The Mindfulness tool, the Breath

“are you breathing, are you lucky enough to be breathing”  ― Hettie Jones

One of the primary mindfulness tools that is available to each and every one of us and that we have free unfettered access to, is our breath. Until I came to mindfulness, I did not really think about the breath. Well, unless I was out cycling or walking really quickly. Then when I got out of breath, like anyone, I’d notice the shortness of breath and the desire to regain that sense of normality.

So when do we start to breathe? And is it really autonomic?

I didn’t know this, but babies lungs do not function the same way in the womb as they do outside of the womb. Before birth, a baby’s lungs are filled with amniotic fluid. They do “practice” breathing towards the end of the pregnancy with periodic inhaling and exhaling of amniotic fluid. Somewhere between the 24th and 28th week of the pregnancy, surfactant — sometimes called “lung detergent” — starts being produced in the amniotic fluid. As the pregnancy continues, more surfactant is produced. That is why the closer to term, 38 to 40 weeks, the better a baby is able to breathe outside the womb. Surfactant coats the inside of the lungs and keeps the alveoli, or air sacs, open. This helps when the baby is born by enabling the baby to quickly start to breathe air.

There is a respiratory control center at the base of your brain that controls your breathing. This center sends ongoing signals down your spine and to the muscles involved in breathing. These signals ensure your breathing muscles contract and relax regularly, hence the breath cycle. You can change your breathing rates, such as by breathing faster or holding your breath or even slowing down the breath through yoga or meditation practice. Your emotions also change your breathing. For example, being scared or angry can affect your breathing pattern by making you breath harder and faster in an effort to circulate more oxygen through your body.

The breath as a tool of Mindfulness:

There are a number of benefits that using the breath as the primary driver for the practice of mindfulness meditation, including:

  • It is invisible, you don’t need an app or a tool
  • Does not impose on you – it is always there
  • It is subtle. When you get into the practice, you will notice a difference in the in breath as well as the out breath. I have noticed a slight pause between the in breath and the out breath. Do you?
  • It is completely natural
  • You carry it with you always. Some people use mantras or vocal repetition, but the easiest is the use of the breath itself.

The next aspect to be aware of, is how you are sitting:

  • You need to be sitting awake. Upright with your back slightly away from the back of the chair. I try to imagine that I have a piece of string that is pulling me up from the back of my neck
  • De-focus your gaze in front of you, or even close your eyes.

The breathing meditation itself:

  • Become aware of your breath as you breathe. Don’t try to control your breath, just let it come and go. As you focus on your breath, it will tend to slow down. Don’t worry, that is natural.
  • You might become aware of the coolness of the breath as you breathe in. A cold spot on your nose. The diaphragm moving as you breathe in and ou. Your stomach might move. The warmth of the breath as you breathe out.
  • As you focus on your breath, thoughts will come. They ALWAYS will. it is natural. Don’t worry about it.
  • Don’t run after the thoughts.
  • don’t hold onto the thoughts
  • Let them pass. Like a bird in the sky or like clouds cross the sky
  • The sky behind the birds or clouds does not change. That is the pure Mindfulness Awareness.
  • You will chase the thoughts. And when you do, you will berate yourself for doing that. Don’t. We all chase our thoughts.
  • Instead, congratulate yourself for coming awake and noticing you are and instead return to the start of this section.
  • You  can practice this for a few minutes of even longer. I tend to do this for 20 minutes. When you wish to stop. Slowly, bring your thoughts to the present. Wriggle your fingers, roll your shoulders and finish.


And that is that. I would encourage you to have a go. Please do let me know how you get on.

I leave you with the following quote:

“Listen–are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” ― Mary Oliver

The essence of the Breath

“Listen–are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” Mary Oliver

The core of Mindfulness meditation practice is the use of the breath, as one of the tools to bring yourself into the present moment. After all, we carry it with ourselves throughout our lives. It is always there and we, too often, forget all about it. Unless you get a terrible cold. Then you notice it. Generally when you are wheezing.

To practice mindful breathing, you don’t have to sit cross-legged or do anything special. Simply stop what you’re doing and turn your awareness to your breath. Don’t attempt to control your breath,simply observe it.As your breath happens. Moment by moment.

In and out. In and out. Constant, always there, but always changing.

You might be surprised to see how short and inconsistent your breath is. This is normal. We often breathe this way and don’t even notice it. We have developed a habit of breathing at the top of our lungs in a short, compacted manner. Unless you are a singer, or actor, very few people actually use the whole of the breath cycle, breathing right down into the lungs.

The way we breath greatly affects how we feel and act. Mindful breathing can completely transform how we feel on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis. Remember, we are trying to extend and deepen being present and the breath is something that can help greatly in this.

So, how about trying the following…..

  • Count each in breath and out breath as an individual number.
  • So breathe in – one, breathe out – two, breathe in – three, etc. Do this until you get to 10 or until you become distracted by a thought, feeling, or sensation.
  • I can tell you now, that unless you have been practicing Mindfulness, you won’t get to 10. Let alone 100.
  • When you do get a thought, feeling, or sensation, and we all do, don’t worry about it. Don’t feel you have to criticise yourself.
  • Don’t punish yourself. Say you are a failure. You are not.
  • Just start all over again. In a relaxed manner. Focusing on the breath. As it comes and goes.

Even Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the modern Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction movement and who has practiced Mindfulness based meditation for over 40 years, still says it happens to him. That his mind wanders. 

  • In the beginning, it will be very difficult to count to 10 like this without becoming interrupted or distracted by thoughts or feelings.
  • These interruptions aren’t a bad thing, so make sure not to label them as such.
  • When you notice a distraction arise, be it a thought, feeling, or sensation- and they will be plentiful- simply acknowledge it without thinking anything about it (accept it openly as you would a loved one coming into your arms) and then gently direct you awareness back to your breath.

Even if you can practice this for 5 minutes in the morning and for 5 minutes in the afternoon, over a four to six week period, you will notice a difference. Not least of which, the time before the interruption occurs will get longer.

I tried it today, just to see how long I could “last”. I got to 100. Not bad. But then the thoughts came again, And I had to start all over again. Somewhat like the breath itself.

I leave you with the following quote…….

“Can words describe the fragrance of the very breath of spring?” Neltje Blanchan