Breathing Exercises to Assist with Mindful Meditation
Mindfulness: “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the moment, and nonjudgmentallly,” (Kabat-Zinn, page 4).
Have you ever driven a long distance and spent the time stressing about what needs to be done: work, responsibilities, activities, chores, etc.? Before you realized it, you missed the scenery. By spending your time worrying, you missed out on the experience of driving and the temporary break you were given. Likely, your stress level remained constant or was even increased by the worry instead of decreased by focusing your attention on the present: the sound of your engine, the trees on the side of the road, the colors of the other cars, and so on. Commonly, this experience is referred to as ‘automatic pilot’ mode. People often get lost in their heads, whether they know it or not, thinking about what has already happened and what is to come. By not being mindful, they are not fully experiencing the present. Not stopping to appreciate life moment-to-moment, not fully engaging in the present, can increase stress significantly. One intensely successful way to reduce stress by staying in the present? Practicing mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a type of meditation first practiced by ancient Buddhists. That being said, it has nothing to do with becoming Buddhist. As explained by Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book Wherever You Go, There You Are, mindfulness, “nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of present-moment reality. It wakes us up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments," (page 4). He further explains that mindfulness meditation, "has everything to do with waking up and living in harmony with oneself and with the world...and with cultivating some appreciation for the fullness of each moment we are alive. Most of all, it has to do with being in touch," (page 3).
Focusing more of your attention to the present can help you think more clearly and enable you to handle your stress better. Mindfulness can be a very helpful grounding technique and can help lead to a more wholly grounded life. Mindfulness is focused on staying in the present, purposefully focusing on the present. A great way to begin to be mindful is with breathing. Breathing is an important part of mindfulness; by focusing only on your breathing, you are actively paying attention to one thing, which can help ground you. Start by sitting upright and closing your eyes. Direct all of your attention to your breathing. When emotions, thoughts, sounds, or anything else passes through your head, accept them for what they are without judging them or considering them at length. Allow them to passively leave your mind, easily coming and going, and just simply note their existence before you return your focus to your breathing. This technique requires a lot of practice, but once mastered, it can be a valuable skill to keep you calm and help you be mindful.
Another variation of mindful breathing (developed by Kabat-Zinn) concentrates on the movement of your stomach. Lying down or sitting comfortably, take notice of your tummy, watching and feeling how it rises and falls with each inhale and exhale. Stay in the present by experiencing each breath, in and out. When you notice your thoughts becoming distracted, look again at your stomach and focus on its movement. Try doing this for fifteen minutes a day, or whenever it is convenient for you. Mindful breathing is the beginning of mindful living and can considerably reduce stress over time.
Using these techniques, you can try to be more mindful in your everyday life. Mindful breathing is a great way to begin mindful living. Though there is much more to the practice than covered here, starting with just these breathing techniques may help reduce some stress as you grow and learn more about the practice. Studies of the effectiveness of mindful meditation are being conducted at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center through a program developed by Kabat-Zinn called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.