Written by Eugene Farrell
With 30 years’ experience in the UK healthcare arena (both public and private), Eugene provides thought leadership for AXA and is our mental health lead.
Did you know that mindfulness can help to improve your mental and physical wellbeing? From anger and addiction to heart health, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and pain – mindfulness can help you manage a whole host of conditions. You can find out more about some of them in our article 10 health benefits of mindfulness.
To get you started Eugene Farrell, psychological health expert at AXA PPP healthcare, introduces the practice of mindful breathing in this handy guide.
Why practice mindful breathing?
Modern life is full of stress and distractions, and finding the time to stop and think about what's going on around us can be tricky.
"Our body is on autopilot almost all of the time – things happen and we react in an automatic or learned way, without taking any notice," Eugene notes. "We spend lots of time worrying about the past and future, while ignoring the present. Taking time to ourselves is important, as is enjoying each and every moment; when it's gone, it's gone.
"Maintaining a calm mind and body helps us manage life better and deal with what comes along, to take a step back and look at things differently rather than letting our learned reactions take over."
The solution is to take time each day – say 10 minutes during your commute or with your morning cup of tea – to focus on your breathing. This will allow you to calm your mind and body from the daily grind, clearing your head to think differently about a situation. "This allows us to be truly in the moment, and once you start breathing like this, you'll come back to it always – breathing is our anchor!"
Nine simple steps for mindful breathing
Mindful breathing doesn't need any fancy equipment or techniques to work, just you and your lungs!
- Sit in a quiet place. Turn off your phone.
- To start, notice what's going on with you right now – any thoughts, feelings or emotions that are going around inside your head, and continue to think about them for a few moments. Try not to alter your perception of these feelings, and just allow them to be as they are, without judgement.
- Bring the focus back to you. This is your time. Other demands and distractions can wait for the next 10 minutes.
- Focus only on your breathing. Breathe in through your nose slowly and steadily, and out through your mouth, in time with the video below.
- Notice your lungs expanding, and the time between each inhalation and exhalation.
- Feel yourself relax on each exhale, your shoulders dropping, your arms and legs becoming heavy. If your mind wanders, acknowledge it, then gently take your mind back to focusing on your breathing.
- Feel the cool air as it moves into your nostrils, notice the sensation, and feel the warm air leaving your mouth over your lips.
- Finally, gradually begin to arise from your mindful state – wiggle your toes and fingers. Smile.
- Take just a few moments and move on, don’t rush.
Repeat regularly throughout the day if possible, and take time to contemplate how each repetition of the exercise makes you feel and how it has affected a specific task.
If you found this article interesting, find out how to take mindfulness to the next level and manage anxiety and stress with the body scan technique.
Sources and further reading
- Mindfulness frequently asked questions
- Raisin meditation mindfulness exercise
- Everyday mindfulness
- Myths about mindfulness
Mental Health Foundation – How to look after your mental health using mindfulness
Oxford Mindfulness – Guided meditation video