After completing the two mindfulness exercises yesterday, you may have noticed how difficult it is to keep the mind focused and switch from mindless to mindful activity – especially when the activity is relatively quiet. Luckily though, there is an activity we perform all the time, which we can use to focus the mind: breathing.
Normally breathing is, of course, very much an autopilot exercise: we hardly ever think about taking a breath, unless the situation is very particularly: a stressful situation for example. However, breathing is as close at you can get to perfect for focusing a wandering mind: it is rhythmical, easily observed – and we can even focus on it anywhere we want. Not surprising therefore, breathing focused exercises have become quite something of a “staple exercise” for many mindfulness practitioners and trainers (with “body scanning” a close second, but we will get to that later).
For the time being let’s try a simple and relatively short breathing focused exercise. If you don’t need to time the exercise, I’d encourage you not to. But otherwise, use your timer from yesterday again. The total exercise should take about 7-8 minutes.
1) To start sit down comfortably in a quiet space. This exercise is best done upright at first as it allows you to focus on different body parts. Later on you can vary the position. A cushion is ideal to sit on, but a sofa or chair will do, too. Just make sure you are comfortable.
2) Now focus on your body, and how it feels to sit down. If you feel any tension or discomfort, maybe change the position a little to make it comfortable. Focus on how your body feels: the weight, the way you are sitting, all the little details you can feel.
3) Once you are comfortable start focusing on your breath. Feel your nostrils or your mouth. Can you feel the air entering your body? The way your nostrils move when you inhale? Or your mouth? How deep are you breathing? Is your breath reaching your shoulder? Your chest? Your abdomen? Sit and observe the way you breathe. Don’t alternate or change the way or speed you are breathing. Just observe it.
4) After a few minutes, to end the exercise, focus away from the breath and back to your body. How do you feel? More relaxed? Have your feelings changed?
Often, people struggle with things “popping up” in their mind when they do this exercise. Even after a lot of practice it is not unusual for this to happen. Don’t worry about it at all, it is perfectly fine. The best way to deal with any such thoughts is to kindly acknowledge their presence, but then let them go. In other words, “speak” to the thought directly by telling the thought “thank you for coming here. I’m busy at this moment. Please come back later when I can give you my full attention”, then focus your thought back to the breathing.
Note that the exercise can be very hard to complete if you haven’t done meditation or mindfulness training before. Don’t let that discourage you. If you feel it was difficult, why not try it again tomorrow? Or, for that matter, if you liked it, you can try to repeat it again tomorrow.
Hopefully, with some practice, you will start to enjoy the feeling of focusing on something as simple and universal as your breath. Later on we will see that the ability to focus on breath can be very useful – as you can use this to bring back your mind to the present in many situations.
However, for today, this is all. Please share how you are getting on with the exercise. How do you feel? You can do so by using the comment function below – or use #ug30bc to share your thoughts on Twitter. Thank you for being part of the journey!