2-Step Mindful Breathing Practice

zenPose copyMindful breathing is my go-to mindfulness practice. I love that it is so perfectly portable. Wherever you go, whatever you’re doing, I’m pretty sure you’re breathing. So why not make breathing a practice to connect to the present moment and help you calm down, relax and focus on whatever’s going on for you.

Here’s the basic instruction in 2 simple steps:

1. Pay attention to the breath.

2. When your attention has wandered, pay attention to your breath.

Pay Attention to Your Breath

Focus all your attention on your breathing, watching the breath flow in and out of your body. You don’t need to change your breathing, but you may notice that your breathing naturally slows down as you pay attention to it. This is perfectly normal.

There are several helpful tools you can use to help you focus on the breath.

  • Labeling each Breath – with this technique you silently say “In” with each inhalation and silently say “Out” with each exhalation.
  • Counting Each Breath – with this technique you count each breath silently on the inhalation, and again on the exhalation. If you notice that your attention has wandered away from your breathing and you have lost track, simply return to 1 and start over again.  Don’t be surprised if you don’t get very far before losing focus – even counting to 3 can be an achievement.
  • Feeling each Breath – with this technique you direct all your attention to the physical sensation of the breath in the body. You may notice a coolness in your nostrils or the back of your throat as you breathe, or perhaps you can focus on the gentle rise and fall of your belly or chest. If it is helpful, you may rest a hand on your stomach to more easily notice its movement.

One technique is not better than the others, but you may find that you prefer one over the others. So try them all and see what works best for you.

When Your Attention Has Wandered, Pay Attention To Your Breath

Inevitably you will catch yourself being distracted and thinking about something other than your breathing. This is normal. Sometimes it may feel like you’ve spent most of your time lost in thought and not paid attention to even one breath.  That’s ok. When this happens just notice that you are thinking and bring your attention back to the breath with patience and kindness. It can sometimes help to silently label the thought “thinking.” And if you’re really stuck, you can also try labeling the feeling behind the thought – “worry,” “anger,” “fear,”  “fantasy” . . .

The important thing is to be gentle with yourself. Even the most experienced meditators get swept up in the current of their own thinking sometimes, so avoid being self-critical or judgmental. Remember that the brain is like a muscle. Every time you notice you are thinking and pull your attention back to your breath, you are reinforcing your commitment to the present moment. Even one moment of mindfulness where you realize you’ve been “thinking” is an accomplishment that will plant the seeds for future mindful moments.

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