How to Breathe Mindfully

Mindful breathing is one of the most ancient and profound meditation practices available to human beings.  Mindful breathing can be done by anyone, regardless of faith. Whoever you are, paying attention on purpose and non-judgmentally to the sensations of your breath is an effective way to dwell in the present moment and to avoid being lost in the wandering of your own mind.

To breathe mindfully means to become an observer of your own breath sensations as they move in and out of your body.  As you become a more sensitive observer, you will begin to notice different qualities in each breath, in or out, and the space between breaths as well.

The following instructions are one way to practice mindful breathing. Whatever the exact wording might be, mindful breathing is essentially about your willingness to reside in the present moment with your kind and nonjudgmental attention focused on the sensations of your breath.  From just that primary focus, your relationship to all other experience shifts.

You can do mindful breathing in any position you find comfortable, at any time of day, and anywhere.  You can even practice mindful breathing while moving around, walking, jogging, etc. Think of this exercise as an active meditation, if you like.

Here’s how to practice mindful breathing:

  • Relax your shoulders, face and neck.  Relax your hands and feet. Let the meditation support you.
  • Find a comfortable position, one that supports you in being awake.
  • Turn your attention to the actual physical sensations happening as you breath. Close your eyes if that helps you focus.
  • Find a place in your body where you can actually feel the breath moving in and out.  Your abdomen, nose or mouth (but it is best to breathe through your nose, not your mouth).  Rest your attention there, where you feel your breath most easily.
  • It is not necessary to control your breath in anyway.  Simply allow your body to breathe as it does. Pay attention as best you can to the direct sensations of the moving breath.
  • Direct kind attention to your breath sensations.  It is not necessary to make anything happen nor to become anything other than who you are in this moment.
  • As you spend kind attention on your breath sensations, set down all your burdens-inner and outer ones- for the time of meditation.
  • When you notice that your attention has wandered off the breath sensations, notice where it went, and gently but firmly bring it back.  You have not done anything wrong if this happens. The mind will move off the breath countless times. Each time practice kindness and patience with yourself, notice where your mind went, and bring attention back to your breath.
  • Rest attention on the changing patterns of sensations and breath.  Move your attention closer, noticing the quality of each new breath as accurately and as continuously as possible.  Stay present to the entire breath cycle: in, out, pause, in, and out, and so on. Notice how each breath has its own character.
  • End your meditation by shifting your focus off of the breath sensations, opening your eyes, and moving gently.

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