Mindfulness, Breath and The Gift of Life

June 2, 2023

My body tensed; my ears buzzed as a cloud overshadowed my mind. I was holding my breath. I was worrying about my grandchildren growing up too fast and not knowing how to relate to them and how to support them in their relationship skills.

I got in the car to drive my granddaughter to Guides. She started flipping through the music CDS, playing bits of them to see what she wanted to listen to. Suddenly I heard my own voice coming from a CD. It was a six-part recording on Contemplative Prayer that I had done with my son 10 years earlier.

After dropping her at her program I reinserted the CD, and heard myself say, “Most of our worries are about things in the past that we can’t change, and things in the future that will probably never happen.” Touché! Just what I needed to hear today.

“Breathe,” I heard myself say. “When you focus on your breath you are in the present moment, not with things of the past or present that, in this moment are not real.”

Breath is a widespread meditation tool. It is used in Mindfulness-based meditation therapy and by Christians, Buddhists and many others as well. (1) It is practiced a bit differently in therapy. (2) Here I am simply using mindfulness to mean to be aware, present and embodied in the present moment, whatever one is doing. (3)

As I breathe, I contemplate my existence. The renown French philosopher Rene Descartes wrote, “I am thinking, therefore I am (I exist). That was a huge relief for Descartes but created a perspective/problem that continues to haunt the western psyche: “Descartes inadvertently created two separate realms: the mental and the physical. The mental we can be sure exists; … the physical world needs to, somehow, be linked to it.” (4)

My worries and indeed, all of my mental health problems have their source in my head, in my thinking. In contrast, the wisdom of the ages tells me, “I breathe, therefore, I’m alive.”  For my mental health I need to be grounded, in touch with the physical world, and aware of my body and its connectedness to the natural world. Breath mediation helps with that.

Breath meditation is not thinking about breathing, as inspiring as that is for me. It uses breath as a centering focus. My focus on breathing, deliberately giving attention to the physical sensation of air coming in and going out of my body, causes a break from the thoughts and tension of a busy and stressful activity. Three conscious, deep breaths relax the body, allowing me to return to my work with a different energy and more attention.

One reason this works was explained to me in the mindfulness-based stress reduction course I once took. When we learn to recognize our breathing as separate from our thinking, we recognize that we are not our thoughts. We can observe our breathing, be present to it, and without thinking about it, just luxuriate in our existence.

Breath is also my favorite way to be present in a meditation period. I get comfortable, set my timer for 20 minutes and begin to notice my breathing. Sometimes I fall asleep. I do not judge myself … sometimes I need a power nap and 20 minutes is not such a long time that I would awake feeling groggy and sick. Meditation and even power naps help me sleep better at night because my brain has let go of its thoughts and my body has come down from its adrenalin over-load.

I breathe in and take in the gift of life. The air oxygenates my blood and feeds my heart, giving me energy. With my outward breath I try to let go of mental and emotional toxins along with the carbon dioxide expelled in expiration.   I breathe. I am alive. I give thanks.

Gratitude Prompt – I breathe. I am alive. I give thanks.

2. In therapy, Mindfulness can be used to help someone to recognize and name what they are feeling so that they can learn a healthy way to deal with that emotion, or what is triggering that emotion.
3.The purpose of mindful meditations in spiritual practices is to become mindful all the time, whatever one is doing. Real mindfulness is not a meditation but a way of living.