By now, you probably have a pretty good idea of what mindfulness is and know that it is useful for calming your mind and easing stress, anxiety, and depression. But did you also know that certain mindfulness practices can energize your mind and body and increase concentration and focus? Science shows that mindfulness practices can increase the energy your cells produce, direct the use of your mental energy to benefit you, and train your brain to focus and pay attention.
How Mindfulness Increases Your Brain and Body’s Energy
Your Mitochondria Get a Boost
What are mitochondria and why are they important?
Mitochondria are specialized tiny structures inside of cells that perform a variety of functions, but their main job is to produce energy. Most of the energy used by your brain and the rest of your body is produced when mitochondria convert food into adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is your body’s main source of cellular fuel, and your brain needs a steady supply to function properly.
Mitochondria are especially abundant in your brain cells and are involved in many important biological processes in the brain, including the regulation of free radicals and neurotransmitters. They are critically important for optimal brain and mental health. Numerous studies show a correlation between impaired mitochondrial functioning in the brain and psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases, including bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, schizophrenia, psychosis, panic disorder, social anxiety, generalized anxiety, and other stress-related diseases.
Mitochondria dysfunction decreases ATP energy production and increases oxidative stress, which is commonly found in the brains of people suffering from brain and mental health disorders. Cognitive symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction can also include impairments in attention, executive function, and memory.
Mindful practices influence gene activity, including improving mitochondrial function
Research indicates that mindfulness meditation can boost the productivity of your mitochondria. This makes sense because mindfulness is proven to decrease cortisol and stress, and studies show that acute and chronic stress negatively influence mitochondrial biology. Research also shows that chronic stress exposure can lead to maladaptive molecular and functional alterations in mitochondria.
In one small study, researchers recruited individuals who had no prior meditation experience and examined their genetic profile prior to performing a basic ten-minute mindfulness relaxation practice daily for eight weeks. The relaxation routine included reciting words, breathing exercises, and attempts to observe and detach from everyday thoughts. The New Scientist reports:
After eight weeks of performing the technique daily, the volunteers gene profile was analysed again. Clusters of important beneficial genes had become more active and harmful ones less so.
The boosted genes had three main beneficial effects: improving the efficiency of mitochondria, the powerhouse of cells; boosting insulin production, which improves control of blood sugar; and preventing the depletion of telomeres, caps on chromosomes that help to keep DNA stable and so prevent cells wearing out and ageing.“
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone that your body naturally produces in the adrenal gland. DHEA helps manufacture other hormones, including testosterone and estrogen. Natural DHEA levels peak in early adulthood and decline with age. Science has linked DHEA directly to mortality, and it is sometimes referred to as “the fountain of youth” hormone.
DHEA does many important things in your body but it is best known for providing an overall sense of well-being and countering stress. Although the benefits of DHEA supplementation are not well-researched, it is a popular ingredient in energy-boosting supplements.
Research shows that Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) increases DHEA levels. One study concluded:
First, we evaluated the effect on DHEAS in MBSR compared with a waiting list group and found a statistically significant … higher DHEAS in the MBSR group. In addition, Juul et al, found that the MBSR group had statistically significant better subjective outcomes on well‐being and resilience measured by validated questionnaires… Our findings could thus be interpreted as a possible biological marker and even a possible objective measure for improved mental health.”
Growth Hormone Levels Increase
Studies have shown that mindfulness practices stimulate the growth hormone. Growth hormone (GH) fuels childhood growth and helps maintain tissues and organs throughout your life. It is produced by your pituitary gland, and like DHEA, GH production diminishes with age starting in your 40s.
….it can be concluded that the combined approach of yoga (Kriya, Suryanamaskara, Asana, Pranayama, and Meditation) significantly increases the basal level of GH and DHEAS in the blood, thus contributing in promoting healthy aging. The results of the present study also support the claim made by the seers and sages of India in the ancient yogic texts.”
