfulness technique that involves shifting your attention away from your thoughts and instead concentrating on your breath. It’s a discipline that helps to bring your focus back to the present moment. The benefits of breathing include the following.

Relieves stress and anxiety

Part of the emphasis of mindfulness is to change how we respond to negative thoughts.  A good example might be not automatically worrying if we remember we have a test tomorrow. Mindfulness based exercises including mindful breathing have been shown to reduce the cognitive and physiological symptoms associated with stress and anxiety including increased heart rate and muscle tension [1].

Can reduce depressive symptoms

For individuals with depression, mindful-breathing exercises have been shown to reduce the desire to ruminate on negative thoughts in response to low mood [2].

Linked to improved glycemic control

Research has discovered that mindfulness exercises have been linked to better glycemic regulation [3]. One study found that for a group of patients with Type 2 diabetes their HbA1c was reduced by 0.48% following a mindfulness-based intervention.

Helps relieve chronic pain

Mindful breathing could help to reduce pain and improve self-regulation in individuals suffering with chronic conditions including back, neck and shoulder pain [4].

Improves sleep quality

A meta-analysis into the effects of mindfulness techniques for sleep problems found that patients reported better quality of sleep and were less likely to wake up for long periods during the night [5]. 

Try this 5-minute exercise

  • Find a comfortable position. This could be standing but most people prefer sitting or laying down.
  • Close your eyes. You can keep your eyes open if you prefer but you might find it easier to keep focused if they remain closed.
  • Let yourself breathe naturally. Sometimes if you’re feeling particularly anxious or stressed it might be beneficial to take a longer breath. In this case, inhale for 3 seconds, hold for 2 seconds then exhale for 4 seconds. But otherwise just allow your breathing to be completely natural.
  • Notice your breath. Focus your attention on the way you inhale and exhale and how your chest rises and falls. You might find your mind wanders during this and you start thinking of other things, this is natural just notice that your mind has wandered and try and focus your attention back onto your breathing.
  • Remain for 5 minutes. Continue to focus on your breath and drawing your attention back if you find you start thinking of other things. After a few minutes slowly open your eyes.


  1. Sharma, M. and Rush, S. (2014). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction as a Stress Management Intervention for Healthy Individuals. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 19(4), pp.271-286
  2. Burg, J. and Michalak, J. (2010). The Healthy Quality of Mindful Breathing: Associations With Rumination and Depression. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 35(2), pp.179-185.
  3. Rosenzweig, S. (2007). Mindfulness-based stress reduction is associated with improved glycemic control in Type 2 diabetes mellitus: A Pilot Study. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 13(5), pp. 36-38
  4. Kabat-Zinn, J. et al (1985). The clinical use of mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 8(2), pp.163-190.
  5. Gong, H. et al (2016). Mindfulness meditation for insomnia: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 89, pp.1-6.