As you start to read this I want you to take a moment to become aware of your space. What sounds are around? What do you smell? What do you see? What objects is your body in contact with? Notice and feel those contact points. Inhale fully, then exhale completely. Now do it again, inhale fully and exhale completely. Take note of how you feel.
What you just did there was a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is a practice of being aware of the present moment and to experience being in your body. The practice of mindfulness dates back thousands of years, originating in Buddhist practices and traditions. It can be used to combat feelings of anxiety, depression, pain, or to just simply enjoy the moment. Many people live in the state of what’s called being on automatic pilot. Being on auto-pilot you’re going through the motions of day-to-day life in an almost out of touch way because of an unfocused mind. Have you ever put on a song and not realize until the near end that you didn’t hear a single verse? In an unideal circumstance, being in this state can lead to a rumination of negative thoughts yielding a negative mood in a matter of seconds caused by an inconvenience or undesirable situation. Mindfulness allows you to notice those moments of being on auto-pilot and switch it off to experience the moment for what it is.
In mindfulness practice you set out a particular time to be mindful while centering your attention on a specific object and bringing your attention back to that object again and again. At the beginning of this composition you practiced being mindful in your current experience, which was the object of focus. That object can any of your senses, your body in movement or stillness, your thoughts, and even a task that you’re doing. Naturally, while you do these things you will lose focus and your mind will begin to wander and think about something else. When you notice that happening, you bring your attention back to your focal point with grace. It is important to not judge yourself for a wandering mind. This is a constant practice of bringing yourself back over and over again, which then teaches you how to maintain concentration; that is the purpose of mindfulness. As you continue to grow in your practice you begin to cultivate it in your day-to-day life leading to more pleasant experiences, improved stress management, better control of your emotions as well as considerably more benefits.
The most amazing thing is happening right now; you are breathing. That breath is your vitality and is happening all day every single day. That is why mindful breathing practices can be done anywhere at all times. Here are three mindful breathing practices that I do often. I encourage you to stop and join me in doing these practices as you read. Take a breath, honey:
- The 3-Count Breath
This breathing technique lowers your heart rate and reduces your stress levels as you stop and calm yourself. You can do this until you fall asleep, set a timer and do it for a certain number of minutes, or repeat it 3 times before doing a task. While you do this focus on the feeling of air circulating your lungs in each step and focus on the counting.
- Close your eyes
- Inhale through your nose continuously for three seconds
- Hold your breath for three seconds
- Exhale slowly out of your mouth continuously for three seconds
The more you do this the longer each count has an opportunity to get. I started with a 3-Count and now I do a 5-Count.
- Abdominal Breathing
There are two different types of breathing; ‘Chest Breathing’ and ‘Abdominal Breathing’. The type depends on the way the diaphragm, central tendon, and rib cage move in relation to each other. Abdominal breathing is our natural state of breathing in which we take deep and consistent breaths; it is how we breathe as we sleep. When a person is anxious they may experience Chest Breathing characterized as shortness of breath or quick, rapid breathing. Through evolution our body has developed the “fight-or-flight” response which is a state of hyper-arousal that raises our blood pressure, heart rate, and adrenaline. It prepares our body to fight off a predator or to run to safety. In modern days, our body cannot tell the difference between the threat of a wild animal or a stressful work situation; all it knows is that you are feeling anxious and breathing from your chest. At this time the blood is not being oxygenated properly, thus signaling the “fight-or flight” response which can lead to a panic or anxiety attack. Many people live everyday life in that fight-or-flight response, making it hard to control anxiety. It’s what happens when you wake up and realize you over slept your alarm and once you get to work and still can’t calm down as if you ran there. Tuning in to your Abdominal Breathing can flip that response off signaling to your body that you are safe. Here is how you do it:
- Put one hand on the chest and one hand on the stomach
- Intentionally breathe deeply into your stomach
- As you inhale, through the nose, expand the stomach fully
- As you exhale, through the nose, contract the stomach inward
- Repeat until you feel calmed down
- Breathing In-and-Out the Nose
This is the most common breathing practice I use. It requires you to do nothing but breathe. You don’t have to close your eyes (you can of course) so you can do it anywhere.
- Begin to notice your breath, don’t do anything to change it, just notice it in its current state
- Close your mouth and breathe in and out of the nose
- Feel the sensation of air go into your nose. Can you notice the air feeling cold going in?
- Feel the sensation of air go out of your nose. Can you notice the warm air going out? Can you feel that air on your top lip or maybe your mustache?
- As you do this let the breath breathe itself. Do try to control it just notice it for what it is.
Your mind will wander and that’s natural. When you notice you’ve wandered off just guide yourself back to the breath. Over and over again.
Mindfulness has changed my life for the better. I experience anxiety less because I’ve learned to focus on the things I can control and not to take everything so seriously. I also use these tools when I get upset or want to lash out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect and I still blow up sometimes if I don’t try to control it. I still get anxious and overthink myself into worry but what matters is that I’m practicing to be better and it is all a journey so I take it one day at a time. Be gentle with yourself. Take a breath, and stop and smell the roses. If you don’t look up, life will run right past you and you’ll be left wondering where did the time go. With the knowledge you have now, return to the top of the reading. Cultivate that practice once more… was there a difference?
Peace, love, and enjoy your magical life.
Moore, Danae. “‘Chest Breath’ vs. ‘Belly Breath’ - What's the Deal?” In Pursuit of Yoga, In Pursuit of Yoga, 12 Mar. 2015, www.inpursuitofyoga.com/blog/2015/3/11/chest-breath-vs-belly-breath.
Sheryl Ankrom, MS. “Deep Breathing Exercises to Reduce Anxiety.” Verywell Mind, 3 Apr. 2020, www.verywellmind.com/abdominal-breathing-2584115.
Watt, Tessa. Mindfulness: a Practical Guide. MJF Books, 2012.