Stress and Cortisol Are Reduced
The science showing that mindfulness lowers cortisol levels in the blood is substantial, and research showing that it lowers a person’s perceived feelings of being stressed is overwhelming. For either reason, practicing mindfulness may decrease the risk of diseases where stress is a contributor, such as psychiatric disorders, peptic ulcers, and migraines. Mindfulness can be helpful when used in combination with standard treatments for these conditions.
One study showed that mental training that promotes skills such as mindfulness, gratitude, or compassion reduces the concentration of the stress hormone cortisol in the hair. The amount of cortisol in a person’s hair provides an accurate record, more so than self-reporting, about how much a person is experiencing stress over time.
The study consisted of three three-month mindfulness training programs. Stress markers in the participants’ hair were tested at four points: before training and after three, six, and nine months. After three months, slight decreases were seen in cortisol levels, and these reductions increased over the next three months. After six months, the amount of cortisol in the subjects’ hair had decreased significantly, on average by 25 percent. At nine months, the concentration remained at low levels.
Mindfulness Practices to Increase Energy and Focus
As explained above, all mindfulness practices can potentially raise your energy because they reduce stress and worry, along with a myriad of other proven health benefits, like easing muscular tension, improving sleep, elevating your immune system and mood, and more. But there are also specific practices you can do when you want to be awake and aware, firing on all cylinders, and performing at your best — body and mind. Maybe you’re having a mid-afternoon slump and need to wake you to keep going at work, or maybe you just got up and want to start your day feeling energized and sharp, the following practices can help you do that. Try them out and see which ones you like best.
Your breath is your remote control to calm your brain and body. It works for energizing your body too. You can deliberately alter your breathing to invoke a controlled level of stress in your brain and body so that you are alert, focused, and primed for quick reactions. While several of the breathing practices below have not been scientifically studied, yogic and pranayama breathing have had promising scientific validation for enhancing cognitive functions and other benefits.
The Wim Hof method
Wim Hof is a motivational speaker, an extreme athlete, and the creator of the Wim Hof Method®, which, according to the website is, “a way to keep your body and mind in its optimal natural state.” The first pillar of the Wim Hof Method® is breathing.
According to Wim Hof, while we are all obviously breathing all day every day, we’re unaware of and not utilizing the tremendous potential of our breath. His specialized breathing technique promises stress reduction, improved sleep, more energy, enhanced creativity, faster recovery from physical exertion, improved sports performance, more focus, and mental clarity, and augmented immune response that swiftly deals with pathogens. The Wim Hof breathing technique is:
- Step 1: Get Comfortable Assume a meditation posture: sitting, lying down — whichever is most comfortable for you. Make sure you can expand your lungs freely without feeling any constriction.
- Step 2: 30-40 Deep Breaths Close your eyes and try to clear your mind. Be conscious of your breath, and try to fully connect with it. Inhale deeply through the nose or mouth, and exhale unforced through the mouth. Fully inhale through the belly, then the chest, and then let go unforced. Repeat this 30 to 40 times in short, powerful bursts. You may experience light-headedness and tingling sensations in your fingers and feet. These side effects are completely harmless.
- Step 3: The Hold After the last exhalation, inhale one final time, as deeply as you can. Then let the air out and stop breathing. Hold until you feel the urge to breathe again.
- Step 4: Recovery Breath When you feel the urge to breathe again, draw one big breath to fill your lungs. Feel your belly and chest expanding. When you are at full capacity, hold your breath for around 15 seconds, then let go. That completes round number one. This cycle can be repeated 3-4 times without intervals.
The website recommends practicing right after waking or before a meal when your stomach is still empty. It also cautions that breathing can affect motor control and, in rare cases, lead to loss of consciousness. Always sit or lie down before practicing this or any breathing techniques. Never practice while driving a vehicle or in or near bodies of water.
The 5-3-3 breathing technique
The 5-3-3 breathing technique was first conceptualized by the former pro player and current basketball coach Dominique Williams. He invented it specifically for athletes to heighten focus before competing, but it can be used by anyone to increase energy and focus before any event, such as public speaking, a job interview, or a first date.
