It’s easy to mistake mindfulness for breathing; often we attempt to remain focused on the breath for extended periods; instructors are continually redirecting us to our breath; in short instructions it is suggested to simply stay with your breathing; breathing often makes us feel calm. At first glance we might say, “mindfulness is about breathing.”
However, there is much more to mindfulness. Ultimately, we can learn to be mindful of anything we are experiencing – seeing, hearing, walking, eating, emotions, thoughts, etc. The purpose of utilizing our breath is to anchor the mind/attention in order to 1. build concentration and 2. know where our mind is.
Staying focused on any one thing strengthens concentration allowing us to be mindful of all our experience with more clarity and strength of mind. Staying focused on something also lets you know when your mind has wandered. If you are attempting to stay focused on your breath and suddenly you realize you have been thinking for some time, you know you have lost mindfulness. Having one thing to return to creates a good “home-base” or anchor for your attention.
With focus and awareness of where your mind is, you can remain mindful of breathing or you can choose to be mindful of any other experience. Being mindful of your range of experience can reveal underlying thoughts and habits of mind that are negative or don’t serve you. Noticing these thoughts and habits is the first step in changing them. Therefore, it’s important to expand your mindfulness beyond your breathing. Try listening to our guided audio instructions to start learning how to do this.