Breathe: How 5 Minutes of Zen Can Save Your Day


We’ve all seen that guy storming down the street. You know the one. The somewhat disheveled-looking guy whose hands are clenched into fists as he mutters obscenities at parties unseen. That guy. And wagering that such an individual isn’t the most productive fellow is probably a safe bet. Why is that, you ask? Well, experts maintain that positivity is key. Indeed, a positive attitude can work wonders for one’s productivity, and establishing such an outlook can be as easy as taking time to breathe.

Studies show that meditation improves focus and increases the ability to avoid distraction. The Information School at the University of Washington was the site of one such study, where a group of human resource managers underwent eight weeks of mindfulness-based meditation training. As a control, a separate group underwent eight weeks of body-relaxation training. And yet a third group underwent no initial training whatsoever, only to receive the same training as the first group after eight weeks.

The subjects were tested on their ability to multitask (before and after each eight-week period), performing mundane office duties that involved calendars, E-mail, instant messaging, telephones, and word-processing tools. Researchers analyzed the subjects’ accuracy, speed, and the number of times that tasks were switched. A record of the subjects’ stress levels and memory performance was also kept throughout the study.

When all was said and done, it was found that the meditation group had lower stress levels during the multitasking tests, in addition to being able to focus longer and without distraction. As a result, they got more accomplished. But most interesting was that the other two groups saw no decrease in stress levels at all. Only after they received the meditation training, did the third group eventually see a decline in stress.

So, what does all this mean for you? Simple. A meditative mind is a productive mind.

And with such a mind in mind, it’s invaluable to realize that the very act of breathing is a management tool that’s always at your disposal. In just five minutes’ time, you can release the tension that obstructs your cognitive flow, thereby paving the way to more productive endeavors. Acquaint yourself with this easy method of channeling your inner “Zen”:

1. Have a seat, making sure that both of your feet are flat on the floor, and relax while focusing on your breathing. Slowly take deep breaths, deep enough to notice a pronounced rise and fall of your stomach. Also, be sure to inhale through your nose but exhale through your mouth.

2. After you’ve taken five or six deep breathes, determine which area of your body feels particularly tense. Place a hand on that area, palm down, and resume the deep-breathing while imagining that the process itself is expelling the tension through your exhalations.

3. Continue the process for five minutes (or more, if need be) while making sure to keep your mind clear of thought, in order to optimize concentration and facilitate relaxation.

And voilà! Keeping yourself centered and grounded amid the daily grind is as easy as 1, 2, 3. What’s more, if you’re interested in the actual mechanics behind this theory of productivity (namely, the stimulation of soothing alpha brain waves, as opposed to stressful beta brain waves), check out this detailed article on the subject, courtesy of

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