Thoughts crowded into my head, demanding attention.
I was living in Berlin; anxious, jobless and unsure what to do next.
I wanted to change career, but didn’t know how to do it.
On one hand, the future seemed full of potential and possibility, while on the other, it appeared a scary, hostile place.
Fortunately, in that time of transition, I had one thing I could rely on…
Thoughts and emotions
In the run-up to Berlin, while bumbling around dazed and confused, I stumbled on meditation, which I’ve banged on about at length previously.
Most mindfulness practice focuses on the breath as its constant. The reason?
It’s synonymous with life, an automatic process and companion, happening with and (as often is the case) without our conscious intervention.
It’s regular and (hopefully) reliable, while also subject to minor variation, making it the perfect object of attention.
You see, meditation, at its core, is about training our attention to understand the true nature of consciousness.
It’s predicated on the realisation that we’re not the sum total of our thoughts through association; instead, they’re simply transient, identity-independent mental phenomena.
Thoughts, by their nature, are part of a cascade, ushering feelings and emotions in their wake.
By using our breath as an anchor we can simply observe these psychological processes as content within consciousness, without becoming triggered or engaged.
In this way, the breath and mind connection are bound and paradoxically, if we want to alter our mental state, we must focus on the physical process of breathing.
Breath and mind connection
So it was that I turned to my breath in Berlin.
At first, I would attend to the physical sensations of inhalation and exhalation, feeling air entering and exiting my nostrils.
I’d become aware of the subtle sensations of chest movement and place awareness in the rising and falling of my stomach.
Invariably, stressful thoughts would soon arise.
Often they would magically transport me into future mental narratives, with long intervals passing before the realisation that I was lost in fantasy land.
Whenever I woke up to this, I gained important mental distance from these thoughts, which would invariably peter out, becoming a background echo rather than an all-consuming beast.
Each time this happened, I was training to recognise the psychological illusion of thought, using my breath as an anchor.
It was also a lifeline, serving as a navigational reference in times of stress.
Infusing this practice through my day became essential.
While formal meditation sessions are vital, life is messy and overthinking strikes at any time, day or night.
It’s imperative, therefore, to intersperse the daily quotidian with your breath and mind connection.
Making a cup of tea? Rather than replaying that relationship argument, return to your breath, that faithful friend.
Benefits of conscious breathing
Over time you’ll start to notice changes, albeit subtle ones, in your state of mind.
Where one innocuous thought might have once sent you into a depressing spiral of anxiety and overwhelm, you’ll regard it as a harmless feature, rather than a bug, of consciousness.
You’ll notice the thought arise, before falling away of its own accord, with the help of your breath.
Utilising the breath and mind connection in this way has multiple uses and benefits, including:
- Relief from overthinking
- A hedge against stress
- An antidote to anxiety
- A tool for non-clinical depression
- A salve for physical symptoms, including pain
Obviously, all these wonderful benefits take time and require practice, which many people aren’t willing to endure.
However, by strengthening this symbiotic relationship you can finally start to relax, meaning you spend less time trapped in your head and more time enjoying life.
It also improves overall clarity of mind, which can aid decision-making and action-taking.
There are even more benefits of incorporating specific methodologies and techniques to harness the physical effects of breathing on our brain and body chemistry, experiments I’m currently exploring and will leave for another article.
If you’re seeking better breath and mind connection, your only obstacle is attention.
Simply focus on your breath, whatever the situation.
The moment doesn’t have to be perfect.
You just have to be breathing, which I’ll assume you are if you’re reading this article.
So let’s all begin by taking a deep breath 🙂
P.S. If you liked this article, check out The Mindful Day book summary.