When you want a relaxing moment during the school day, take a deep breath, and follow these easy steps to a peaceful state of mind.
A Breath of Fresh Awareness
Mindfulness of breathing is a special way of paying attention that can help you feel good, understand yourself, and experience life more vividly. It’s a meditation technique practiced by settling your awareness on your breath, using it as a stable point from which you observe your senses and your mind. For thousands of years, people have trained in mindfulness to unlock joyful feelings, powerful concentration, and hidden wisdom about how the mind works. Are you ready to explore your inner world? The journey begins with a single breath.
The Still Pond Metaphor
Imagine a still pond in a quiet forest. When the water is smooth and calm, you can see clearly all the way to the bottom – colorful pebbles, schools of fish, the twinkling of the sun. But when someone throws a stone into the water, waves ripple on the surface. These waves create captivating patterns, moving and swirling, and all you can see is their lively dance on the surface. You can no longer look beneath to discover the beautiful details in the depths of the pond. But if you simply wait and watch without throwing any more stones, the ripples slowly fade away and the pond becomes clear again.
Watching the Ripples
Your mind is like that pond, and your thoughts are like the stones that create ripples of distraction that make it hard to see what’s going on underneath. Your breath is like a comfortable chair by the water, where you can rest your attention and observe the waves as they ripple across the surface. If you can keep your attention on your breathing, you give the waves a chance to fade away and clear up the surface of the pond. More stones may be thrown, more thoughts may come, but every time you notice this, you can simply relax and return your attention to your breath. As your attention stabilizes (which can be difficult and take lots of practice!), the ripples of your mind will slow down, allowing you to see, hear, and feel with greater clarity, like gazing into still water. The more you can sustain your focus on your breath, the more clearly you can perceive the subtle workings of your mind.
The Breath as an Anchor for Awareness
You can also think of your breath as a ship’s anchor, keeping you steady as you explore the changing seas of your sensory and mental world. When you stabilize your focus on it, the breath grounds your awareness in the present moment. This allows you to observe all kinds of experiences – sights, sounds, tastes, smells, touches, thoughts, and emotions – without getting too caught up in any one of them. The key is to gently guide your attention back to your breath whenever it wanders away to a distraction, aiming for stable focus over time. Mindfulness is the skill of maintaining your awareness of being here now while also observing the variety of experiences that come into your consciousness. The more you practice stable attention, the easier and more natural mindfulness becomes. And because your breath is always with you no matter how you feel or what you’re doing, you can practice this whenever you remember to.
Ready, Set, Breathe!
- Find a Comfortable Spot: You can sit in a chair, sit cross-legged on the ground, or just be where you are right now. You can even do this while walking! If you want to sit cross-legged, it is helpful to sit on a cushion with one leg laid out in front of the other. If your knees can touch the ground, that’s great for stability. Keep your back straight in a comfortable, alert way. Zen Master Dōgen suggests sitting as though you are a sturdy mountain, robustly upright, still, and unaffected in the face of wind and storms.
- Relax and Smile: Relax your eyes, face, neck, shoulders, back, hips, legs, and even your mind. Scan through your whole body, releasing all the tension you can find. Don’t forget to smile a little – just raise the corners of your mouth in a comfortable way. You can either close your eyes or keep them open.
- Feel Your Breath: Feel the sensations of breathing. Notice the air coming in and out of your nose, or observe your stomach rising and falling. You can think to yourself, “Breathing in, I’m aware of my body. Breathing out, I’m aware of my mind. Breathing in, I relax my body. Breathing out, I relax my mind.”
- Stay Focused on Your Breath: The goal is to stabilize your attention on your breath over time. Your breath is your anchor, keeping you stable and afloat amid the changing seas of your mind. It can be helpful to repeatedly remind yourself that you are trying to pay attention to your breathing.
When your mind wanders and you lose track of the breath, follow these steps:
- Realize that you got distracted: You can think to yourself, “Ah, a thought distracted me from my breath!”
- Release and Relax: Let go of the distraction and relax any tension in your body and mind.
- Re-smile: Raise the corners of your mouth again in a comfortable smile.
- Return to your breath: Gently place your attention back on the breath.
If you notice a thought or sensation but it doesn’t pull you away from the breath, no need to do anything! Just observe it as it comes and goes, and stay anchored to the breath.
The Gifts of Breathing Mindfully
- Feeling Calmer: Practicing mindfulness can help you feel more peaceful and relaxed.
- Less Worry: If you’re feeling worried or stressed, anchoring your awareness in your breath is like holding onto a sturdy tree branch, steadying you amidst the storm. This can make you more capable of dealing with difficult feelings.
- Brighter Senses: When you are mindful, you can see, hear, and feel things more vividly, like putting on glasses that make everything clearer and more vibrant.
- Better Focus: Mindfulness helps you concentrate on your schoolwork, games, friends, and anything else you want to focus on. If you can pay attention to your breath, you can pay attention to anything!
- More Happiness: Mindful breathing can make you feel happier, helping you appreciate things you hadn’t enjoyed before, or finding deeper joy in what you love most.
- Understanding Feelings: Breathing mindfully helps you pay close attention to your feelings. You can notice how these feelings show up in your body and mind. By doing this, you learn important things about how you feel. It’s like you’re watching your feelings from a safe spot, feeling their power but not getting carried away by them.
- A Tool Anywhere: You can anchor yourself in your breath anywhere and anytime, whether you’re at home, at school, playing a game, talking with a friend, or walking to the park. It’s like having a magical tool in your pocket wherever you go! Whenever you remember to use it, mindfulness is there for you.
- Insight and Discovery: Practicing mindfulness is like being a detective investigating your own mind. When you stay centered on your breath, you have a clear and steady base to observe how thoughts, feelings, intentions, and actions are connected. You might see how a thought leads to a feeling, a feeling leads to an intention, and an intention leads to an action. This understanding can help you make wise choices that lead to happiness. Your breath is your balance point, helping you navigate the complex maze of your mind with clarity and insight.