Mindfulness Exercise Two
This practice builds on our awareness of how busy the mind can be, jumping from thought to thought, and introduces the breath as support to begin settling the mind.
Exercise Two: Settling the Mind
This exercise is adapted from Mindfulness Association MBLC course materials. The exercise will take 10 minutes.
Settling the Mind – Read by Karen Lawson
- Find a comfortable sitting posture with your back straight and relaxed. If possible, keep your eyes open. Commit to an intention of being aware of what is happening as it happens.
- Focus in a very relaxed way on your breath.
- Breathe in a little more deeply than normal and then gently release the breath. Both in-breaths and out-breaths are gentle, so should not be audible. Try to keep in- and out-breaths equal in length, so you may find it useful to count.
- You may find you breathe in to a count of 3 or 4, in which case your out-breath will be to the same count. So you are now doing two things: regulating your breathing and counting.
- Despite this, thoughts will continue to pop into your mind, which is totally OK and natural. Don’t worry about it. You are not attempting to get rid of thoughts or make your mind go blank. In fact, you are not doing anything besides focusing on breathing and counting. The only difference now is that you do not become involved with the thoughts that pop into your mind. You let them go free, without attempting to suppress or become involved with them.
- For example, you are sitting there with breath as your focus, feeling relaxed, and then you remember that you have emails to write, phone calls to make, you don’t know how to use Zoom, what are you going to make for tea? These are just thoughts. Normally, you would become involved and begin planning what you are going to do, imagining a menu, thinking about downloading Zoom to your phone etc. If you followed this route, you would quickly be lost in a tangle of thinking. Because you are settling your mind and following your breath, you don’t do that. The memory of all the things you need to do is there, but you simply leave it alone and maintain your focus on breathing and counting. This may seem surprising at first, but you will soon discover that you can do it.
- So your attention is with the breath and simultaneously you know that the thought is there. You will also realize that you could, at any moment, switch your focus to the thought, become involved with it and thus be actively thinking. But you don’t do that. Instead you remain relaxed and gently focused on the breath. If you do this, your mind will begin to relax because you are letting go of the idea that you have to do something. You are letting thoughts come and go freely without engaging with them.
- Towards the end of the exercise, you can focus more on the out-breath, imagining that you are releasing involvement with thoughts as you breathe out. Notice that as you release the breath the body relaxes a little. See if the mind can learn from the body – the body releases breath and relaxes, the mind releases involvement with thoughts and begins to settle down.
- Do this exercise for about 10 minutes, then stop the counting and allow your normal breathing rhythm to re-establish itself.
After the Practice
After the practice take a few moments to reflect, and journal on these questions.
- How did you experience this practice – what was different from the previous one?
- What did you notice about your thoughts?
- Were you able to focus on the breath and did the counting help?
- What else did you experience?