Mindfulness Techniques (Step Two)

If do did not do so already, please review “STEP ONE”…Creating the habit of setting aside time in your day. Starting small with just 5 minutes.


This post is considered STEP TWO...ideas on techniques to do during the time you set aside.

Pause for a moment. If you feel safe to do so, close your eyes. Bring your attention to the literal center of your brain. Focus on that spot as much as you can and just be there and breathe. How does that feel? Did your body respond?

Is yoga about controlling your thoughts? I think so. Or as Judith Hanson Lasater puts it, we are manipulating our nervous system. (which you do anyways each time you drink coffee) I think a huge health benefit is that with multiple techniques including breath focus, mantras, yin yoga, restorative yoga, yoga nidra, and meditation we can allow the thinking mind, literally the brain, to rest. This is much different than spending time watching TV, reading, playing video games or napping/sleeping. This is consciously becoming aware of your thoughts, deciding that you are not going to fixate or figure anything out right now and then focusing on something neutral like the breath, mantra, etc.

Sounds simple but it is not easy to do. Often when we start it can be frustrating and may seem to “not work”. A red flag that you need it is when it is difficult to do and might be something that you avoid trying all together. Start small, 5 minutes a day. Pick one of the suggestions below, set a timer and just try. Next day, repeat. It will take time but it is worth it. Rome was not built in a day and your mind will not settle quickly either. Have patience, be gentle to yourself and keep going. You are worth the time & effort.

Note this is not a luxury or ever a waste of time. There is nothing you can do in those 5 minutes that is more important. I am reading a booked called Radiant Rest by Tracee Stanley which is about Yoga Nidra. She says it beautifully that we are not just resting for ourselves. We are resting also on behalf of our family members who came before us. They are part of our DNA. So it may not be our tendency to stop and take care of ourselves before others. But this is my way of knowing the larger picture. I am resting for myself and those who came before me. It makes it a deeper practice in my life.

Enjoy science studies? I do! I think it is helpful to ask why and know that it is not just a yoga teacher suggesting this but real science is behind it as well. The scientific studies about having mindfulness moments is so numerous you don’t have to look far to find multiple books and reputable studies online on the subject.

  • During a conscious focusing of the mind, your brain activity can be summed up into the following categories…
    • Mind-wandering
    • Awareness of the fact that one’s mind wandered
    • Redirecting attention back to chosen object of concentration/meditation
    • Active maintenance of sustaining attention on given object (or focal point)
  • All of these activities are controlled by different networks and cortexes of the brain. (The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care by Khalsa, Cohen, McCall and Telles- not the easiest book to read but it does have science studies about yoga. I also like to subscribe to a scientific research yoga online news outlet to get more details https://www.yogaresearchandbeyond.com/breath-connects-mind-body & https://www.yogaresearchandbeyond.com/yoga-memory-brain/
  • You are not just helping out your brain but it has a full body impact as well. Even helps boost your immune system. Think of these breaks as a daily vitamin.

My intention with this blog post is to provide a stepping stone to some techniques that I have found helpful. There are SO many ways to do this and I suggest having multiple ones you enjoy to add into your toolbox. Days are different and one may resonate with you more in a given moment.

All of these practices can either be done seated with a tall spine or reclined in a comfortable position. As much as possible, the inhale & exhale are done via the nose. Keeping the breath subtle, smooth, silent and comfortable. Like a whisper. Not trying to force the breath or take a HUGE deep breath like you are filling up a balloon to capacity. Of course, when possible, make your practice longer than 5 minutes. I have been trying for 20 minutes each day.

In future blog posts I will provide some info on suggested restorative poses (based on the work of Judith Hanson Lasater) that I have found helpful for enhancing my “brain break”. I will also get into more breathing methods or pranayama (if interested, explore this book Restoring Prana by Robin Rothenberg).

The quieter you become the more you are able to hear.

— Rumi

Present Moment Focus

The most simple way to get into the present moment is to focus on sensations. What you are feeling. The air on your skin, the touch of fabric from clothing, which parts of your body are in contact with the floor and which are not. We have memories of past events but we cannot recreate the actual sensations of that moment. These are only found in the present and this is what anchors us into the here and now.

Soham or Sohum Mantra “I am that”

  • Listen and feel the rhythm of your breath
  • Inhale say silently to yourself “So”
  • Exhale in your mind say “Hum”
  • Inhale “So”, Exhale “Hum”
  • Repeating the mantra linking to your breath cycle provides a focus point for the mind.  If you lose focus, just start again.  

Visual Alternate Nostril Breathing for Balance

  • This method does not manually close the nostrils, it uses a mental focus to visualize the flow of breath in a U-shape. The third eye can be seen as the space between your eyebrows.
  • Inhale up the right nostril, looping up past the third eye
  • Exhale down this U-shape and out the left nostril
  • Repeat in the opposite direction. Imagine you are inhaling via the left nostril. Looping up past the third eye center. Exhaling out the right nostril.
  • Repeat the pattern going back and forth. Focusing on which nostril is receiving the breath and which is releasing it.
  • If helpful, you can imagine a healing blue light associated with the air you are breathing in and out.

Breath Wonder

  • I could name this breath curiosity but I have been loving the word “Wonder” lately. It has a playful tone to it.
  • There are many ways to create a sense of wonder with the breath cycle, here are a few to try out…
    • Focus your attention on the cooler air entering the nasal passages and the warmer air exiting.
    • Visualize the movement of the diaphragm (your primary breathing muscle). Located around the low rib area, it begins as a dome shape. As you inhale, it contracts and moves downward, creating a negative space vacuum for the air to be pulled into the lungs. As you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and move upward, returning to its dome shape. Note the lateral (side) movement of the low ribs with each breath. You may want to provide some feedback by placing the webbing between your thumbs and index finger on the sides of your waist at the low rib level.
    • