Why is so much importance placed on breathing in mindfulness?
First of all, breathing is always available for us to focus our attention on. By practicing exercises such as the three-minute breath we can train our mind to concentrate on one thing at a time. By training our concentration in this way, we can start to pay closer attention to what is happening to us and more importantly how events are affecting us.
Secondly, our breathing is affected by our hormonal and nervous systems. When we are anxious or stressed our bodies respond without us being aware of what is happening. If these responses go unchecked, they will eventually have a detrimental effect on our well-being as stress hormones build up in our bodies. Our breathing is affected early on in the stress response, it becomes faster and more shallow. When we develop an awareness of this we learn to recognise the causes of our stresses at an earlier opportunity then we otherwise would.
This early awareness of our stressors is vital in our efforts to stay well. If the early changes that stress brings are left unnoticed and unaddressed, they will build up, but eventually they will become too much and we will end up being adversely affected by them. How we react in such situations will vary from individual to individual, but whatever the reaction it will be detrimental to our wellbeing. And if we have allowed stressors to go unnoticed when these adverse reactions occur, we are likely to blame them on the situation in front of us at the time, which is unlikely to be the true root cause of our discomfort. In this situation we are more likely to make inappropriate decisions which will lead to more stress.
An awareness of our breathing, and more importantly changes in our breathing patterns, will give us a profound understanding of how our bodies are reacting to any given situation. This understanding allows us to question whether or not these reactions are appropriate, and so we can develop plans to allow us to feel less stressed by these situations in the future.
The final reason for using breathing as an aid to concentration is the feeling of calm and peace that you will feel at the end of your three-minute breathing exercise. This is something to remember, a safe place if you like, a feeling that you can return to at any time where your mind is relaxed and quiet, where you can let thoughts wander off wherever they will go without following them and being distracted by their random associations, a place where you are truly you.