This article is the first in a series looking in-depth at mindfulness. Read on to find out how practicing mindfulness on a regular basis may lead to increased concentration and focus in all areas of your life, as well as finding a deep relaxation and contentment.
What is mindfulness?
In our earlier blog article, a beginners guide to mindfulness we discussed what mindfulness is – namely it is a technique we can use to drop the mind and move into our senses. It is non-judgemental observation of the present moment.
There are five elements that one can focus on when practicing mindfulness:
- Space/ environment
In this article, the first in a series, we are looking at mindfulness of the breath.
Why practice mindfulness of the breath?
The breath is something that we can easily focus on, as everyone breathes all of the time! Although we can control the breath to some extent (for example in yoga we might deepen or lengthen the breath), it also happens without any intervention from us, it is natural. At some point we will have to inhale, and at another point we have to exhale.
There are many health benefits for practicing mindfulness meditation:
- Allows us to concentrate better, thereby increasing focus
- Increases feeling of contentment and inner peace. Mindfulness helps us to quieten the “monkey mind” (that chattering voice that goes on in your head; for some people this is a constant noise!)
- More balance and harmony within the body, for example with the hormones and immune system
- Relaxed body and muscles
How to practice mindfulness of breath?
Many people, when they first start to practice meditation, find that their mind wanders. We think about past experiences, what is going to happen next, we imagine future possible scenarios where we are chatting (or arguing) with someone, tunes might pop into our head, what bills to pay, we think about a meal or wonder what we are going to eat then find ourselves planning our next supermarket shop. Sometimes these thoughts we consider as “pleasant” – e.g. memories of happy days – and sometimes these thoughts we call “unpleasant” – e.g. feelings of anger at someone pulling out in front of you in traffic. The key is simply to watch, to be mindful, and not get caught up in the distraction.
Here we give you two techniques for practicing mindfulness of the breath which can help you to drop the wandering mind and focus your awareness on the breath. For both, find a place of quiet where you know you will not be disturbed for a period of time (12 minutes is a good length of time to start, and gradually increase the length of time you meditate, as you progress day by day). Find a comfortable seated position – maybe cross-legged, or sitting on a high back chair with your feet on the floor. Close your eyes.
Technique one: Watch your breath
Notice how you are breathing – through the nose (one nostril or both?), through the mouth? Where can you feel the breath – the nose, upper lip, back of the throat? Are you breathing into the top part of your body only or using the whole of your lungs? Does your tummy move when you breathe in and out? Are you breathing fast or slow?
Simply observe the breath without trying to change anything. Accept.
Any time your mind wanders, as soon as you notice, return your awareness back to your breath. Let go of the thought. Keep doing this.
Technique two: Count the breath
If you find it hard to maintain your awareness on your breath, this technique might be more suitable for you.
Bring your awareness to your breath. Count as you inhale or exhale. See if you can reach 20. If you reach 20, start again. If you do not reach 20 as soon as you notice your mind has wandered off, start again at 1.
For relaxation, count on the exhale. For more stimulation or to increase energy, count on the inhale. The only reason for counting is to bring your focus to the breath and help stop the mind wandering.
In time both techniques become easier and you can sit for longer with your attention on your breath. Being mindful of the breath increases concentration. As your levels of concentration improve try to move onto technique one.
When to practice mindfulness?
It is best to commit to sitting in meditation at the same time each day, maybe first thing on a morning would work for your schedule.
You will find that after only a short period of time being mindful of your breath, when you return back to everyday activities your attention will be heightened, you will have more focus and you will be able to concentrate more deeply. Productivity increases after only short periods of quiet time meditating.
Click here to read our beginners guide to mindfulness, with the seven attitudes of mindfulness.