When I teach meditation, I always tell people that the most important thing they can do to work with their mind is to work with their breath.
The breath is so simple and so powerful. Breathing optimally is the best thing people can do for their health. It helps to relax our physical body and it really helps release tension and stress. It’s good to have help to focus and get a break from thoughts that are going through the mind. Working with the breath is critical, especially if there is anxiety or depression.
Diaphragmatic breathing is an excellent way to get used to working with your mind. The thought layer of the mind always wants to have something to do so we give it a practice like paying attention to the transition points in the breath or softening muscles in the stomach so we can breathe more freely.
Practices of counting our breath (like 1:5:5:1) help us develop the capacity to concentrate. It took me awhile to be focused enough to pay attention for those ten single breaths.
We can also use mindfulness of our breath to stabilize our attention into our body in the present moment instead of spinning off into our heads when something is intense or distracting. Awareness of breath helps keep us grounded in our bodies. When we are mindful of our breathing we notice when we’ve stopped and can take a few deep breaths and relax. Breath is such a good friend.
An ancient breathing practice: