Writer: Erin Lee
As a foundational practice, mindful breathing works wonders for settling the mind, calming the body, and welcoming important insights into our way of life.
If you're new to this practice, it's helpful to know that mindful breathing is nothing more than a practice of patiently observing your natural breath. This practice is simple, but not easy to sustain on a day-to-day basis. But if you're able to integrate mindful breathing as a regular practice in your daily routine, you will eventually come to benefit tremendously from the wisdom of this meditation.
Here's a step-by-step guide that you can follow for the practice of mindful breathing.
Set aside some time for a session of mindful breathing. If you're new to the practice, I'd recommend starting with just five or ten minutes, and gradually build up the practice to longer durations.
Use a timer to remind you the start and end of your session.
Do your best to ensure a more conducive environment for practice, although there is no need to be in a totally silent environment.
Find a stable and alert sitting posture, either on the chair or cross-legged on the floor.
Allow the body to settle into stillness, and bring awareness to the breath entering and leaving the body.
Gentle rest your attention on the physical sensations of the breath.
You may choose to pay attention to the breath flowing in and out through the nostrils and at the back of the throat, the temperature of the breath under the nose and above the upper lip.
You might also follow the movements of the breath in the body - the gentle rising and falling movements at the shoulders and upper chest, or the expanding and releasing movements at the belly.
You may also experiment with widening your attention to the entire framework of the body breathing in and breathing out.
Let go of any need to control or regulate your breathing, and simply allow the breath to be the way it is.
Let the quality of your attention to be soft and gentle.
You may simply note with curiosity that the breath is long or short, fast or slow, light or heavy, etc.
From time to time, your attention will get distracted and wander away, usually either to your surroundings or to thoughts in the mind.
Each time you notice the mind wanders away, gently invite your attention back to the breath again.
At the end of your session (when the timer rings), take a deep breath in, and as you exhale, open your eyes. Gently transition out of your sitting posture.
Take a few minutes to check in with the following questions about your practice, and feel free to journal your observations as a way to track your experience.
At which part of the body is the breath most obvious to you?
Did you notice your attention wandering away from the breath? How quickly were you able to bring your attention back to your breathing?
Was there anything else that came up for you (e.g. thoughts, emotions) during the practice?
Were you able to stay present with the breath throughout the duration of the practice?
The natural breath may seem quite faint or "feeble" when you first begin to practice mindful breathing, and it may feel like you're not observing anything. You might want to try lightly placing a hand on the upper chest, and/or a hand on the belly to follow the movements of each inhalation and exhalation more closely.
If you find that your mind keeps getting distracted and drifting off from the breath, know that mind wandering is normal, and that each time you practice bringing your attention back to the breath, you are slowly but surely strengthening your ability to focus and sustain your attention. So try not to give yourself a hard time because of this!
You might also notice certain states of mind arising during practice, such as feeling restless or bored. Approach these observations with curiosity, then return your attention to your breathing, and do your best to take the experience one breath at a time.
If you notice the body fidgeting, try to slow down the movements and invite attention to each moment of the body moving. When you feel a little calmer, gently return your attention to the breath.
If you catch yourself dozing off (it happens even with a short five-minute practice!), take a few slow deep breaths, and when the mind feels more alert, relax your breath back to its natural state and continue with the practice.
What's most important with the practice of mindful breathing (along with all other mindfulness practices) is to sustain it as a daily routine - this is how we develop the skills and attitudes of mindfulness.
Find a time of the day that works best for you, and remind yourself to practice it every single day. You might work in a few minutes of mindful breathing in the morning as a way to start the day, in between work hours as a way to rejuvenate the mind and body, or at the end of the day to wind down.