Breathing is a miracle, a true gift.
Our breath is with us every moment of our life. Breathing is designed to happen on autopilot; we breathe all day long and mostly don’t even notice it. Our attention to our inner world and outer world can also be on autopilot—when this occurs we are not fully embodied or present. Mindful breathing practices anchor us in our body, awakening our mind and heart to more of life’s precious moments.
Mindful breathing is conscious breathing. We practice observing and becoming fully aware of our in-breath and our out-breath.
Mindful breathing links our body, our mind, and our breath together.
Often our body is present, but our mind is not—we are thinking about projects, past happenings, or future concerns. Conscious breathing helps us bring our mind home to our body in the here and now. It helps us awaken our heart to get in touch with the present moment—the only moment in which we can truly appreciate the wonders of life. This heart connection generates the energy of happiness and joy.
Mindful breathing helps us to:
- become aware of our body, mind, and breath
- enjoy our senses
- release tension
- focus and concentrate
- become more peaceful , calm, and clear
When practiced regularly, the effects of mindful breathing are profound.
When we breathe mindfully, we are in the here and now. Regardless of circumstances, we appreciate that we have everything we need in the moment to be happy. Research has found that even 10 minutes of consistent practice a day, over a period of 6-8 weeks, changes the structure of the brain and increases our well-being! For more information, read The Mindful Brain, 2007, by Daniel Siegel.
Our breath is the bridge from our body to our mind.
—Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindful breathing can be done as a sitting practice, where you sit quietly, eyes closed, and focus on your breath for a period of time. When we sit to simply enjoy our sitting and enjoy our breathing, we are refreshed and nourished. In his book, How to Sit, Thich Nhat Hanh offers many helpful suggestions (see resources at the end of this blog).
Mindful breathing can also be integrated into your daily life by pausing to notice your breathing while doing other activities like cooking and eating, doing chores, working at the computer, or standing in line. It is a powerful way to ground yourself when you are upset and/or stressed.
- Take time to pause what you are doing and bring your attention to your breathing. Become aware of the sensation of air flowing in through your nose, down through your lungs, and into your belly. Notice the feeling of air moving out.
- Notice where you feel your breath most obviously—moving in and out through your nostrils, your chest expanding and contracting, or your belly rising and falling. Bring your hand to that spot—in front of your nostrils, place it on your chest, or rest it on your belly. There is no best place, it is entirely up to you. This is your anchor to help you keep your attention on your breath.
- Follow, don’t lead. You don’t need to control your breath and body; simply be present to their natural rhythms. Allow them to be as they are, moment by moment.
- When distracting thoughts come up, notice them without judgment. Bring your attention away from your head and return your awareness to your anchor spot (nostrils/chest/belly). Refocus on your in-breath and out-breath.
- Begin with a short amount of time. Even one minute of conscious breathing has a profound impact on your nervous system and emotional state. For a sitting practice, build up to between 10 and 20 minutes.
- Be kind with your daily breathing practice. The mind will naturally want to race around; gently return your attention to your breath, again and again. As your breathing becomes more regular, harmonious, and calm, your mind will also become more regular, harmonious, and calm.
Gathas are short phrases used to anchor our attention.
While practicing mindful breathing, pick any of the following phrases to say silently to yourself:
- Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.
- Breathing in, I feel my breath grow deep. Breathing out, I feel my breath go slowly.
- Breathing in, I feel calm. Breathing out, I feel ease.
- Breathing in, I smile to my in-breath. Breathing out, I release.
- Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment. Breathing out, I know it is a wonderful moment.
Gathas can be shortened to just the key words:
- In, Out
- Deep, Slow
- Calm, Ease
- Smile, Release
- Present Moment, Wonderful Moment
The point of this practice is not to remember these specific words or to say a particular phrase, but just to be aware of and enjoy your breath.
The gathas above come from Thich Nhat Hanh’s
Moments of Mindfulness: Forty Meditation Cards and Inspirational Guidebook.
Reprinted with permission from Parallax Press, 2015.
Mindful breathing can happen anywhere, anytime:
- In sitting meditation
- Before getting out of bed in the morning
- When drifting off to sleep at night/having trouble sleeping
- In the classroom or office
- While walking in nature or in a hallway
- While standing or waiting in a line
- While cooking and eating
- When feeling upset and/or stressed
Practicing Mindful Breathing
Awakening the Heart Mindfulness Retreat,
led by Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay), UBC, August, 2011
During the retreat, Thay introduced a Mindful Living Plan that included the four key mindfulness practices presented in this series: Mindful Breathing, Mindful Walking, Mindful Eating, and Mindful Loving.
Sue, Victoria, and a close friend, Lanie, practiced mindful breathing throughout the day—while walking to and from meals and to Thay’s teaching hall, while listening to Thay, while in our dorms, and pretty much all day long.
As we practiced, we were encouraged to put a half smile on our face (a light, natural smile, not forced). Your smile relaxes over 300 facial muscles. It’s mouth yoga! When you smile to yourself, it makes you feel serene.
Wishes for Your Daily Practice
We’ve created a pdf of the following wishes, each in a mindfulness circle, as gentle reminders for your daily mindful breathing practice to awaken your mind and heart.
♥ May I realize the gift of my in-breath and my out-breath.
♥ May I breathe in and breathe out consciously during my day.
♥ May I take deep in-breaths and slow out-breaths to refresh myself.
♥ May I dwell in the present moment, anchored by my breath.
♥ May I breathe consciously to enjoy all the wonders of life.
♥ May I smile, breathe, and go slowly.
Please click here to download your gift:
Mindful Breathing Circles
You can print, clip, laminate, and post the circles in your home (on mirrors, near your sitting area), car (on the dash), and office (on your computer). You can also place the circles in a basket and select one to focus on during the day.
Books by Thay
Click on the title to view or purchase.
No Mud, No Lotus, 2014
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Thay introduces sixteen breathing exercises for happiness.
One day you will wake up and remember to breathe naturally, because we have sown the seed of mindful breathing and watered it daily.
Breathing in, I calm my body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment. Smile, breathe, and go slowly. —Thich Nhat Hanh
How to Sit, 2013
by Thich Nhat Hanh
To sit is to restore ourselves,
to become fully present and fully alive
in the here and now. —Thich Nhat Hanh
♥Awakening the Mind & Heart: Daily Mindfulness Practices 4 Life
Thich Nhat Hanh quotations and book content are reprinted with permission from Parallax Press, 2015.
Pictures of Thay and his calligraphy are reprinted with permission from Plum Village, 2015.