Mindfulness of the breath – sitting meditation exercise:


  • Settling the Mind: We start to settle the mind by purposefully making the choice and intention to set aside time for meditation. First we establish our posture and try to relax the body. It can help if we take a few deeper breaths at this stage, focusing particularly on the out-breath – the letting go, and letting go of any tension in the body at the same time. As we do this, we can try to focus the mind on the breath. There are a few options for this - we can follow and note to ourselves the four stages of the breath (in, pause, out, pause); we can follow a few in-out cycles naming “in” and “out”; alternatively we can count with each breath, for a few breaths until we return to normal breathing.

  • Grounding our awareness: We can start to bring awareness to the sensations of the body – the points of contact with the ground, the points of touch and pressure where parts of the body are resting against the chair, the floor, the mats and cushions. We can bring awareness to the sensations of holding our posture and feel the stability of that. We can sit like a majestic mountain, stable and strong.

  • Expanding body awareness: We gradually broaden our awareness to include more and more sensations of the body. We can spend a few minutes scanning though the body systematically, or we can just open to sensation – whatever comes into our awareness. We can then become aware of the space around the body, noticing that it is resting on the ground with space all around.

  • Resting the mind: As the body is starting to settle and feel grounded, the mind can begin to feel more tranquil and at rest. We let go of any sense of striving, trying to achieve or trying to do anything. We simply drop into the present moment and “just sit” in a relaxed and casual manner without any purpose or goal. We allow the mind to be open, alert and at rest. We will notice that the mind does not rest here for long and will soon be engaged with thought and we will have lost our mindfulness. We can then move on to the next stage which anchors us back to the present moment.

  • Tuning into the sensations of the breath in the body: Gradually, we shift our awareness to the breath, and the sensations of the body breathing. Here we can move in really close to the breath: following the rising and the falling of the abdomen, the chest, the rib-cage; feeling the entry and exit point of the breath at the tip of the nostrils. We can rest our attention at a point in the body where the breath is felt most vividly, or we can follow an entire breath cycle, riding the waves of the breath, noting its flow, its changing qualities: shallow, deep, long, short, smooth, jagged, soothing, tangible, disappearing. We can watch for any tendency to want to control or change the breath, simply allowing the breathing to happen in its own way. We can let ourselves simply surrender to the breath, as if we are letting ourselves be breathed.

  • Working with Distraction: Very soon we will notice that the mind has wandered into the realm of thinking, and has left the sensations of the breath and the body. We will notice that there are many places that the mind likes to go to and that we have particular habitual places that we return to again and again: the past, the future, worries, planning, judging, evaluating, commentating, fantasizing - a vast variety of random thoughts. Sometimes considerable time passes in these reveries. As soon as we notice that the mind is no longer with the breath, we can congratulate ourselves for waking up! This is a moment of mindfulness. There is no need to judge ourselves – it is the nature of the mind to wander and we are learning more about how the mind is addicted to distraction. So, we simply acknowledge the fact that we have been thinking, and gently escort our attention back to the breath. Each time the mind wanders, and we recognise this fact, we gently and kindly bring ourselves back. This is the core of the meditation practice. We are learning to settle the mind. We are also cultivating qualities of patience, perseverance and concentration, with a kindly acceptance towards ourselves and our experience.

NHS Lothian, 2017