My mindfulness practice informally started by cultivating breath awareness doing yoga where I realized that paying attention to my breath helped me relax.
However, you don’t need a yoga practice to incorporate breath awareness. You can begin by using 3 conscious breaths as transition points throughout the day. I started incorporating mindfulness into my life off the yoga mat by briefly stopping other activities and paying attention to 3 full breaths. I envisioned the breath as clearing unnecessary thoughts. Similar to clearing the writing on an etch a sketch.
Each inhale and exhale wiping the slate clean
Initially I incorporated this practice after reading emails as a way of letting the content of the emails go in order to start the next activity with a clear focus.
This practice may sound overly simple, but try it – you’ll likely find, like I did, that your attention wanders even in the short duration of 3 breaths. Over time you build attentional capacity to keep focus on your breath. The upside of continuing this practice is the ability to focus starts translating into other areas of your life.
I’m a bit of a neuro geek – so I’ll share that part of why breath awareness improves our ability to focus is that over time the practice strengthens areas of the brain related to attention including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and prefrontal cortex. I like to think of the ACC as a compass, it helps to alert you that you are off task and allows you to redirect your attention when you veer off task.
I gradually integrated the 3 breaths practice at various transition points throughout my day to clear the residual busy-ness of my mind and start fresh on the next activity. Think about the areas of your life where you leave one activity and bring the residual along with you into the next interaction.
Some transition points for incorporating the 3 breaths practice:
· After leaving a meeting
· As you leave the office
· In the car at the end of the day (clearing the day before stepping into the house)
· After reading emails
· After a conversation that did not end in a positive manner
· Right before falling asleep (clearing any residual from the day)
Change is a process, not a one- time event. This simple yet challenging practice helps you build a behavior that is sustainable. Incremental changes over time lead to transformations in our way of being.
Please share any insights you gain from incorporating this practice!