‘What makes mindful breathing any different than ‘normal‘ breathing?’ I here you ask. The answer to this question is quite simply, that you breathe with intention.
There many things in this world we take for granted, the Breath being one of them. Unless, of course, we have a bad cold or a blocked nose, in which case the breath suddenly becomes the only thing in the world we are interested in. Our lives depend on it. This thing called the Breath. It’s pretty spectacular in that sense, this thing constantly doing its job to keep us alive, whether we’re thinking about it or not.
Suzuki Roshi likes to think of it as a ‘swinging door’, a requisite of life in which we are committed to – betrothed. We’re binded to our breath like a bee to honey. This is what makes the breath such a useful tool of attention, a constancy to focus on and bring us back into the present moment. We are only ever breathing now – the last breath is gone and the next one hasn’t arrived yet – it is always a matter of this one.
Engaging in mindful breathing for just 15 minutes daily for a minimum of a week has been proven to lower anxiety, help regulate emotions and assist in resilience against stress . Thats just 105 minutes out of your 10080 minutes in a week. This much time spent devoted to mindfulness can have a profound impact on your health and mental wellbeing. Are you willing to sacrifice those 15 minutes you spend each day scrolling through your social media news feed? Take this time instead, to focus on YOU and your health.
Mindfulness gives people distance from their thoughts and feelings, which helps them to tolerate and work through unpleasant feelings rather than becoming overwhelmed by them. Mindful breathing gives an anchor – the breath – to focus when you find yourself being carried astray by stressful thoughts. It helps you to stay “present” in the moment, rather than being distracted by regrets in the past or worries about the future, which is really what mindfulness is all about: being present.
The ability to pay careful attention to what you’re thinking, feeling, and sensing in the present moment without judging those thoughts and feelings as good or bad may not come as a walk in the park at first. This is always something I have struggled with, as soon as a baby thought pops into my mind, on goes the light bulb and ahoy with the alarm bells. I can never fully unwind until every thought in my mind is settled and I know full well I have ticked off everything on my To-Do list. My mind can be a pretty wild place at times, a jungle with hyperactive monkeys swinging from branch to branch. I’ve found it difficult to acknowledge these monkeys (aka thoughts) and just sit back and let them do their swing. Its tough. But, thats not to say it does not become easier. I’ve found the more I have practiced mindfulness, the easier it has become for me to notice these thoughts and just let them go, bringing my attention back to the present moment: the Breath. The inhale. The exhale.
How to do it
Below I’ve created 4 simple steps to help you mindful seekers find that perfect mindful breath moment and push past those demanding thoughts to achieve the complete bliss of a quiet mind. Prepare for the peace.
- Begin by sitting quietly in a place where you feel comfortable and are unlikely to be disturbed. This doesn’t have to be a candlelit room, it could be a comfy chair in your home, in your car after you’ve left the office and it could even be whilst your walking home from school/work through the subway (although you won’t be sitting, but thats okay!). Ty to make this place consistent, so for example each time you walk through the subway you associate it with your mindful breath. If you’re someplace where it’s possible, sit or lie in a comfortable position, again – this doesn’t have to be in some difficult yogi pose – just whatever feels good for YOUR body.
- Bring your attention to your breath. Imagine that you have a balloon in your stomach and each time you breathe in, the balloon inflates. Each time you breathe out, the balloon deflates. Notice the sensations in your abdomen as the balloon inflates and deflates. Your abdomen rising with the in-breath, and falling with the out-breath. Tune-in to what your body is feeling. Focus on what you feel, how your body feels, whether you have any areas of pain of muscle tightness, just listen to what your body is telling you.
- Thoughts will come into your mind, and that’s okay, because that’s just what the human mind does. Don’t judge yourself for these thoughts, or analyse them in any way, it’s okay for the thoughts to be there. Simply notice those thoughts, and any sounds, physical feelings, or emotions, and then bring your attention back to your breathing. The inhale. The exhale. Picture these thought just drifting by, like floating clouds.
- Whenever you notice that your attention has drifted off and is becoming caught up in your thoughts or feelings, simply note that your attention has drifted, and then gently return the attention back to your breathing.
These 4 steps: Comfort. Focus. Acknowledge. Return. are your cues. Try to incorporate this mindful breathing into your week for just 15 minutes a day, you’ll be surprised at how you will feel after completing your first week.
Remember, mindfulness is a journey. It is not a quick fix. Be patient with it, go with what your body is telling you. Listen to your body. And just BE.
A quick exercise to try:
Following the animation below, tune into your breath and try to match it to the timing and movement of the circles. Feel how your mind soon becomes quieter.
Or if you have a little more time on your hands, why not try this mindful breathing meditation?
Happy mindful breathing,
 Arch, J. J., & Craske, M. G. (2006). Mechanisms of mindfulness: Emotion regulation following a focused breathing induction. Behaviour Research and Therapy, Vol. 44(12), pp.1849-1858.