Today I have taken many mindful breaths. Intentionally focusing on the feeling of my body breathing as I listen to the news informing me of the latest Covid19 numbers or the rules of lockdown.
The situation seems unreal and real at the same time.
Outside the sun shines, birds sing and the planet spins. All seems normal but staying inside like this isn’t usual and the reports in the media are upsetting.
Anchoring myself to the present moment, I ride the waves of the breath as it moves in and out of my body. Its rhythm calms me.
I know that’s why I am doing it.
Mindfulness is an embodied practice. I live not just in my head but in my body too. I can sense when I am becoming tense or upset and I understand that certain types of thought can set off a physiological and chemical response inside.
Once triggered, a feedback loop might be created that could get me locked into thoughts and feelings of distress which are not going to help me or change the situation.
Instead I drop my attention out of my head down into my body, where I can attend to my breath as it comes in and as it leaves.
When we feel worried or anxious it isn’t just thoughts that race; our nervous system does too as it prepares to keep us safe.
Our heart beats faster to move oxygen to where it will be needed most, we might feel butterflies in our gut as digestion is curbed saving vital energy and the thinking part of the brain is switched off.
When threatened who needs to think about what kind of tiger is in front of us?
We just need to act.
This bodily response is hardwired inside.
It’s our very own internal alarm system that spurs us into action. When it’s a tiger it’s really useful, when it’s numbers on the news, not so much.
With the thinking part of the brain down, I cannot reason with my body’s response. And anyway, it is really hard to convince yourself that all is OK, when inside due to the automatic fight-flight response you’re feeling “not safe, not safe, not safe, do something, do something, do something”.
So, I go to my breath.
I use the same internal system that super charges me in times of danger to keep my thinking brain online and remain calm. In other words, I use the body to calm the mind.
I consciously take my attention into my body and connect with the sensations of breath as it moves in and out.
Ways to connect with the breath
There are many options to choose from. Here are my three preferred methods:
a) During the inhale notice the cool sensations at the nostrils, the expansion at the belly or the rise of the shoulders and on the exhale, the warmth at the nostrils or relaxation of the body. Count 10-20 breaths.
b) Box breathe. Consciously breath in for 4 counts, hold for 4, out for 4, hold - repeat 5-10 rounds.
c) Concentrate on the feel of my feet making contact with the floor whilst noticing the body be breathed.
Take care of you.
Let me know how you get on in the comments below
Focusing on the breath can be dysregulating for some leading to a sense of panic or distress.
If you are not comfortable paying attention to your breathing there are other ways to settle and ground yourself in the present moment.
You might choose to attend to something outside of you: listening to sounds or naming items you can see in the room or you might use a different sense perhaps choosing to eat or drink something whilst paying full attention to the process or stroking an object or pet.
The key is to tune into the senses, like tuning in to a radio station, not thinking about what you are doing but sensing it.
Ma, Xiao et al. “The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 8 874. 6 Jun. 2017, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874