Breathing In, I know that I am breathing in...
Breathing Out, I know that I am breathing out.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
In Mindfulness 'Sitting Meditation', the idea of practice is not to reach some meta-physical state or rid or resist thoughts, feelings and sensations. In fact, it is toward the mind. feelings and sensations that we turn, so that we begin to notice what, how, and eventually why we are thinking and feeling in particular ways, as well as how we react or respond. It's that simple...but not that easy!
If you've been doing this practice for a day, a week or a few decades, you'll soon realize that 'sitting meditation' may not be initially easy, but it does get easier, just like any new skill that we learn - it takes time to develop (and to bare fruits). However, If we don't have a focal point to use during these streaming thoughts, emotions and felt sensations, we can sit for the entire practice in a continuation of hooked and looping thoughts, most that are unproductive and all taking our attention away from the present moment.
We intentionally use the breath in both formal Mindful Sitting and informal daily practice to serve as an anchor to the streamline of thoughts, emotions and felt sensations that can each be positive, negative and neutral. The breath allows us to focus on the inhale and exhale as an 'experiential', not a cognitive process, so that we can simply be with the breath, as we notice whatever arises. The key is to allow whatever comes to come, and then let it go...as if watching from an observer's mental movie screen.
What are some of the scientific benefits of this practice - using the breath to serve as an anchor/focal point, while being aware of thoughts, emotions, sounds, sensations, smells, repetitively? Mindfulness research is still in its infancy stage, however, recent evidence in the past 5 years 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 underway that point to mindfulness revolutionizing the mental health field. Furthermore, rather than the medical health field keeping us dependent on medicine and doctors, Individuals will play a critical part in his own healing. However, scientists are not suggesting mindfulness as a panacea for healing all human conditions.
Whether we are a beginner or seasoned mindfulness practioner, here a few tips to help us use the breath as an anchor during our sitting mindfulness practice (we can use this also in our daily life, when applicable - pretty much anytime of the day:)):
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 streaming lots of 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.
"Mindfulness is the intention to pay attention to all phenomena as it arises moment to moment, with non-judgment." ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., adapted by Nina Bhatty
Author: Nina Bhatty
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