Why mindful breathing?Meditation in a broad sense, refers to the act of directing all our focus on a particular object, to strengthen our overall attention. What that particular object is will vary and of course, this has given rise to numerous types and subtypes of meditation. Some forms require us to repeatedly chant a mantra, while others require us to wholeheartedly concentrate on a dot-like point in front of us. Apart from this, there are other points of difference as well – for example, some believe that all thought processes should be stopped during meditation while others believe in giving free rein to our thoughts.
It is very easy to get lost in these different opinions regarding meditation. The entire theory of meditation has been clouded in mystery such that it has almost turned into a thing that everyone has heard of but not many know how to do it properly. It is in this context that mindful breathing was evolved. A New York Times article called it meditating for people who can't meditate, thus highlighting how simple it is, even for untrained amateurs like us.
How to do itWhat is done in mindful breathing is that all our attention is focused on our breath. It is amazing that for all of our lives, right from our birth, till our death, we are constantly breathing but not many of us are even fully conscious of it. Mindful breathing seeks to make us focus on our breaths, how air enters through our nostrils, goes through to our lungs, the rhythmic movement of our diaphragm, and how ultimately after serving its purpose, the waste air is let out. Being conscious of our breathing is a simple thing to do and unlike chanting mantras or focussing on a dot-like point on the wall, it is something that can be done anywhere. It is almost similar to the practice of pranayama to the extent that both are often considered together.
There are broadly two classifications within mindful breathing. In the first we inhale deeply, then hold it for a couple of seconds and then exhale. The exact time duration recommended for each of these three steps can differ but it is the convenience of the person doing it which ultimately matters. In the second form, we breathe as we normally do, the only difference being that we are conscious of our breaths. Both of these are very useful in their own right, although when we say mindful breathing we normally think of the second version.
In most cases, people have a fixed time for meditating, when they are alone in a quiet place, preferably in the privacy and comfort of their rooms. On the other hand, some might choose to meditate virtually anywhere, whether before a big presentation or before a first date or any other such occasion. The beauty of mindful breathing as I have already said is that it can be done anywhere. Nevertheless, if you are new to it, then it might be helpful to pick a quiet room and then go for it. The focus will waver at first, but that's fine. Bring your attention back to your breath. Also concerning the posture, there are no strict restrictions, although I have personally found it better to sit with a straight back. Again in the case of posture as well, comfort is the keyword. Beginners can aim to meditate in this manner for about 4-5 minutes at a stretch. Again if your focus wavers just remember that every practitioner of meditation has been there. Just bring it back to your breath. After you get used to it, you can aim for 10-15 minutes of continuous meditation or maybe even more.
BenefitsThe biggest benefit of mindful breathing is that it helps to dissipate stress. When we focus on our breathing, even momentarily, we forget our other worries. The production of hormones like noradrenalin is regulated and our heart rate comes down to normal. All of this leads to a general feeling of wellness. Naturally, it also leads to us having better control over our anger. The capacity of mindful breathing to reduce stress is extremely significant in the current period, especially with the pandemic pushing most health workers to long and strenuous workdays. Even for the general population, it can be a boon if properly utilized.
Mindful breathing is also believed to prevent degradation of cognitive function at least according to a study published by the University of California (Davis) in 2018. It is also thought to be helpful in case of conditions like depression. However, in the case of depression, it is always advisable to visit an actual therapist. Nevertheless whatever we know of meditation does show that it can be a helpful accompaniment to therapy, in the same way as it is helpful in so many other cases.