What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to our present moment experience, whether it be a sight, a taste, a sound, a smell, a sensation in the body, or mental activity (the latter includes emotions and thoughts). Mindful breathing can have a significant impact on feelings of stress and anxiety, aside from general disposition. With daily practice, mindful breathing can create an improved feeling of wellness and relaxation, and leads to conscious awareness and heightened control of mindset.
How and where to do it
- Practice it for a few moments or for a few minutes—lying on your bed, sitting in a doctor's office or on a park bench, standing in line. Basically anywhere.
- Practice mindful breathing in a comfortable environment free of distraction.
- Count the length of your breaths to stay focused. Aim to free the rest of your mind by focusing on breathing.
Benefits of Mindful Breathing
Manipulating the breath can change how we feel, accounting for as much as a 40 percent variance in feelings of anger, joy, fear and sadness, according to findings in the journal Cognition & Emotion. The breathing instructions included: “Breathe and exhale slowly and deeply through the nose.”
A cardiologist at the University of Pavia, Italy, compared a group of mountaineers who practiced slow breathing an hour a day for two years before attempting to climb Mount Everest to a group who didn’t. The breathing group reached the summit without needing the supplemental oxygen the other group did, and their blood and exhalation samples showed they were using 70 percent of the surface area of their lungs, an amount that maximizes the O2 taken in. Empowering, right?
Mindful breathing practices increase levels of leptin, a hormone produced by fat tissue that signals the brain to inhibit hunger, according to research from Shirley Telles, PhD, director of the Patanjali Research Foundation in Haridwar, India.
Just one session of relaxing practices like meditation, yoga, and chanting influenced the expression of genes in both short-term and long-term practitioners, according to a Harvard study. Blood samples taken before and after the mindful breathing practices indicated a post-practice increase in genetic material involved in improving metabolism and a suppression of genetic pathways linked with inflammation. Since chronic inflammation has also been associated with such deadly diseases as Alzheimer’s, depression, cancer, and heart disease, it’s probably fair to say that mindful breathing may not only change your life but may also save it.
The breath is always with you. When you practice meditation and breathing you gain a skill you can use whenever you need to quiet and clear the mind. Just following a few breaths—in and out, in and out—can relax the mind and body so you can calmly observe and respond to the world around you, rather than mindlessly reacting to events. Mindful breathing is a technique you can use not only during formal meditation, but also in your daily life.