Just as it is fundamental to life, breathing is fundamental to the practice of mindfulness.
We cannot help but breathe, but we are most often unaware of our body’s effort involved in moving air in and out of our lungs. This is unfortunate as our breathing can give us an indication of our emotional state which in turn can help us understand how we react to particular situations. When we are calm our breathing is relaxed and efficient, as is our body. When we start to get stressed our breathing rate tends to increase and becomes shallower as the sympathetic nervous system kicks in releasing “stress hormones” into our blood. So how can an awareness of out breathing help us in our practice of mindfulness?
The first exercise in mindfulness practice is the “Three Minute Breath”, a simple but powerful skill which can be used anywhere, anytime to restore calmness and allow us to react more appropriately to a situation.
As we start our mindfulness practice it is best to set aside a time and place where we will not be disturbed for a few minutes and give yourself permission to have this time to yourself, it is important. Sit comfortably on a chair, feet flat on the floor and hands resting on your lap. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breathing. Watch as your body moves air into and out of the lungs. No conscious effort is required. As you sit watching your breath you will notice thoughts popping in and out of your mind. Do not allow these thoughts to distract you, let them wander off wherever they may go, don’t follow them, they are unimportant. If you find that thoughts are distracting you, bring your attention back to your breathing. Watch as your breathing finds its own rhythm. As you practice this exercise you will start to feel a calmness spreading throughout your mind and body. Be aware of relaxed state of your body and the quietness of your mind and remember this feeling and then bring your attention back to where you are sitting, noticing sounds and when you are ready, slowly open your eyes. Take a moment to sit quietly and feel the effect of this exercise before resuming whatever tasks that you are doing that day.
For the best results practice the Three Minute Breathing exercise twice daily to begin with. Do not expect anything from the exercise, just accept whatever you notice. If you start off with the thought of a specific goal you will become distracted with thoughts such as is what I am supposed to feel and notice? Am I doing this correctly? What is the point of this? If you accept that whatever happens happens then you will reap the benefits of this exercise more quickly and begin to notice the benefits it can bring to everyday life, which I will discuss in my next post.
Take care, stay well and don’t judge.