Learning Meditation: Mindfulness of the Breath
Welcome to Source Wellness’s Learning Meditation series, where we dive into the different meditation techniques, why they work, and how to use them. There are many meditation practices that are suitable for a quick office break! First up, we will explore mindfulness of the breath meditation.
We are all familiar with the piles of papers, endless emails, and constant calls in the workplace. It’s no wonder we experience stress and overwhelm at work and beyond. To clear our mental fog, we suggest a helpful remedy: to sit and watch the breath as the mental clouds clear. In taking control of our breath, we take control of our minds. Practicing meditation stimulates mental clarity and enables long term positive mental health.
When we navigate our days on autopilot at 200 miles an hour, we are bound to eventually crash. Meditation revolves around taking hold of the wheel and countering this mindless habituation. By watching our thoughts come and go for just a few moments during a busy work day, we break away from the need to be productive at all costs. We can then lessen our chance of becoming overwhelmed. When we bring attention to our breath, we train our minds to wander less and flourish more. Thus, consistent meditation practice enhances our problem solving abilities. Additionally, studies have proven that those who practice meditation have a decreased inflammatory response when exposed to psychological stressors, therefore allowing us to have a more level-headed perspective in critical times.
The breath is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, and the body is subconsciously signaled to breathe when levels of CO2 rise above its comfort zone. Breathing is the only component of the autonomic nervous system we can control, and all we have to do is bring our attention to it. On average, a human takes 20,000 breaths a day. The power of making 20 of these 20,000 breaths mindful and conscious has more positive effects than you might think. Noradrenaline is a neurotransmitter that is overproduced when we are stressed, causing us to lose focus and productivity. Noradrenaline is produced in conjunction with carbon dioxide. By controlling the inhale of oxygen, we control our CO2 levels and noradrenaline activity, and thus we control our stress and productivity levels as well. It’s no wonder we feel so good after a deep breath!
Bringing awareness to the breath is the first step to all breathing meditation techniques. Actively notice what it feels like physically to breathe. It helps to check in to see where you feel the breath the strongest. Is it in your belly? Your chest? Maybe you feel it in your nostrils or throat. You may even want to place your hand on your stomach or chest to feel that sensation of the breath. After clearing your breath, begin your breathing technique of choice. Here are some we recommend:
- Shamatha (peaceful abiding): Without changing the natural rhythm of your breath, simply observe its pattern. When your mind wanders, bring it back to your breath, actively focusing on the inhale, followed by the exhale. Remember to be gentle with yourself. When you get distracted, as you naturally will, just come back to the breath time and time again. You can’t be bad at meditation!
- Diaphragm Breathing: Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach. Feel your stomach and chest rise as you inhale slowly through your nose, and experience them contract as you exhale.
- 4-7-8 Breathing: Inhale for four seconds, hold for seven seconds, exhale for eight. Repeat four times.
- Square Breathing: Allow for equal amounts of time for inhales, exhales, and holds. (see diagram below)