Salt columnist Andy Hix this week looks at what breathing meditation can do for your mind.
One of the first meditations I was taught when I started practising meditation was the Mindfulness of Breathing. Basically, the idea is to feel the sensations of breathing: air coming in and out through your nostrils, your chest expanding and contracting, your belly rising and falling, and so on. When your mind wanders off, the idea is to notice where it went – “Ah. Thinking about dinner.” – and then bring it back to your breath.
Initially, I didn’t know why we were being asked to do this seemingly mundane activity. I thought I’d soon get bored of it and would want to learn some more advanced techniques. I now have a much clearer idea of what the point of this very simple exercise is. It’s about designing your mind – cultivating desirable qualities and weeding out unhelpful ones. Here’s a few things that sitting still and feeling your breath can help you to develop:
These days we expect everything to be instant and anytime we’re waiting, for a web page to load, for a train or when we’re in a queue, we fill the time with looking at our phone. By sitting still and removing all stimulation, you increase your level of patience.
We’re all so distracted these days. Most of us struggle to read books, if we ever get to the point of picking one up. We’re manic multi-taskers. By noticing that your mind has wandered and bring it back to the same thing, again and again, you improve your ability to focus.
By sitting with whatever you’re experiencing, rather than suppressing or avoiding it, you increase your ability to accept whatever you’re feeling. If you’re feeling stressed, anxious, angry, tense or sad, you learn to be OK with that, and so you develop greater self-acceptance.
Sitting still for a prolonged period of time is something few people practice, and many find very difficult. Stilling your body helps you to feel calm.
5. Calm and Clarity
Reducing input into your mind by closing your eyes, sitting still and just focusing on one thing, you stop agitating the snow dome that is your mind and allow the flakes to settle, giving you more clarity of thought. Also feeling your breath tends to result in it slowing and deepening, which slows your heart rate and calms you down.
Out of the stillness, calm and space that this creates, ideas often come. Solutions to problems, things you can do for someone’s birthday, ideas for how to improve your life.
7. Awareness of Your Thoughts
By noticing where your mind is when it has wandered off, you become more aware of your patterns: things you consistently think or worry about, and that helps you to break the unhelpful patterns. You become more self-aware.
8. Awareness of your feelings
You breath is a nexus between your mind, body and emotions. When you become more aware of your breath you become more aware of how you feel. This helps you to develop emotional intelligence.
By learning to not react instantly to your thoughts, feelings and impulses, you develop a greater ability to choose your response to them. You’re learning to not mindlessly scratch the itch. You develop a greater ability to be intentional about what you do during the day, rather than just being swept along by the river.
10. More Presence
My practicing bringing your mind back to your breath, which is always in the present moment, you develop a greater ability to stay present rather than getting caught up in thinking about the past and future. This helps you to experience life more fully, to listen better, to learn more from each moment and to see things for what they are rather than what you expect or imagine them to be.
Meditation is simply a tried and tested method of training your mind. If you don’t choose the qualities of mind that you want to cultivate and then commit to instilling them, your mind will be moulded and shaped by forces outside of yourself: social media, advertising, your inbox, other people, the news and so on.
I don’t think any one of us can say we don’t have the capacity to improve in all ten of these areas. All you need to do is make the time to make it happen. On the 29th July I’m running a one day workshop for those wishing to understand how to integrate mindfulness into the way they work. Click here for details.
Andy Hix is director of zen at work, a London-based mindfulness consultancy. Get in touch with Andy for a free taster session at www.zenatwork.co.uk.
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Photo credit: Oiluj Samall Zeid from flickr