Photo courtesy demaerre via iStock
Focusing on the breath is associated with more self-awareness, less mind wandering and better mood. Breathing naturally soothes the nervous system, and when you are in a challenging situation, it can be beneficial to take a moment to focus on the breath and bring your mind back to the present for better clarity.
In this practice, we use the breath to calm the mind and strengthen mindfulness. Try this five minute active practice with Cortland Dahl.
Guided Practice: Mindful Breathing
Led by Cortland Dahl
In this practice we’re going to work with the breath in a few different ways to train the mind to be mindful and aware.
For active practices, you want to select a simple activity, like going for a walk or doing light housework. To begin, continue on with what you’re doing and bring a heightened awareness to the world around you. Notice the sounds in your environment, perhaps the feeling of movement in the body, or the sensation of holding if there’s something in your hand. Notice the colors in the world around you.
Now set a clear intention to be aware and present for the next few minutes, and to bring your attention back when the mind wanders.
There are three steps in this practice. Counting the breath, feeling the breath and being with the breath. Let’s start with counting the breath. First, relax your body and mind with a few deep breaths.
Now let your breathing return to normal, and when you feel ready, you can begin to count each breath cycle. At the end of each exhalation, count one in your mind. Count from one to three full breaths and then begin again at one.
Keep a light awareness on the breath, while still remaining attentive to what you’re doing.
Now let go of the counting and simply feel the sensations of the breath. Notice the feeling of the air moving through your nostrils.
Now we’ll move on to the third step – being with the breath. Relax your awareness a bit and simply know that you are breathing. Continue on with your activity and feel the flow of the breath. Just let breathing happen.
For the last few moments, let go of the breath and give your mind a rest. Don’t try to concentrate or focus. Simply be aware as you continue on with whatever you’re doing.
Nice work. That’s it for now. Before you continue on with your activity, set a clear intention to continue practicing. See if you can stay with the breath until you’re done, then reset your intention and try it again. Practice for short moments, and use whatever you’re doing as an opportunity to be mindful and aware.
Awareness. Connection. Insight. Purpose. We consider these to be four ingredients of a healthy mind. You can train yourself to improve these skills, just like you can develop any habit. This audio practice is provided by Healthy Minds Innovations (HMI), an external, affiliated nonprofit dedicated to supporting the mission of the Center for Healthy Minds. Want more practices? Try the Healthy Minds Program App.