bringing awareness to the breath

What’s your stress-busting sanity-saver?

For me, it’s breathing. Simples. And here's the curious thing: breathing's free, and somewhat untainted by performance management criteria. Now, that's a relief. What’s more, nobody knows you're doing it, except the person bringing conscious awareness to it; which of course is you. 

So there you go: breathing on the sly.

The thing to remember about this thing called the breath is that it's available. It''s here. Now. Plus, it can soothe the mind. Mind you, that doesn't mean to say it’s going to fix anything, or make a problem go away. But awareness of its presence will put you in a better relationship to what's happening in a particular present moment. Does this sound obvious to you? So why aren't we doing something with this knowledge? 

Oh. I know why. Because it takes practice. 

So can we help ourselves with that? 

Maybe schedule its practice into your day? Perhaps have a written reminder in the palm of your hand? Wear a wristband to remind yourself? So when you look at it, you think: best start mindful breathing. Perhaps put a timer on your phone? The thing is, you and I both know that once the day has kicked in; once you're caught up in your souped-up four-wheeler driving along the ‘doing-mode’ highway, the last thing you're going to bring your awareness to is mindful breathing. 

Mindful breathing? Do me a favour, mate. I’ve got things to do. When have I got time for mindful breathing? 

Okay, so let’s go easy on this. Let’s suggest you schedule in three mindful breaths. Let’s call them '3MB'

Is that such a challenge?

My gratitude goes out to Patricia A. Jennings, the author of 'Mindfulness for Teachers'*, who first made me aware of of this practice. Jennings tells us that you just need to find a moment of quiet in your day to do this. It could be during a break at work, home, anywhere really. Could be when you go to the restroom, or the 'loo' as we call it here in unicorn land. The thing is: wherever you go and wherever you are, you can always find a moment to take three long, slow, mindful breaths. Then, once you're comfortable with bringing it into your quiet moments, you might remember to simply deploy it in times of challenge, as it were. It's a little bit like having your own oxygen mask. But this one gently falls down into your lap of awareness.

To start the practice just bring awareness to your posture, whether sitting or standing - just have a light check in with it, feel the feet on the floor, feel yourself sitting or standing upright. Such awareness of posture can bring you more into the present moment. Help you wake up a bit.

The next stage is to gently place your hands on your abdomen wall, just below the navel area and feel the physical sensations of the breath. You should be able to feel the abdomen wall rise on the in-breath, and fall away gently at the out-breath: feel the air flow in and the abdomen wall rise as the in-breath slowly makes its way down there, and feel the abdomen wall fall away, or gently collapse, as the breath flows out at the mouth, or the nose.

Repeat breathing in this way three times.

Keep it natural. Don't try to force the breath in any way. But do see if you can bring full attention to noticing the breath as it takes care of the process of breathing in its own way. This is because the breath knows what to do. All you need to do is bring some curious awareness to the process. As if you're detached from it. 

What you may find is that you're breathing at a slower pace than normal, which helps the mind and the body slow down. 

After completing the third breath, allow your breathing to return to normal. See if you notice any changes in your body. Ask yourself: what's here? What am I noticing? Then, just try to be non-judgemental about what you do notice. After all, it is what it is. The key learning here is to recognise that the breath is available in this way; that you can start bringing mindful awareness to its soothing availability.

So what’s the next stage? Well, perhaps extending the time you breathe in this way - say for five minutes? Just doing this may have benefits for you. Then extending the time to 10 minutes or longer.

What's also powerful about this is sharing what you're doing. You don't have to do this straight away, but it may be that as you experience the benefits of mindful breathing you can role model its uses. So, for instance, if you're a teacher, share the practice with your students. If you're a boss, share the practice with the people who work for and with you. If you're a parent, do it with your kids. It's fairly context adaptable. Let go a bit. It's cool to do so. Because we all have turbulent moments; we get anxious, nervous, uptight, worried, concerned, feel fragile, vulnerable. In other words: we're human.  There’s nothing wrong with being honest about the inevitable stresses of a job (without sounding too self-indulgent about it) whilst showing that you are trying to learn this way of being more mindful in your work, your relationships, your life. As a teacher I used to find that there’s one thing students’ respect: an honest, authentic teacher who role models what is - in essence - a wise vulnerability: sharing what it takes to become a better, stronger, more compassionate person, and more compassionate teacher. But of course that extends outwards: to being a better parent, a better spouse or partner, a better leader of an organisation, a better driver, a better customer in a store when you find yourself having to wait for something, a better student having to grind it out when you’re revising. The possibilities are endless.

And it all comes back to this one thing called 'the breath'

And you take it just one breath at a time. 

Patricia A. Jennings, Mindfulness for Teachers, page 24

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