Draw Your Breath: improving focus and creative skills through arts and technologies.

Presenter(s): Dr. Gil Dekel

decorative image to accompany text

How can we help researchers at the early stages of their study to ‘de-clutter’ their minds and reduce mental strain, so they can better focus and think through what they want to achieve in their research?  The ‘Draw Your Breath’ method uses short meditation and a simple activity of mark-making on paper, to facilitate a self-reflective process in three steps: 

  1. Clearing mental or data overload, and entering a state of relaxation. 
  2. Going beyond pre-conceived assumptions to observe nuances outside and inside you.
  3. Visualising inner experiences and making new connections to form new understandings.

In this technique, participants are asked to draw their breathing pattern on a piece of paper while meditating. The creative combination of relaxing, observing, and drawing provides a space to explore internal thoughts and emotions. Participants can examine and resolve inner confusion or conflicts, and become clearer about their strengths and weaknesses. Focusing their attention on inner ideas that are meaningful to them, participants can determine what they truly want to research, based on their personal experience and interests.

You can use the method as an opening activity in class. It can also be used with people who find it hard to self-reflect, or with people that are stuck in their creative process (such as writers wishing to overcome a writing block).

The first video below shares the guided meditation. The second video explains the theory. Download a worksheet.

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The challenge in becoming focused and creative

Within academic settings, we often notice that students struggle to focus their thoughts and come up with creative ideas for research. With so many distractions, visual ‘noise’ and “… fragmented attention …” (Newport, 2016), how can students, and other people, connect to an inner meaningful space which is innovative, safe and inclusive? How can students gain a deep level of awareness that helps them become creative, pushing their research above and beyond the limits of the subject matter? (Chick, 2013).

The process of accessing inner clarity

Many guided meditations lead participants into a relaxed state, but would then steer them away, back to the ‘awake’ state. Once the meditation ends, participants open their eyes and discuss the experience as an afterthought.  The ‘Draw Your Breath’ method is unique as it engages participants whilst they are still in the relaxed stage, asking them to draw their breathing pattern on a paper, while the meditation is ongoing, allowing them to capture insights and visions.

Visualising something internal through lines, colour, and the experience of relaxing, helps participants embody creative intuitive ideas, and establish a ‘knowledge path’. The experience is not mere fantasy or a dream state, but rather a clear vision of goal and direction; “and when you visualise something really clearly, you believe that you 100% can get there” (‘Athlete’, 2023: time 41:40). It is the vision that drives people towards great achievements (‘Athlete’, 2023: time 4:51).


“… imagination is the beginning of creation ...”
(Shaw, 1927: Act 1, p.9)


Towards the end of the drawing exercise, the facilitator can ask the participants to reflect on questions that relate to their academic pursuits. The facilitator should allow the answers (or feelings) to rise naturally in the meditative state – there is no need to force an answer, but only to lay the questions open. A few questions (adapted from Tanner, 2017):

  • What do I know about this topic?
  • How could I best prepare to research it?
  • What do I need to do? What is my goal?
  • Is this interesting to me?
  • What is important here?
  • What strategies do I need to adopt?

Other questions, which are more open:

  • What do I feel, and experience?
  • What insights am I having?
  • Where am I going?
  • What would my ‘younger self’ say about this?


You can also share the following keywords as they are abstract and open: describe, label, name, reflect, outline, recognise, select, tell, show, collect, underline.

> Download a worksheet with more questions and keywords.

Meditation can be a very relaxing experience, with clarities and insights rising naturally. You may wish to not interrupt this process with questions. You could always share the questions worksheet after the meditation has ended to encourage a conversation in class.


Once students complete their art, they are asked to take a photo and upload it to this digital board, which showcases all students’ works, one next to the other. As everyone is the author of their work, and there is no ‘wrong’ work, the digital board becomes a canvas of different voices, all of which are true and authentic. There is no need to justify one work over another, and so the digital canvas becomes a space of diverse voices coexisting in silence; each work owning its space and shining in its authenticity, while honouring all other works. Each work is individual, and all works blend into one project. This model of engagement is beneficial, especially to groups of participants that are usually under-represented.

Sitting in ‘silence’ and representing each student, the works can “… make research accessible ...”, to use Blaskova’s (2023) words, as students can situate themselves within the group. Students are now asked to reflect on their personal work, as well as on the whole canvas, placing themselves as part of a whole.

The four technologies combined in this method correspond to the four stages of technological development: no technological tool (just the human body that breathes); basic technological tool (just a pen to draw); developed technology (taking a photo of the work); and advanced technology (sharing on a digital board).


> Why does this process work. Continue reading here (opens a PDF).


Human personality is not linear, but complex. Likewise, reality is complex, with the internal and external worlds influencing our decisions. Sometimes “we sense others” (Mason, 2018: 7) better than we sense ourselves... It is therefore common that people get confused as internal messages are tainted by external contradicting ones. These confusions stifle creativity and limit research advancements.

Using the ‘Draw Your Breath’ method can help participants clear their minds, attune to their inner strengths and originalities, and focus on what is important to them. Walking safely outside the thick bricked ‘fortresses’ of comfort zones, the method helps participants see clearly. Once participants are allowed to see and think creatively, they can develop meaningful innovative works and can gift the research community with cutting-edge academic research.




‘Athlete’ (2023) Arnold, episode 1. Netflix. Accessed 8 June 2023, from: https://www.netflix.com/browse?jbv=81317673

Blaskova, Lenka Janik. (2023) Creative methods: How to capitalise on creativity in participatory research. Accessed 26 January 2023, from: https://www.ncrm.ac.uk/news/show.php?article=5746

Chick, Nancy. (2013) Metacognition. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Accessed 12 April 2023, from: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/metacognition

Dekel, Natalie. (2014) The spring clean-up of our emotions. Accessed 11 February 2023, from: https://www.poeticmind.co.uk/wellsensing/the-spring-clean-up-of-our-emotions/

Mason, Jennifer. (2018) Affinities: Potent Connections in Personal Life. Polity Press: Cambridge.

Newport, Carl. (2016) Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. London: Piatkus.

Shaw, Bernard. (1927) Back to Methuselah. New York, Brentano's. Accessed 15 March 2023, from: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015030835154&view=1up&seq=123&q1=imagination%20is

Tanner, Kimberly D. (2017) ‘Promoting Student Metacognition.’ CBE - Life Sciences Education, Vol. 11, No. 2. The American Society for Cell Biology. Accessed 22 April 2023, from: https://www.lifescied.org/doi/full/10.1187/cbe.12-03-0033



About the author

Gil Dekel is a doctor in Art, Design, and Media, specialising in processes of creativity and inspiration in art-making. He is an Associate Lecturer at the Open University, UK, and co-author of the ‘Energy Book’.

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