The Mindfulness of Breathing
The constant flow of thoughts and the narratives that they form, are often the main cause of any mental distress that we experience.
This practice helps us to develop a calm and concentrated mind.
It can provide a break from that flow of thoughts – a space, or stillness where we can gain some respite, and where ‘healing’ can happen.
The Mindfulness of Breathing can help us to feel less emotionally and mentally scattered and help our minds become more energised, focused, and wholehearted.
This can mean that our experience of life becomes clearer and more vivid. We may also find that our choices become more conscious and more meaningful.
The object of concentration
The object of concentration this practice is the breath. As with the other practices, we begin by focusing on the object of concentration.
We then find we have drifted off, so we recognise this, congratulate ourselves for noticing, and return to the object of concentration.
The Mindfulness of Breathing has four stages, though a short Body Scan can be done as a good way of settling into the practice.
The four stages are:
Stage 1: Counting after the out-breath
Feel the sensation of the breathing as it flows naturally in and out of the body. Just after each breath leaves the body (the out-breath), mark it with an internal mental count of ‘one’, then ‘two’, etc. – right the way up to then. After we have counted ten breaths, we begin again at ‘one’.
Stage 2: Counting before the in-breath
In Stage 2 we count each breath just before it enters the body (in-breath) – counting through to ten, just as in Stage 1. We can think of this as ‘anticipating the in-breath’.
Stage 3: Feeling the breath in the body
In Stage 3 we drop the counting altogether, and simply follow the whole flow of our breathing, noticing the sensations in the body and the expansion and contraction that occurs with the breath.
Stage 4: Focussing Down
In Stage 4 we notice the point where the breath first enters and leaves the body – the point where we most clearly feel the air entering and leaving our body.
This could be the lips, the tip of the nose, the throat, or somewhere different and may well change during the Stage, or from meditation to meditation.
Ending the Practice
To end the practice, we relax our effort and sit quietly doing nothing for a minute or two. Absorb the effects of the practice, and gradually allowing your attention to expand out again so you feel yourself as a person sitting in a chair in a room (or wherever you are!). Become aware of your surroundings.
It is important to end the practice slowly and sensitively. Notice any difference in your emotional and mental state from when you started the practice.
Tips for the practice
- Decide how long for each stage, before you begin. If you can do 4 minutes per stage, that would be a fantastic start.
- Set timer if possible – there are some great apps for this – but make sure social media is switched off if you do this!
- In the first two stages, make the count short, sharp and quiet – imagine the count as a pebble dropping into water. Remember the breath is the focus, not the count.
- If you find the count difficult due to previous tendencies in your mental health, you could consider starting in Stage 3
Tips for engagement
- Use an Image – such as a wave rising and falling with the in and out breath. Or imagine breathing in white healing light, breathing out dark smoke.
- Say some words – for example, ‘breathing in, I know I am alive…. breathing out, I let go of any dis-ease
- Just focus on the sensations. Notice the temperature of the breath. The rise and fall of the chest.
- Try to find the gap between the in and out breaths. Or the gap between the out and in breaths. Is there really a gap 😉