A Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness: The Breath
“If you’re breathing, there’s more right with you than wrong.”—Jon Kabat-Zinn
Breath is life. It is the most important process of the human body and, like a chain, it links and connects every event throughout our life. The breath is always there, in every moment, just doing what it does, moving air in and out of the body with a natural rhythm and pace, like the waves of the sea. It is not concerned with how it looks, or what other people think of it, or caught up in ‘busyness’ or rushing to reach a ‘daily breath count’ it has set itself as a mark of success.
We can learn a lot from our breathing and use it as a tool, just like an anchor, to bring stability to the mind and body when we deliberately choose to become aware of it. We can tune into it at any moment during everyday life. Most of the time we are not conscious or in touch with our breathing, it’s just there, forgotten. So one of the first things that we learn in mindfulness practice is to really get in touch with the breath. We notice how the breath can change with our mood and thoughts, short and shallow when we are frustrated, faster when we are excited, slow and full when we are contented, and almost disappearing when we are fearful. It is there with us all of the time.
I recorded this mindfulness meditation exercise – A Short Meditation On The Breath – as an opportunity to experience focussing our attention on the breath as it moves in and out of the body. As best we can, we bring awareness to the gentle expansion of the belly on the in-breath and the deflation of the belly on the out-breath. We do not try to control our breathing in any way, we simply let the breath breathe itself. Neither are we trying to achieve a particular state, we are just being present with our breath, moment by moment and breath by breath.
Sooner or later the mind will wander away from the focus on the breath to thoughts, planning and daydreaming, anticipating and worrying about future events or thinking about the past and getting swept away by memories. Mind-wandering is just what minds do, it’s no mistake or failure. So, when you discover the mind is no longer with the breath, simply and affectionately note what is on your mind in that moment and bring your attention back to the breath. If the mind wanders 100 times, the task is to simply bring back the focus of your attention to the breath 100 times, gently, kindly and compassionately and in no way criticising or judging yourself.
With practise, we can develop a greater awareness of our breathing. We can use it to direct our attention to different aspects of our lives, to help manage and overcome anxiety, anger, relationship problems, releasing tension in the body or dealing with the stresses and strains of daily life.
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