The 5-3-3 technique is designed to maintain focus while improving a person’s energy, making it ideal for those times when you have dips in productivity when working or first thing in the morning to get ready for the day ahead. Here’s how to do it:
Take five deep breaths through the nose and out the mouth, ensuring you completely fill and release the air in your body.
Now, take three quick breaths by again inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
Finally, take three more breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. However, on the exhale, allow yourself to do so loudly and vocally.
Repeat the process for another 2-3 minutes or many times as desired.
According to Coach Williams:
5-3-3 is a meditation designed in the spirit of Buddhist meditation and martial arts training. The method uses breath work as the concentration for mindfulness and insight, along with martial arts breathing techniques for rhythm and increased endurance.”
Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate nostril breathing is a yoga-based breathing exercise. To practice it, you breathe through one nostril while keeping the other shut with your fingers. Then you switch nostrils. Studies show that it benefits the heart, lungs, and brain, including improving cognitive health and enhanced visual, spatial, and motor memory. As with any mindfulness practice, people who practice alternate nostril breathing regularly are most likely to get the most benefit. Here’s how to do it:
- Sit in a comfortable position with your legs crossed.
- Place your left hand on your left knee.
- Lift your right hand up toward your nose. (or left if you are left-handed)
- Exhale completely and then use your right thumb to close the right nostril.
- Inhale through your left nostril. Then close the left nostril with your fingers.
- Open your right nostril and exhale through this side.
- Inhale through the right nostril and then close this nostril.
- Open the left nostril and exhale through the left side.
- That completes one cycle.
- Continue for up to 5 minutes.
- Always complete the practice by finishing with an exhale on the left side.
Breath of Fire Technique
Breath of fire breathing is used in Kundalini yoga during certain poses but it can also be used at any time you want to deliver extra oxygen to your brain. At first, it will take concentration to maintain the breathing pattern as it is quick-paced, rhythmic, and sustained for a long period of time. Your inhale and exhale time is equal, with no pause in between breaths. To do it, follow these steps:
- Start in a seated cross-legged position. Sit up tall.
- Place your hands on your knees, palms facing upward. You can also place a hand on your belly to feel it rise as you breathe.
- Inhale through your nose, feeling your belly expand as you do so.
- Without pausing, exhale forcefully through your nose while contracting your abdominal muscles. Keep your inhales and exhales equal in length. Repeat until you’re comfortable with the pattern.
- Continue the rhythm, inhaling passively and exhaling forcefully. Repeat several times to practice.
- Now, speed up the inhales and exhales. Your exhales should be powerful and loud.
- Repeat for 30 seconds. Over time, you can try doing Breath of Fire for longer.
Meditation to Increase Alertness and Focus
Meditation is another mindfulness practice available to you at any time you want to increase your focus and energy. Science backs this up. In one study, even short‐term meditation training influenced brain energy metabolism considerably. Another study found that practicing just 25 minutes of Hatha yoga (considered a moving meditation) or mindfulness meditation per day can boost energy levels, executive functioning of the brain, cognitive abilities linked to goal-directed behavior, and the ability to control knee-jerk emotional reactions, habitual thinking patterns, and behaviors.
Through meditation, you provide your body and mind with an opportunity to rest and be at peace. Besides the physical alterations supporting more energy mentioned above, this fact alone can feel rejuvenating, and you can come out of a meditation session with more energy and focus. You can find countless guided meditations and instructions for energizing and concentration meditation practices online. I encourage you to explore them.
One type of meditation, in particular, focused attention meditation, has been scientifically shown to induce higher levels of activity in the prefrontal and parietal cortices. These two parts of the brain are involved in the control of cognitive functions such as working memory, spatial attention, and decision-making. Here’s how you do it:
- Sit comfortably, with your eyes open, in a quiet room free of distractions. Find an external, visual object on which to focus, such as a single carpet thread, a door knob, a button on your shirt, or a candle flame – not your breath, a mental visualization, or a mantra.
- Keep your eyes glued to that one object and all your attention focused on it.
- When your mind strays from the object, gently guide it back to the subject again and again.
It is suggested that you start practicing daily for ten minutes and increase the time when you find your focus improving.Share this article!