Wherever you are, whatever the situation is, you can always count on your breath. You can always make a reality check by connecting to your breath. The breath is an anchor to the present moment.
In the sitting meditation practice the idea is not to stop thoughts, resist or get rid of emotions, feelings and sensations, or to reach some metaphysical state.
In fact, thoughts are not the enemy and instead of trying to fight or resist them , the aim is to notice and observe them.
As simple as this may sound, it actually isn’t. To make it easier, we intentionally use the breath in both formal (sitting practice) and informal (daily life practice) mindfulness practice, to focus our attention.
If we don’t have anything to focus on we can sit during the entire practice and just experience the looping thoughts, all taking our attention away from the present moment (monkey mind).
The breath allows us to focus on the inhale and exhale, on the feeling of the breath on the body, in a sensorial point, not a cognitive process, and we can simply be with the breath.
The actual practice is: focus on the breath, notice whatever arises, if the mind gets distracted, notice that, and simply (gently) come back to the breath. Again and again.
This builds your awareness muscle and your concentration.
The metaphor is: when you are lost in the sea of your mind, the breath becomes an anchor to return home to shore.
In the same way, we can use the breath as an anchor throughout our day: Someone says or do something at your work and you are lost in the sea of anxiety or rage? Take a deep breath and try to get control of your boat :) You are having a hard time with your kids? Take a deep breath and listen to them.
If you ever tried to meditate, you are probably familiar with all of this and you have already noticed how little control we have on our “monkey” mind – a mind that constantly jumps from thought to thought while you are trying to focus on the breath.
You are also familiar with being lost in your own mind, wrapped up in the stories of the thoughts in a never ending stream. In meditation, when the mind is lost like this, practice is to notice that you are lost in thoughts and return to the breath. The breath becomes the anchor to the present moment.
This may not be easy at the beginning, but like any other skill that we learn ,it takes time to develop and it does get easier.
One of the main points is to allow whatever arises: positive, negative or neutral thoughts, emotions or sensations.
Notice them, not react to them and then letting them go, almost like we are watching a movie or clouds passing in the sky.
This tecnique of using the breath to serve as an anchor/focal point, while being aware of thoughts, emotions, sensations, sounds and/or smells, has many benefits.
There are many scientific studies with evidence that delineates outcomes in well-being, notably in areas of increased focus, peace, confidence, compassion, pain and sleep managment, resilience to external stress triggers, neuroplasticity (by increasing synaptic connections) and gray matter in the prefrontal cortex (awareness, emotion regulation), while decreasing anxiety, depression, symptoms of ADD/ADHD and Autism, lowering levels of cortisol (stress hormones), decreasing irritable bowel syndrome and gray matter in the amygdala (fight/flight/freeze).
There are exponential research studies that point to mindfulness revolutionizing the mental health field.
Whether you are a beginner or an experienced mindfulness practitioner, here a few tips to help you use the breath as an anchor during our sitting mindfulness practice, or during your daily life:
1.Relax into your body when sitting
2. Don't take yourself so seriously...enjoy the practice with as much ease as able
3. Take a 1-minute body scan and notice any tension in the body...let it go
4. Take an initial 3 gentle, deep breaths
5. Come back to the natural rhythm of the breathing for the rest of the practice
6. Notice any thoughts, feelings, sensations, sounds, smells as they arise...let go
7. If the mind becomes load with thoughts, the body feels sensations that invoke reactionary thoughts/feelings, etc., simply notice it and come back to the breath, every time.
8. The cycle of being with the breath and noticing all that arises IS the practices, so be gentle with yourself and come back without judgment of getting it wrong.
9. The fact that you are taking this opportunity to sit and pay attention to the breath and all that arises is a radical act.
10. Be kind, non-judgmental, and begin again each time we wander from the breath.
I apply this when I start a new activity, for example, when I start working or when I start a meeting, when I am with friends or family, or when I start a meal.