As you read this article, you are breathing. Without a thought, you are expanding your rib cage, letting in a full breath of air, filtering the air, and delivering oxygen to your cells. Incredible, isn’t it? And yet most of us don’t think about our breath.
Indeed, taking time to contemplate is a luxury. With constant demands on our time — kids, work, social life — it seems impossible to sit down and do nothing but think. Any free moment is all too often surrendered to a leisure activity, such as watching TV, reading a book, or hanging out with friends. This isn’t a bad thing, but your mind needs some leisure time, too. The mind needs a chance to untangle the thoughts, emotions, and memories that echo through every second.
One way to give your mind a break is to practice becoming aware of your thoughts from a neutral and peaceful place. This practice is called mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation can be practiced with a wide array of techniques. One of the most popular and ancient techniques is mindful breathing. Mindful breathing combines the goal of mindfulness with attention on your breath. It is a breathing exercise which focuses our attention on the present moment, using all of your concentration on that single, unchanging object that is your breath.
Placing all your attention on your breath may sound easy, but achieving full concentration takes practice. Read on to learn how to apply mindful breathing in your life.
Why Mindful Breathing?
Mindful breathing has been shown in several studies to assist in stress reduction and help people cope with clinical and non-clinical issues. This is one reason behind its surge in popularity in recent years.
Mindful breathing can be an especially powerful technique when trying to calm yourself in a stressful situation. Consistently practicing mindful breathing can help reduce a slew of negative emotions, from sadness to envy. It can help mellow you out and prepare you to better take on the ups and downs of daily life.
Mindful breathing teaches you how to set aside negative thoughts and pressures. From this vantage point, it is easier to put your problems into perspective and remain calm in the face of calamity.
Starting out with mindful breathing can be a frustrating experience. You may try to follow the steps below but find pesky thoughts interrupting your concentration every second. Thoughts like “I think I got it! I’m focused on my breath!” and other random musings can go through your mind and interrupt your delicate focus. Beginners may find that even one minute’s worth of mindful breathing is impossible.
Your ability to focus will improve. After a couple of months of practice, many find themselves focusing for 20, 30, or 60 minutes in one sitting. Seasoned Buddhist monks meditate for hours at a time.
Make a Plan to Practice Mindful Breathing
To get started with mindful breathing, it’s helpful to block out a time during the day that you will reserve for your practice. For many, this is the first thing they do in the morning. One idea is to wake up, grab a cup of water, and complete your mindful breathing session before launching into your daily activities. Another option is a session right before going to bed, enhancing your sense of peace and stillness before sleep.
Once you’ve got a time and plan, here are the steps to getting started with mindful breathing.
Mindful Breathing In 7 Easy Steps
1. Set up a gentle timer
An alarm set to a chime sound or soft vibration is a good option. For your first practice of mindful breathing, 10-15 minutes is a good target.
2. Get into a comfortable, relaxed position
Don’t feel like you need to adopt the standard seated lotus position you see on the posters in yoga studios. Any comfortable position will do. This could be sitting on a chair, a bed, or the ground. It is best to avoid lying down as there is a chance that the relaxation of mindful breathing may cause you to fall asleep. If possible, try to have contact between the ground and your body, such as having your feet on the floor. Whatever you choose, make sure that you are comfortable, your back is upright but not tight, and that you feel able to hold this position for the duration of your meditative practice.
3. Focus your attention on your body
Start your mindful breathing session with what’s called a body scan. This is a great way to help calm your thoughts and make way for focusing on your breath.
Close your eyes. Starting with your head, focus in and notice how all the parts of your body are feeling. As you go through your body parts — head, neck, shoulders, left arm, right arm, torso, etc. — try to make note of how each part of your body is feeling. Does it feel good? Sore? Fatigued?
If you can change your position to make yourself more comfortable, then take the opportunity to do so. Otherwise, try to see and feel your bodily sensations without judgment. Notice the sensations affecting your body parts, such as a light breeze against your face or the connection of your back with your chair. Focus in on these sensations. Breathe normally.
4. Tune into your breath
Keep your mouth closed, resting your tongue gently against the roof of your mouth. After going through your body, slowly bring your attention to your breath.
Notice the natural flow your body cycles through as it brings air in and out of your body. Let yourself be awed by the flawless way your mind opens your chest, lets in fresh air, and then compresses again to remove impurities from your body.
Narrow your focus to a single component of your breathing. For example, you might choose to pay attention to the sensation of cold air brushing the inside of your nostrils. You might want to gently place your hand on your belly and feel your torso expand and compress along with your in-breath and out-breath.
At first, you may feel that your focus is causing you to try to control your breath. This can be a very frustrating experience. Only by concentrating on the sensations of your breath can you learn to observe your breath as a neutral observer and relinquish control.
5. Rein in your wandering mind
As you go through this exercise, you will undoubtedly find that thoughts of all shapes and sizes interrupt your concentration. You’ll start remembering where you left your keys or calls you need to return. These thoughts will disrupt your efforts to quiet your mind.
Don’t feel bad — this is normal. Don’t reject these thoughts. Let them flow into your consciousness, giving them a mental nod without getting involved with their content.
Then, as all thoughts do, watch them disappear from your mind. Acknowledge moments your mind wanders, and kindly lead your mind back to focusing on your breath. You may need to do this every moment of your meditation at first. But as you persist with your mindful breathing exercises, you’ll find that fewer and fewer thoughts break your focus.
6. Take big breaths to help bring you through the meditation
If you find yourself getting tangled in your stresses and worries, take a deep inhale and long exhale. Breathe in for two counts, hold your breath for three counts and exhale until your lungs are emptied of air. Then, let your breathing return to normal and focus once more.
7. Take note of your session
Once your timer goes off and your meditation is finished, stay still for a few more seconds before getting up. Take a mental note or write in a journal about how the meditation went. Don’t use judgmental words like “bad” or “good” — simply note how the experience went. How did you feel? Was your mind going wild, or was it tame?
Remember, mindful breathing is not a competition. Your aim is to exercise your mind, not to meet any standards.
A Deep Breath Into Mindfulness
Breathing meditation can be a powerful tool during difficult situations. Instead of going through each of these steps the next time you’re going through a stressful moment, jump to step four and focus on the sensations of your breath for a few moments. This will help you immediately reduce stress and help you regain control over your emotions.
Spire can also help you track these moments of stress so that you know when it’s time to take a breath and engage in some mindful breathing. By measuring the bodily rhythms of your breath, the device alerts you that your body is undergoing stress.
With regular practice, you’ll find that mindful breathing results in lower anxiety, more positive thinking, and better emotion regulation. It’s an easy way to infuse your days with more mindfulness and peace.