Focus on the breath.
Anyone who has attended a yoga class or tried meditation has probably heard this phrase, and at myKinCloud we use this sentence repeatedly throughout much of what we do. In general, people are increasingly encouraged to focus more on breathing in a variety of activities. We as adults can get confused by this phrase, so you can imagine how confused our kids might get as well.
I will state the obvious - a healthy person does not have to focus on the breath to actually breathe, as our bodies of course do this for us naturally, even while sleeping.
So what do we really mean when we say to focus on the breath? And why does it matter?
Focusing on the breath means that we don’t just breathe, but we think about breathing. We observe each breath that goes in and each breath that goes out. We pay attention to our breath and feel it flowing through us, observing how it makes us feel. We make breathing an active rather than a passive activity. We practice acceptance and non-reactivity to the flow of our breath, which helps accept and be non-reactive to our states of being.
Once we start focusing on the breath, there are two main benefits I will highlight. The first is that if you start actively observing your breath, it brings awareness to the present moment. Mindfulness at its core involves focusing on the present moment without judgment. When we turn our minds inward to the very center of our being, our breath, we immediately bring ourselves right into that moment. A variety of negative emotions can get stirred up if we look too far into the past or the future. In the past, we often run into regret or sorrow, and the future can bring up anxiety, fear or stress. The present moment is our place to feel the most content. If we focus on our breath, we naturally remain in the present moment where our mind is the most clear.
The second benefit of focusing on our breath is that it helps us alter our breathing. When we are taking short, rapid breaths through our chest, our heart rate tends to speed up and cause emotions to run higher. When we take long, slow breaths through our abdomen, our heart rate tends to slow down and create a calming effect. When we recognize what is happening with our breath, we might discover that we need to alter our breath to positively impact our state of being.
Focusing on your breath does matter. A lot. All breathing is not created equal. Sure, you don’t have to think about your breathing to actually breathe, but if you do start to focus on your breath, it can transform, and even improve, how you take in your experience.