Mindfulness of Breath
Sit upright, your spine reasonably straight, not stiff, slightly away from the back of your chair. Allow your shoulders to hang naturally. Rest your hands gently on your lap, your feet apart with soles on the ground. Take a few moments to shuffle comfortably into this position. You may find that your posture changes or droops. If you notice this, just gently realign your position into sitting with a posture of dignity, so you can meet and respect the moment with alertness.
It’s helpful to close your eyes. If this is uncomfortable, try to rest your gaze on a still object or spot in front of you and relax your eyelids. When you are ready, bring your attention to your breathing. Become aware of the fact that you are breathing. Simply observe the natural rhythm of your breathing. There is no need to breathe deeply, or to push or pull – allow your breath to take centre stage in your awareness. It’s perfectly normal to start thinking about your breathing or to have an urge to alter your breathing – just be aware of either and try to simply drop into noticing your body breathing naturally – like a curious and fascinated archaeologist uncovering an ancient find for the very first time, just observe (but don’t think about) your body breathing.
Notice the sensation of cool air rise into your nostrils as you breathe in and the warmer sensation of breath leave your nostrils/mouth as you breathe out. Just become aware of these sensations and notice how your breath feels in this moment, entering and leaving your body. If you can’t feel these sensations of breath, just be curious and open, simply notice if you can or can’t feel the breath, either is fine. Remember it’s not about the breath; it’s about awareness – without judging, blaming, condemning, forcing, or any other agenda.
Imagine that you have a balloon in your stomach. Each time you breathe in the balloon inflates, and each time you breathe out the balloon deflates, notice your stomach rising with the in-breath and falling with the out-breath. Notice the sensations in and around your stomach as you breathe in and out. You may feel the need to breathe ‘correctly’, don’t worry about breathing in the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way – if breathing depended on the conscious mind – you’d be dead already – “oh I forgot to breathe, I was too busy!” Just gently drop into noticing how your body is breathing by focusing on the automatic rise and fall of your stomach.
Pay attention from the beginning to the end of each in-breath and each out-breath. Keep your awareness present with the breath as if you were riding the waves of your breathing. By now your mind will probably begin to wander away from your breath – that’s just what human minds do! You may hear it commenting, i.e. “this is stupid or boring”, or “this mindfulness thing is nice, I don’t want it to end”. It might drift off into other things, like your ‘to do list’. This is normal and it doesn’t mean that you have failed! When you become bored, restless, distracted by thoughts, feelings or sounds, you can always come back to your breath — use your breath to refocus your attention as if it were an anchor to the present moment and the state of still, calmness.
No matter how many times your mind wanders from your breath simply notice and guide your attention back to your breathing. Allowing thoughts/feelings to pass-by like clouds in the sky of your awareness. Returning to the present breath and moment each time, observing non-judgmentally, without commentary or preference. It’s common to become frustrated when your attention drifts. Don’t give yourself a hard time, don’t try to banish or push away any thoughts or feelings. You’ll only stress yourself out trying! Simply notice your thinking; touching a thought with awareness is like touching a soap bubble – it vanishes, allowing full attention to return to your breathing.
Remain present and awake to your experience in the moment, without getting carried away in embracing or rejecting any thoughts or feelings, but knowing that it is natural to like and dislike, so letting go without judgement of either. At points you may become sleepy or even fall asleep, this is common, we tend to nod off when comfy and still! You have probably been on the go for so long! Mindfulness itself will help over time, as there is a rest that happens in wakefulness that doesn’t even happen when we’re sleeping. If you notice yourself nodding off, bring your awareness to the fact that you are sleepy. The part of you that knows you’re falling asleep isn’t asleep, and that’s the part that will keep you awake! Gently realign your posture if it has drooped and refocus attention on your breath. If you keep falling asleep do whatever is necessary to keep awake – practise next to an open window or take cold showers before you practise, but don’t blame yourself for falling asleep – you haven’t failed!
As you end the practise, gently lift your eyelids and expand your awareness to include the sights and sounds that are around you. Take the relaxed sense of calm stillness with you throughout the remainder of your day, and remember that it is always accessible to you by simply dropping into awareness of your breath.
It is important to remember that the real meditation practice never comes to an end, it’s your life! Your breathing, sensations, thinking will continue to go on, so the real ‘mediation’ is how you carry yourself in each moment of your life. Awareness is boundless and infinitely available in every moment, in whatever you are doing – it’s always available to you, you don’t need to dedicate specific times to meditate, it’s a way of being, and you can be present at any given time, in whatever you are doing!
It’s easy to forget how to drop into awareness, so it’s good to continue formal practices like this one as often as you can – ideally for 10 minutes each day. This practice and the words on this page are merely designed to point out how to focus your attention, they are not meant to give you anything else, like a sense of relaxation or wellbeing, just simply reminding you, to rest in awareness.
Just sit, and watch your mind before a task, like a work meeting, or getting the kids dressed, get fully present beforehand, and see what happens, what difference it can make to the experience or outcome of the task at hand. Some of the greatest ideas and creations have come out of stillness, by first taking a step back, opening and waking up compassionately to our own private, internal experiences.
Initially practise this for 5 minutes twice a day. Aim to increase the duration by 2 or 3 minutes every few days, until you can do this for 15-20 minutes at a time. Even if you only practise this for 1 minute each day, that is better than not practising at all.
[Adapted from: Williams, Teasdale, Seagal, & Kabat-Zinn, ‘The mindful way through depression: Freeing yourself from chronic unhappiness’]