There are two types of mindfulness practice that are so helpful and important that they deserve special mention: mindful breathing and mindful listening. Each method offers you a way to inhabit the present moment more fully and either can be the first step to a healthier life.
Below are easy-to-follow instructions for practicing mindful breathing and mindful listening. Experiment and have fun with both. Return to these instructions as often as needed to make your mindfulness practice strong. The more confident you feel with each of these methods of practicing mindfulness, the more likely you are to use them, not only in specific five-minute practices, but also in other situations where added presence and awareness are valuable elements of your total experience.
Mindful breathing is an ancient and powerful way to establish your awareness in the present moment.
In essence, mindful breathing is simply directing your attention entirely to a focus on your breath—observing it as it occurs without attempting to control it. Here are some simple instructions for mindful breathing:
1. Make yourself comfortable. You can do mindful breathing in any posture: sitting, lying down, standing, or even walking.
To reduce distractions, close your eyes or focus softly on a spot on the ground a few feet ahead of you.
2. For the time of this practice, let go of all agendas.
You don’t have to become anyone or anything else or make anything special happen. You already have what it takes to be mindful. Just relax.
3. Gently bring your attention to your body, and then to the sensations of your breath moving in your body. Rest your attention at the spot where it is easiest for you to actually feel your breath moving in and out. The chest or abdomen rising and falling or the tip of the nose are common points of focus.
4. Let the breath sensations come to you. You need not control your breath in any way. Let it flow naturally as you bring a kind, allowing attention to the sensations of inhaling, pausing, exhaling, and so on, breath after breath.
6. When your attention wanders away from your breath, you haven’t made a mistake or done anything wrong.
Simply notice this movement of attention, understanding it as a habit of your mind, and kindly return your attention to the breath sensations happening in the moment. Your mind will likely move away from your breath countless times. Each time, just notice where it went and practice kindness and patience with yourself as you return your attention to the breath sensations happening in the moment.
7. Don’t struggle with being present for many or even a few breaths, but instead focus on connecting with this breath, this inhalation, this exhalation. Even if you can’t focus on two consecutive breaths, you can focus on this breath. To be present for this breath is good enough.
8. Move your attention closer, noticing the quality of each new breath as accurately and continuously as you can. Try to stay present for the entire cycle of the breath: in, pause, out, pause.
9. End your breath meditation by shifting your focus off of your breath sensations, opening your eyes, and moving gently.
In addition to breathing mind fully, it’s often useful, especially when you wish to calm yourself or relax, to deliberately breathe deeply, from your abdomen, not just your chest.
Some of the practices will instruct you to breathe deeply or diaphragmatically. By that we mean deepening your breath so that your diaphragm (the muscle that sep a rates your chest and abdomen) expands down ward, and your belly rises.
To check how you’re breathing, place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly, above your navel. Which hand moves more as you breathe? To ensure that you’re breathing diaphragmatically, work on expanding your diaphragm down ward (taking a deeper breath). This will cause the hand on your belly to move more than the hand on your chest. While it’s possible to breathe adequately by simply expanding and contracting your chest, diaphragmatic breathing—deep belly breathing—is a powerful tool for inducing calm and even relieving anxiety. Next time you’re over taken by a strong negative emotion, give diaphragmatic breathing a try and see how it affects you.
Here are some important things to remember about mindful breathing and diaphragmatic breathing, and some distinctions between them:
- Deep, diaphragmatic breathing requires conscious effort beyond the body’s natural breathing.
- By deliberately involving your diaphragm in
breathing, you are breathing more deeply, from your abdomen, and you can help
your body take in more oxygen. When people are anxious or stressed, they often
fall into habits of shallow, rapid breathing that involve moving the chest but
not the abdomen.
By deliberately breathing from your abdomen, you can shift out of these habits of shallow breathing and poor oxygenation in times of anxiety or stress.
- Diaphragmatic breathing is a powerful practice for moving more breath into and out of the body. You only need to take a few of these intention ally deeper breaths when practicing this form of breathing. Your body rarely needs such a large volume of air in each breath for a prolonged period. As you begin to feel the benefits of a few deeper breaths, and perhaps a sense of calm arising, let go of the diaphragmatic breathing and allow your body to breathe naturally, at its own depth and rhythm.
- “Breathing mindfully” is practiced by paying attention to sensations arising from the body’s natural breathing patterns. Mindful breathing doesn’t require any control of the breathing pro cess.
- And, of course, you can be “mindful” of diaphragmatic breathing.
Mindful listening involves directing your attention entirely to a focus on the sounds in your environment, whatever they may be. Simply receive and observe them without labelling or judging them. Here are some simple instructions for mindful listening:
- Make yourself com fort able. You can do mindful listening in any posture: sitting, lying down, standing, or even walking.
- To reduce distractions, close your eyes or focus softly on a spot on the ground a few feet ahead of you.
- For the time of this practice, let go of all agendas.
- You don’t have to become anyone or anything else or make anything special happen. You already have what it takes to be mindful. Just relax.
- Focus your attention on the sounds around you.
- Let the sounds come to you, receiving each without preference.
- Let go of any thoughts about the sounds; instead, focus on the direct experience of sound itself.
- Allow your focus to deepen to include all sounds.
- Listen and receive, allowing one sound, then another. Notice how one sound fades and is replaced by another. Notice even the space between the sounds. Relax, soften, and open.
- Let the meditation support you. Listen and open as sounds come and go. Rest in the stillness that receives all sounds.
- End your meditation by shifting your focus from the sounds, opening your eyes, and moving gently.