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Mindful Breathing

An effective way to develop mindfulness is to practice mindful breathing. The following instructions provide an overview of the practice, but you may want to take a class or join a group if you are new to meditation.

Preparing

With your eyes closed or in a soft gaze, begin by consciously taking a single breath in and out. Set an intention to not judge your experience, but simply to observe it. See if you can become aware of how your body feels right now, noticing the position of your legs, your torso, your arms, and your head, and noticing any sensations that might be present in these areas of your body (warmth, pressure, tingling, etc.).

Step 1: Become aware of breathing.

Gently, become aware of breathing, just as it is, without trying to breathe in a particular way. Observe whatever physical sensations are most obvious to you: the air moving in and out past your lips or nostrils, or the rise and fall of your chest or abdomen. Notice how the sensations change as the inhaling begins, lasts, and ends, and as the exhaling begins, lasts, and ends. See if you can maintain the intention to not judge your experience.

Step 2. When you notice the mind focused on something else, pause to appreciate this moment of noticing.

Inevitably, after a few moments of noticing the sensations of breathing, other things appear: a thought (memory, judgment, daydream, etc.), an emotion (frustration, anxiety, boredom, etc.), or another physical sensation (pain, discomfort, sound, etc.). Whatever it is, it may occupy your attention for a moment, a minute, or longer, before you realize it.

Regardless of how pleasant, unpleasant, random, or important the thought, emotion, or physical sensation might seem in the moment, see if you can step back to simply notice whatever is occurring as an activity of the mind (as “thinking”, as “feeling”, as “sensing”) – as a natural part of what the mind does. If you find yourself judging the experience or yourself, see if you can treat judging too as just another activity of the mind.

Pause to appreciate the fact that once again you’re noticing what’s happening in the present moment, you’re waking up to awareness.

Step 3. Gently, and intentionally, return your attention to breathing (that’s Step 1 again).

 

 


 

Practice Notes

Because our minds are so busy with thoughts, you will probably notice yourself having to repeat the process of returning to the breath countless times. This is to be expected. Being willing to begin again (and again, and again) will serve you well in this practice.

Repeatedly sustaining the awareness of breathing means you are strengthening your capacity to concentrate, to stay with your present-moment intention and experience. Repeatedly stepping back – treating each unexpected thought, feeling, or sensation that arises as an activity of the mind (as “thinking”, as “feeling”, as “sensing”) – means you are strengthening your ability to “wake up” to whatever is happening in the present moment. Repeatedly being gentle in how you return your attention to breathing means you are strengthening your potential to compassionately begin again with your original intention, in any given moment.

Eventually, you may start to notice yourself becoming more aware and more accepting of your present-moment experience (whether pleasant or unpleasant) and making more mindful, more intentional, choices in response – though this may not always happen in a linear way. This ability to see your experience clearly, and to respond mindfully and with compassion, brings with it more ease and happiness, both for yourself and in your relations with others.

Give the practice a try and see for yourself if this becomes true.