A Simple Act: The Mindful Breath
Updated: Dec 7, 2020
Ah, the mindful breath. A simple act. Sit. Be still. Breathe.
Welcome. I'm so glad you found me. Have you been wandering long? Feeling tired? Restless? Maybe you just can't put your finger on it, but you know you could be better. Well, you have come to the right place.
Sit. Be still. Breathe. This is how we begin our practice of mindfulness. We sit and give our busy minds something to focus on. Soon thoughts will capture our attention and when we notice this we gently and kindly bring our attention back to noticing the breath. We do this again and again. How simple. How uncomplicated. How straight forward. Is it easy? No, it's not but it's worthwhile to take the time to practice because practicing mindfulness has many benefits.
Studies show that people who practice mindfulness even for just ten minutes a day will be happier, more productive, and have better relationships with friends, family, and at work. For centuries, it has been known that we humans cause a lot of our own unhappiness. Our mind keeps us busy and distracted with desires, dislikes, and stories about what could make us happy, but that happiness seems to always lie out of reach. Our culture values thinking, doing, and being busy always on the go. However, it is vital to remember there are also times meant for doing nothing. This nothing can be more impactful than you may think. Time to be still, to breathe, to rest. Our brain, mind, and body need this rest, and this is different from a good night's sleep. I learned mindfulness meditation so long ago that there were only a few small studies about the benefits and of course no internet sites to go to for information. Like you, I was wandering in search of something to aid my restless mind. Something to help me feel comfortable being me.
I learned to sit. To be still. To breathe. While I focused my attention on my breath, I also was aware of the stream of thoughts in my mind. Sometimes-well, oftentimes-a thought would catch my attention and I would forget about my breath. My attention was hijacked, and I was off to wherever my mind wanted to go. Eventually, I would notice and bring my attention back to focusing on my breath. How nice! Sound boring? Yes, I would think so too, except that it wasn't. I began to feel relaxed and calm.
And there's more. It isn't just waking up or being aware of your breath, it's all about your attitude. If you say to yourself, "You dummy, lost in your thoughts again!" or something similar that's practicing impatience which is the opposite of what we are trying to cultivate. Oh yes at the beginning of learning mindfulness I was impatient with myself, critical and irritated. This was supposed to help me relax and find peace of mind. Why wasn't it working? I was missing the secret sauce of mindfulness: loving-kindness for yourself.
I had no idea what loving-kindness for yourself meant. I thought it was a selfish indulgence and I should only focus on doing for others. That's how I was brought up. But with training and practice, I learned to smile and be kind and patient with myself when I was distracted yet again by another thought or emotion. Not every practice was calming and relaxing but I kept at it. The benefit is not during your practice but after. The gentle kindness I kept practicing toward myself in mindfulness meditation spilled over to my everyday life. My life began to change. I could lighten up when I made a mistake and even laugh at myself. It was easier to forgive others when my feelings were hurt and let it go. I was learning to be comfortable being me. You see practicing mindfulness changes your perspective, changes your brain, and changes your life.
So, if you find during your day you are feeling sad, cranky, or just not your happy self- try this: take three mindful breaths. Just three. They don't have to be big but normal breaths and feel the breath in your belly as you breathe in and breathe out. Maybe notice what thoughts you are having or a sensation in your body and breathe again and then go on with whatever you were doing. Now if you can take the time to sit and be still try noticing your breath for five minutes.
Such a simple act. Who knew that choosing to feel your breath in your body, to connect the mind and body to be in present time would be so important.