The Table Video

Jeffrey M. Schwartz

Mindful Breathing Exercises: Getting Mentally Fit

Research Psychiatrist, UCLA School of Medicine
December 17, 2013

Research Psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz (UCLA) offers guided instruction in a breathing exercise that introduces mindful meditation, commenting on the significance of each step.

Transcript:

Here are basic instructions on the practice of real mindfulness. I’m just gonna do a simple instruction for you the viewer out there in the video land, right? So you can just kind of get a basic, basic understanding of just how simple on one level it is to start the practice of mindfulness. What we wanna do is place our attention on the feeling of the movement of the air as it enters and leaves the nostril.

Now, when you do this, it is very much aided if you sit basically with you feet flat on the floor in a comfortable sort of straight but not rigid position so the ancient texts actually do say with your body straight but it’s well understood that that doesn’t mean rigidly straight. And the sitting position is actually advised. So you’re sitting with you body nice and straight and your feet on the floor and you can close your eyes ’cause it tends to make it easier but it’s certainly not necessary. Now, you wanna place your attention, here it is, precisely.

You’re placing your attention on the feeling of the movement of the air as it enters the nostril and leaves the nostril. Okay, so I’m just gonna take a few seconds here just so you can kinda get that feeling. [breathing in and out] Okay, let’s do a one more in out. [breathing in and out] So now what we’re gonna do is do about a minute or so once I give these instructions. And here it is, I have set up a count. The count itself helps you focus attention.

And the count basically goes like this, on the in breathe, we’re gonna go, one, two three, one and then on the out breathe, we’re gonna go, one, two, three, two. And then on the in breathe, we go, one, two, three, three and on the out breathe, we go, one, two, three, four and then we start over. One in, two out, three in, four out and you start counting over. Now, here’s the other very important point about this practice. If you try to do this for even a couple of minutes, even one minute, but certainly for a couple of minutes, you are absolutely going to find that one of the, it’s one of the key parts of doing this practice that it’s not so easy to keep your attention just on your breathe. Your mind tends to wander.

Thoughts come in, distractions come up, you lose count, you lose attention. A big part of the practice of real mindfulness exercise is recognizing that that’s just part of the process. That’s part of the process. So you’re trying to keep your attention focused on you breath and when you become aware that your mind has wandered, you go back to the breathe and start counting again at one. But you don’t feel like you’re not doing it well if your mind wanders and you don’t think you’re good at this if your mind wanders. It’s part of the process.

So part of what we’re trying to learn here is that when the mind wanders, we can become aware of it and bring the attention back to the breathe. So, therein lies a key lesson in attentional control. So we’re trying to control the attention, to pay attention to the feeling of the movement of the air but the real day-to-day mindfulness is in hands by becoming aware of when you lose track of your attention and bringing it back, bringing it back, bringing it back, bringing it back. It’s an exercise in learning that we are not perfectionists. And it’s an exercise in learning that we are not perfect and it’s an exercise in learning that we have a lot to learn.

Okay, so close your eyes, sit straight and now place your attention on the feeling of the movement of the air as it comes in and now count, in, one, two, three, one. Out, one, two, three, two. In, one, two, three, three. Out, one, two, three, four and then another cycle. In, one, two, three, one. Out, one, two, three, two. In, one, two, three, three. Out, one, two, three, four. And let’s just take 15 seconds here. [timer beeping] And obviously since this is the video, you could watch it again and so, you should for a couple of minutes, five minutes and in the process, you’re learning that you can pay attention to the movement of the air, to the feeling of the movement of the air. When your mind wanders you just don’t go, what number was I on?

You just go back to one and you’re simultaneously learning that you can focus your attention on the object of mindfulness which is the movement of the air and that when the mind wanders, you can control the attention by bringing it back to the object. And that is a very significant exercise in the practice of real mindfulness. [gentle music]

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