But what I observe is that some folks are leaving out the most important aspect of mindfulness. In a company training on customer service, a company
which shall remain unnamed, the trainer was trying to teach mindfulness with clients and those on the opposite end of the phone. I’m not sure what the word “mindful” evoked for the trainees, but the trainer never mentioned the one key to mindfulness, the door to mindful practice that brings us right into the present moment, which is our in-breath and our out-breath. That is, noticing our in-breath and our out-breath.
Of course we breathe in and out all the time, and hold our breath when we’re stressed or in a hurry, but we are not aware that we’re breathing, nor that we’re interrupting our breath when anxious.
We don’t know we’re breathing because our breath is a function of the autonomic nervous system. We don’t have to think about it. Our respiration just naturally performs its job, as do our digestive and vascular systems, to name two more.
As a former smoker, I have always had a tendency to hold my breath. So in learning mindfulness, I have learned to notice my breath. I use certain sounds as cues to remind myself—like the ringing of my phone or stopping at a light in traffic or waiting in line at the grocery store or waiting for my computer to change functions. It’s simple. Two of my friends were making fun of me because I said I was trying to eat more mindfully. They took a strawberry and fawned over it, and said in a sing-song voice, “I’m eating my strawberry mindfully.” But they were not noticing their breath.
Mindfulness without conscious breathing is like toast without butter.
As a point of clarity for those who hear the word tossed around like a basketball, mindfulness is, first and foremost, awareness of our breath. Next in mindfulness practice comes a soft belly and soft neck and shoulders, followed closely by relaxation of the facial muscles. These seem to be the three areas where we hold the most tension.
One of my favorite mindfulness quotes is from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, “Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.”
Not exactly rocket science, but a great way to peace of mind. A great way to be present in the moment.