“Feelings come and go like clouds in the sky, conscious breathing is my anchor”...... Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindful breathing meditation is a mindfulness practice where breathing is used as an object of attention. It is a basic but powerful mindfulness exercise that is easy, quick, and simple to perform. There are two ways of doing this meditation: formal or dedicated, and informal or integrated practice.
It is best to perform mindful breathing meditation by setting aside a few minutes for practice. This deepens the meditation experience, and we become more familiar with the fine details of the meditation. With this experience, it becomes easier to practice informal meditation anytime.
How to do formal practice?
Settle yourself into a relaxed, and comfortable seated position. You may use a mat, cushion, chair, sofa, or recliner. Keep your hands resting in a comfortable position. Allow yourself to relax and become aware of the sensations of support beneath you. Notice how your body contacts the mat or chair. Release any tightness or tension in your body through these areas. Feel all your stress ‘melting’ into the surface beneath you. You may imagine this like ice dissolving in water, and water evaporating into gas. Now bring your awareness to your breathing. Just notice the physical sensations of the breath.
Observe the natural rhythm and flow of the breath. Do not control or change your breathing. Just feel it as it is. Is it short or long or shallow? Let your attention be light and easy. No need to concentrate. Watch the entire cycle of the breath... the complete inhale and exhale. You may imagine as if you are floating on a gently undulating sea, where you’re riding up with one wave and coming down with the next. Notice the sensation of the air as it enters the nostril and as it leaves. Feel the air going in is cold and the air coming out is warm. Observe the subtle movements of the abdomen, chest, and torso area as you breathe.
As you do this, your mind may begin to wander. Random thoughts about things to do, fantasies, memories, thoughts of the day, and worries may come. It’s very normal. As you notice that your attention is shifting away, label this as 'thinking' in your mind softly. Become aware of where the mind goes and gently shift your awareness back to the sensations of breath whenever you get lost in thoughts. Each time, celebrate the moment when you realize that your mind was somewhere else. In recognition of the moment, have an attitude of congratulations. Stay here for a few minutes. Then gradually become aware of your body and your surrounding. When you are ready, open your eyes and establish contact with the outside world.
Variation of position:
People with restricted movements, illness, or hospitalized patients can practice this meditation in a lying down or semi-reclined position on the bed.
This meditation practice is integrated into routine activities and can be performed anytime and anywhere. It can be practiced as ‘micro-meditation’ while sitting on a chair, standing, or even on the go. Here, the breath serves as an anchor–where you can bring your awareness any time when feeling stressed out or overwhelmed with negative emotions. It is particularly useful as we face day-to-day challenges and stressful situations. With regular practice, it becomes very easy to bring the awareness back to breathing to find calm in the chaos.
How to do Informal practice?
Find a comfortable position to stand or sit. Release all the tension felt in the body. Relax the shoulders and soften the face. Keep your eyes open or closed as convenient. If the eyes are open, maintain a soft gaze, without concentrating on any particular object. Gently become aware of the breath, and the physical sensations of the breath. Mentally you can repeat phrases such as ‘calm’ while inhaling and ‘peace’ while exhaling. When you focus attention on breathing in this way, it gives instant relaxation. Just a few mindful breaths can have a powerful impact on how we feel.
How much time?
Start with the formal meditation practice of 5 minutes a day and gradually increase up to 20 minutes in one session. Guided meditation audios can be used for convenience. Informal practice can be done as often as possible while working at the desk while waiting at the traffic signal or traveling. These mindful breathing breaks help to release the stress of everyday work and improve our work performance.
Benefits of mindful breathing meditation:
This meditation provides deep relaxation to the body and mind. As the breath slows down in meditation, brain waves also change to alpha waves, a restful state. According to scientists, these waves reduce anxiety, and stress and promote a peaceful state of mind. Alpha waves promote calmness, alertness, and integration of the mind and body. New neural pathways in the brain are created with this practice. Improvement in cognitive fitness, memory, attention, and focus can be achieved as a result.
Regular mindful breathing meditation reduces cortisol by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This signals the body that everything is okay, and induces a relaxation response. Mindful breathing meditation is a simple tool that is available to us all the time. It is an excellent way to establish ourselves in the present moment. Mindfulness training promotes more rational thinking and better ability for emotion regulation. This helps us realize that anxious thoughts are usually about the past or future.
Jon Kabat Zinn says, "You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf." In our daily hectic lives, we can’t escape stress, worries, and tensions. Although stress is inevitable, suffering, and misery can be optional. Mindful breathing meditation is an effective tool for learning ‘how to surf’!
Disclaimer: The content in this article is for informational purpose only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment. Yoga and meditation practices mentioned here must be learned under the guidance of a qualified yoga professional.