Mindful breathing often serves as the foundation for meditation practices because your breath is always with you, wherever you are, and it can be used as an anchor to the present moment. In essence, all that’s involved is simply being mindful when you breathe in and out. There is no need to analyze, count, visualize, or manipulate the breath in any way. Just breathe normally and naturally and be aware of breathing in and out. There are a few methods you can use to focus on your breath. You can be mindful of your breath in your nose, chest, belly, or even your entire body as it breathes in and out.
With any of these practices, the deepest healing occurs when you come to terms with the way things are.
For dealing with the challenges of stress and anxiety, we sometimes recommend abdominal breathing—breathing from the belly, rather than only into the chest—as this can be very calming. However, if another location is preferable, please listen to your own wisdom. Generally speaking, abdominal or belly breathing is the way we all naturally breathe, especially when we’re lying down. To determine if you’re breathing from your abdomen, place your hand on your belly and feel whether it expands as you inhale and contracts as you exhale. If it doesn’t, turn your attention to breathing more deeply and feeling your belly expand and contract with your breath.
An important benefit of abdominal or belly breathing is that it helps moderate irregular breathing patterns, which often arise due to stress or irritation. Anxiety can lead to shallow, rapid, or sporadic breathing and even hyperventilation, and a full-blown panic attack can cause increased shortness of breath, thoughts of losing control, and pains in the chest. By bringing the breath back into the belly, you can help the body return to balance. So when anxiety arises, first acknowledge the feeling, then gently bring attention to the abdomen and practice mindful belly breathing.
10-Minute Nourishing Breath Meditation Practice
Before we begin, we have one final bit of advice: With any of these practices, the deepest healing occurs when you come to terms with the way things are. This might mean simply noticing and acknowledging stress or anxiety rather than falling into old patterns of running away from it. You may discover that by embracing your fear you find your heart.
Do this practice in a relaxing environment without distractions, such as the phone. You can do it either lying down or sitting up, but if you lie down and find yourself falling asleep, try a more upright posture. Bring your full, undivided attention to this practice as you listen or read the following meditation, pausing after each paragraph. You can practice anytime throughout the day, combining this practice with the mindful check-in if you like.
10-Minute Nourishing Breath Meditation
- Start by getting settled in a comfortable position, either seated or lying down. And allow this to be a brief moment of just checking in as you begin this practice, noticing any areas of the body that are tense or have a sense of holding. And just softening those areas or adjusting them as needed in this moment. Bring awareness throughout the entire body. Breathing in, allowing awareness to awaken a sense of vividness of this moment. Breathing out, relaxing, releasing into this space. And so for the next few minutes, playing with that balance of being relaxed and awake. And from time to time, if you’d like to integrate counting throughout this practice to help sustain presence, you’re welcome to do that. Just beginning this practice with awareness of this body, this breathing, this sense of balanced awareness.
- And now, warming up the attitude of attention, bringing in a sense of a nourishing attitude. And if you’d like, playing with placing your hands on your heart or another part of your body as this body just continues to naturally breathe. Your hands and your heart, your hands on your abdomen. One hand on your heart, one hand in your abdomen. Whichever you like. Just feeling the gentle touch of the hands there. The warmth of the hands. The sensations of connection. Just bringing this tender awareness, this tender connection to the breath and to this body. And just breathing.
- And now, on the inhalation, sensing into the breath. Feeling into the nourishment of this breath. The breath literally nourishes our bodies, our minds. Bringing oxygen into the body that sustains our life. Breathing in this nourishing breath. Breathing out, softening, relaxing into this moment. You might also consider what you’re needing in this moment in life in general. Love, strength. Calm. Ease. Acceptance. Breathing in whatever it is that’s nourishing and that you’re needing. Breathing out, softening, releasing, letting be. Settling in to this natural, soothing rhythm that’s been there since you were born.
- As we bring this practice to a close, taking this moment to acknowledge yourself for creating this space, this time. Having the intention of doing this for your own learning, health and well-being. This is an act of self-love. So just some way of acknowledging yourself for taking this time. You just allow awareness to rest in the body as a whole. Sensing into the body as it is. Being just as you are.
This practice excerpted from A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, by Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein. New Harbinger Publications