Inhale, Exhale, Repeat. Explore the Breath

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The breath is an amazing thing. In fact, we love it so much that many of the meditations in the Stop, Breathe & Think app begin with a few moments to focus on your breathing.

About 50% of the time our thoughts aren’t related to what we’re doing. It’s so easy to sink into autopilot and mind wandering, which usually involves a spiral of thoughts and worries, brooding about challenges from the day, running through the upcoming to-do list and so on. This kind of mind wandering about the past and future contributes to stress and unhappiness (1). You can actually break yourself out of this stressful loop by making an intentional choice about what you want to focus on, and that’s where the breath comes in.

Because the breath is always there and is happening right now, it’s a perfect anchor for a wandering mind. As it flows in and out, you’ll notice that it changes in speed, rhythm, depth, intensity, and feel. There is so much to pay attention to, and you can connect to the breath in many different ways.

But since the breath is automatic, the natural thing to do is not pay attention to it, so it takes a little effort to remain aware of it. When you first start to pay attention to your breathing, you might be lucky to follow three breaths until your mind wanders off to something else. The beauty of mindful breathing is that each new breath provides an opportunity to start again. This simple repetition of redirecting your attention can rewire the circuitry of your brain (2, 3) so it becomes easier to notice when you’re mind has wandered, let go of the distraction, and bring yourself back to the present moment.

Have fun with it and experiment to find what works best for you. Here are a couple ideas to get you started:

Physical Sensations
For some people, it’s easier to connect with physical sensations. If that sounds like you, try “Mindful Breathing,” and focus on the sensation of the breath going in and out of your nose, the temperature and feel of the air, or the rise and fall of your belly and chest as you breathe.

Listen to Mindful Breathing

Count
If your mind is busy, it can help to give it a little extra job, like counting. “Counting Breaths” will help direct your attention to the breath. It’s pretty simple: count each breath—the inhale and exhale. When you reach a count of ten, start at one again. Whenever you notice you are thinking about something else, just go right back to one and start over. Make sure you are actually following your breath and then apply your count to it.

Listen to Counting Breaths

 

References
1. “A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind” Matthew A. Killingsworth, Daniel T. Gilbert, 2010.
2. “Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity” Judson A. Brewer, Patrick D. Worhunsky, Jeremy R. Gray, Yi-Yuan Tang, Jochen Weber and Hedy Kober, 2011.
3. “Attending to the present: mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference” Norman A. S. Farb Zindel V. Segal Helen Mayberg Jim Bean Deborah McKeon Zainab Fatima Adam K. Anderson, 2007.