Breathe.  Be alert.  Be present.  Mindfulness Meditation involves the following components:

  1. Awareness in the present
  2. Focusing on 1 thing at a time
  3. Taking an alert, curious, gracious, and open view in the moment

Meditation typically works best if it is also used in conjunction with:

  1. Diaphragmatic breathing

One of my clients once asked me if being present meant thinking about each thing that her body was doing all at once.  The answer is “no.”  Being present means being aware in the moment of what is.  It does not mean needing to see and think about everything in the room or everything that is occurring.  For instance, if you are sitting in a quiet room and your mother opens the door, peeks in, and leaves, being present means that you are aware of what has occurred; however, it does not mean you need to mentally scrutinize that event.  Instead of focusing on questions such as: Was that my mom?  What did she need?  Should I go find out?; it is important to focus on what is.  Focusing on what is in this situation may mean you notice that your mother just came in and out of the room and then allow that thought to come and go.  No need to follow that thought up with a judgment about the person, such as: Why can’t she just …..?  Being present in the moment does not involve critiquing yourself in any way.  Avoid responding to what happens in your environment by saying things to yourself such as, “I really need to …..”  Instead, allow yourself to observe out of a place of peace, gratitude, curiosity and openness to your surroundings.

Mindfulness meditation also works well if you incorporate diaphragmatic breathing as a component.  Diaphragmatic breathing means breathing in and out of your nose, which slows down the rate of your breath.  On the inhale your belly expands and contracts on the exhale.  If you feel dizzy when you are diaphragmatically breathing, then you are not diaphragmatically breathing.  Chances are that you are breathing in or out too much, breathing too slow, or too fast.  Find a rate that feels comfortable.  Breathe in until you are full and out until you are empty.  Do not force the air in or out.  Diaphragmatic breathing should be a comfortable experience that results in a regulation of the nervous system, allowing you to feel alert and relaxed.

How many times have we heard the advice, “take a deep breath?” This is terrible advice!  Diaphragmatic breathing is not the same as deep breathing, which can often lead people feeling worse as it is an unnatural and unhealthy form of breathing.  Taking too deep of breaths can lead people to feel more anxious, not less.  Listen to your body.  If you feel dizzy, more anxious, or irritable, stop doing what you are doing and try something different.  Chances are that you did not breathe diaphragmatically and you need a bit more practice; however, give yourself time to self-regulate prior to practicing again.

Many people report feeling tired as a result of diaphragmatic breathing.  If this is your experience, you likely have high sympathetic nervous system arousal to start.  This may mean you are more likely to have anxiety, live a fast-paced lifestyle, or have racing thoughts.  For these individuals, when you slow yourself down with diaphragmatic breathing, your body isn’t used to it.  The only time it ever gets to feel the way you are making it feel is when it is sleeping, so your body will think that it is time to sleep.  The good news is that the more you practice, the more this type of breathing becomes the norm, and the more alert you will feel.  Your body will tell you what is working and what isn’t.  Part of utilizing mindfulness should involve paying attention to what your body is trying to tell you.  The answer is there if you choose to listen.


Author: Dr. Heather Ingram