Breaking Old Patterns
Along with simple breathing exercises, there are some very easy things you can do once you realise that it’s only you that is going to make the necessary changes to bring more presence more aliveness, more vibrancy and more joy of living, back into your life; when you wake up mix up your routine a bit, go to work a different route, try and eat something new ( and eat with awareness- not shovel food down while watching TV) have TV/computer free nights and write a journal, read a book, step outside and look at the stars. When you go to make a phone call, check it isn’t to just pass time or have to be alone with yourself. When you find yourself going over some old story that includes hurts, disappointment, stop, see what is happening and tell yourself ‘ I’m tired of the same old story. I am not paying attention to it’ and put your attention somewhere else. Remember- you are at the control centre of your life, not your mind.
Breathing is so basic to our functioning we forget we do it. It’s the very reason we are standing upright and alive! When we turn our attention to our breathing, the idea is to simply become aware of it, coming into the nostrils and out again. You don’t need to do anything special, just be aware of it. Here is a simple, practice to still the mind through breathing that has been successfully used for centuries by many spiritual traditions around the world.
1. Sit on a chair with your back straight- not tense, just relaxed and alert. Drop all the ‘holding-on’ energy down and feel your body sitting on the chair. Feel your feet connect with the floor. You can rest your hands on your thighs. Take one long, deep breath in and breathe out slowly. This clears out the bottom of the lungs.
2. Gently close your eyes or if you are familiar with a technique with eyes open, cast your gaze downwards. Whatever you choose keep the eyes relaxed.
3. Now begin to notice the breath coming in and out of your nostrils. You don’t need to do anything, just put your full attention on the natural rhythm of your breathing- the air comes in, the air goes out. Try to keep your mind out of it and just stay with the sensations of the breathing. How does it feel? Do this for 5 minutes to start with. Later you can extend the time as you experience the benefits from the calming, centring practice.
4. Now narrow down your focus to the small area just beneath the nostrils where the air touches as it comes out of the nose. In the beginning you might want to do a few hard breathes to make sure you feel the breath touching this area and that’s OK. It takes a bit of practice to get out of the mind and stop aimless, incessant thinking that is very energy draining. We are so wrapped up in thinking we often lose touch with the sensations in the body, the feelings. We are ‘all in our heads,’ Breathing purposefully, mindfully puts us in direct contact with our senses and this enables us to be more present in the here and now.
5. Your mind will wander away, lose focus on the attention of feeling the breath at the base of the nose but don’t worry- it’s normal. Your job is to keep bringing your attention back to the breath going in and coming out touch the upper lip. Be kind to yourself- developing mindfulness doesn’t happen in one session. You have a lot of robotic behaviour to undo and this takes time and practice. You might think you are bored after a couple of minutes and there’s nothing in it. Be patient, add some variety into this exercise. Ask yourself, what is the quality of my breath? Hard, smooth, long breaths, short breath, warm, cool. The whole point is to stay focussed on the breath. The longer you can do that uninterrupted, the calmer your mind and body becomes. The effects from this simple, centuries-old breathing technique can be experienced immediately; you will probably feel a little calmer, a little more centred and possibly empowered to know you are on the right track to becoming more present, connecting more deeply and meaningfully with yourself, the environment and the people around you.
The benefits of breathing exercises are legendary and have been around for centuries. It’s a cheap, portable and has heaps of documented evidence based studies to back up what Buddhists have long know; awareness of breath on sensation leads to freedom from misery and unhappiness generated by not being present in the here and now.