Mindfulness of the breath is often used as a basic centering technique, to bring you into the present moment. Many formal mindful practices start with mindfulness of the breath. The breath is an action that the body makes constantly and is physical in the sense that we can feel our body as it breathes. Becoming mindful of a thought on the other hand can be quite hard, especially for beginners, as thoughts are abstract and people experience them in different ways (e.g., words, images). They do not present themselves as concrete objects in front of us for us to observe. Mindfulness of the breath is a good starting point and can bring you into the present moment quickly. While the goal of mindfulness if not to become relaxed, or calm, becoming mindful of the breath often results in a “slowing down” of the mind and body, merely because we are focusing our attention on something simple and concrete, and often it involves sitting and closing our eyes as we do this. This in itself is relaxing for most people.
Mindfulness of the breath can also be used as a way of bringing you back to the present moment when your mind wanders elsewhere. Your goal for example might be to observe your feelings or thoughts. Once you become trapped in a feeling or thought, using the breath to “center” or “ground” you in the present moment before you continue observing your feelings or thoughts can be helpful.
To become mindful of our breath, begin by sitting upright, but comfortably in a quiet location. Close your eyes, or if you find this uncomfortable, focus on a spot on the floor or wall in front of you. The aim is to follow your breath. Simply watch your breath come in and out of your body. This happens naturally, so there is no need to force it or change it in anyway. Simply observe the breath, without trying to change it. Feel when each breath comes in, and feel when it goes out. Notice each part of the process. The breath goes on a journey and observe this journey. It enters your mouth or nose, travels down your throat or nostrils, slowly filling your lungs. It then travels back out of your lungs, back through your throat or nostrils and out into the air. Notice how your abdominal muscles move with each breath. Notice the rise and fall of your chest. If you want, you can count your breaths from one to ten, and once you have reached ten, go back to one. Just keep on watching your breath. You may notice thoughts and feeling coming up. Just watch them as they come in and go out. Acknowledge their presence, and treat them with kindness and compassion. Then return to observing your breath, moment by moment as it flows in and out of your body.
Other activities that can be practiced mindfully include drinking tea, eating, taking a bath or shower, listening to music, scanning pictures carefully, and physical activities (e.g., walking, running, swimming).