Mindful Stretching, Three-Part Breathing, and Awareness of Breath Meditation

In preparation for the Awareness of Breath Meditation we will start with a few minutes of gentle stretching with awareness or chair yoga. We gently stretch the body while paying attention to those physical sensations that are most predominate as we 1) stretch our hands up over our head, 2) then we’ll do neck rotations in three directions, 3) followed by shoulder rolls back and forward in wide full circles, finishing with gentle spinal stretches. If the mind wanders with thoughts of the future, the past or even the present, we simply notice and gently bring the focus of your attention back to the sensations in the body that we are creating with the stretching.

Next, as we continue to prepare for the Awareness of Breath Mediation we will spend a few minutes with three-part breathing practice. Starting to inhale fully by first filling the bottom of the lungs, then expanding the rib cage inhaling into the middle part of the lungs, and then completing the inhale into the upper part of the lungs where you may feel the collar bones rising a little. Then we exhale in reverse order – upper lungs, middle lungs where the rib cage relaxes, and the lower part of the lungs, perhaps even contracting the abdominal muscles a little so we’ve completely exhaled the entire breath. Then repeat for a few minutes. If at any time you feel a little light headed or dizzy, return the breath to normal. The three-part breath enables us to breathe approximately up to seven times the amount of air/oxygen than normal breathing. We feel energized and relax with this breath.

Now we will practice Awareness of Breath Meditation – discussed and described below.

Developing a concentration meditation practice can bring about a sense of joy and happiness as afflictive thoughts and emotions are set aside, temporarily. Practicing concentration also supports Mindfulness Meditation, which is research has shown to be an effective way of changing your relationship to different forms of stress or suffering.

The ability to keep the mind focused on one object or “one-pointedness” has several benefits. Below we discuss four ways to strengthen and deepen your innate ability to concentration, and we explore its benefits such as quieting the mind and body, relaxation, managing stress and how it supports mindfulness. Learn how to tame the “monkey mind” we all have at times and realize greater joy, peace, and happiness.

What is Concentration?
Concentration can be simply defined as paying close attention or attentiveness. The mind becomes tranquil, peaceful, and very pleasant. Concentration is developed by focusing the mind’s attention. It is a mental effort. Joseph Goldstein in Mindfulness (2013) defines concentration as “the collected nature of mind” (p. 21). In the context of meditation often we see the Pali term for concentration – “Samadhi,” when “the mind becomes stable, composed and serene” (Shankman, 2008). With practice the mind becomes free from desires and discontent. The qualities of samadhi include concentration, composure, and unification of mind. When the mind is concentrated, “we are undistracted, and we feel this non-distractedness as peace” both on and off the meditation cushion. (Goldstein, 2013, p. 265).

Awareness of Breath Practice Summary

Check your posture: Sit in a comfortable position. Try to sit in the same place each day as you develop a regular daily practice. Avoid positions that might encourage sleep. Let the back be long and soft, supporting itself. Shoulders are relaxed back and downward, the neck is long, and the chin is neither lifted nor tilted down. Face and jaw are relaxed. Relax the abdominal muscles. Make a commitment to yourself not to move unless you must – and if you need to move, notice the wanting to move, make the intention to move, and move with mindfulness. Return to the focus of attention on the breath.

1. Bring your attention to the physical sensations of breathing. Feel the experience of the inhalation in the abdominal area. Bring your attention to the sensations of the expanding and contracting of the rib cage, the tightening and softening of the diaphragm; perhaps feeling the skin touching clothing, a sense of warmth or coolness, moisture or dryness. Noticing how each inhalation is followed by and exhalation, a sense of cohesiveness. Being with the breath, breathing itself. Simply being with the sensations of breathing. Resting in awareness of each inhalation and each exhalation.

2. Notice if/when the mind wanders – a thought, sound or a sensation pulls your attention away from the breath; then gently but firmly guide your attention back to the breath in the abdominal area. If you’d like, bring a gentle, small smile.

3. Repeat. Let the breath breathe itself, that is, without controlling the breathing. Let it be natural.

4. Start this practice for 5 – 10 – 15 minutes or as long as it is comfortable; increase the time until you can practice 20, 30, then 40 minutes.

Benefits: This practice primarily strengthens concentration, the ability to stay focused on one object. This calms and collects the mind, resulting in greater tranquility of mind and body. The Awareness of Breath meditation is a beneficial practice in its own right and serves as the first “step” in developing a mindfulness meditation sitting practice. Developing some level of concentration is necessary for the inquiry and investigative aspects of mindfulness practice. And Awareness of Breath practice serves as an anchor; you can always come back to the breath as a place of refuge/safety if the mind becomes unsettled or if body sensations, thoughts, or emotions become too uncomfortable. The practice is not about the breath; it is about awareness of the breath. Awareness – the knowing function of the mind, consciousness. Simply noticing your experience as it happens, moment by moment.

Research on Mindfulness – MBSR is considered the “gold standard” for mindfulness studies. For peer reviewed journal articles on mindfulness research – visit the American Mindfulness Research Association.

Free, Online Mindfulness Practice Opportunities – that meets the second Friday of each month from 6:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. We explore different aspects of mindfulness through discussions and practices. All are welcome – whether you are just curious about mindfulness and its benefits, are new or are an experienced meditator. For Zoom link or more information please contact Mike Healy at mfhealy@bellsouth.net.

The Dedicated Mindfulness Practitioners Group meets each Saturday from 8:30 – 9:30 a.m. This is an opportunity to practice and discuss your mindfulness practice. All are welcome, whether you are new or an experienced meditator. Now offered online with Zoom. For Zoom link or questions please contact Richard Shoemaker at RichardShoe@gmail.com.

Georgia Museum of Art – on the UGA campus (all are welcome) Morning Mindfulness meets every other Friday at 9:30 Zoom. For details please contact – Sage Kincaid at 706.542.8863, Associate Curator of Education, Georgia Museum of Art, 90 Carlton Street, Athens, GA 30602

Mindful Living Center, LLC – check out the Resources page with guided Mindfulness Meditation, Body Scan, and Yoga I (on the mat gentle stretching with awareness), and Yoga II (standing stretching with awareness) practices that are free to stream or download at Mindfulliving.org

A wide variety of Mindfulness Meditations with Tara Brach Tara Brach

The Mindfulness Practice Evening is facilitated by Mike Healy, Ed.D., certified to teach Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction by the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and is a certified Integral Hatha Yoga instructor, RYT 200. For more information, please visit: Mindfulliving.org or email mfhealy@bellsouth.net or call 706-248-8918.