Integrating mindfulness into our lives has many benefits. When we are more aware of the present moment, we have access to a richer experience of life.
When I find a deeper sense of presence, it can feel like I’ve opened a door. I step through into an experience of life that is more vibrant, more fulfilling. Mindfulness helps to find this doorway to presence.
Mindfulness practices are divided into two categories: formal and informal. Formal mindfulness refers to practices where we set aside quiet time to turn our attention toward the present moment, as in seated meditation (more on this next week). Informal practices are techniques used throughout the day as we are living our busy lives.
We are hard wired for the fight-flight response with our sympathetic nervous system. Fight-flight is all about survival - we need to effectively dodge saber tooth tigers (or the equivalent). The good news is that we are also hard-wired for the relaxation response. A close call on the highway may be followed automatically by a sigh. Sigh breaths stimulate the relaxation response through the parasympathetic nervous system. Indy, a Seeing Eye puppy I raised a about a year ago, loved sigh breaths. In reaction to the slightest of discipline, he would dramatically sigh several times. Not only did this help him to release stress, I think he enjoyed sending a message of disapproval to whomever was disciplining him. Let’s explore this informal mindfulness practice:
The Sigh Breaths practice
- Focus by deliberately stopping everything else that you are doing.
- Inhale through the nose; exhale through the mouth making a sigh sound.
- The exhale can be slower than the inhale.
- Bring your full awareness to meet each breath. Notice sensations and sounds with each inhale and exhale.
- As you exhale with each sigh, feel a sense of letting go.
- Invite a sense of relaxation to settle in more with each breath.
- Enjoy a series of seven sigh breaths or more.
Like Indy, I benefit from sigh breaths when I feel stressed. I have created the habit of sighing when I feel impatient. I also benefit from sigh breath breaks at the computer. Turning attention toward the sound and sensation of breath is also helpful, anchoring attention in the body’s natural presence.
Enjoy a series of sigh breaths several times a day, experimenting with when and where you practice. With persistent practice, you can open a doorway into presence and a deeper connection to each moment of your life.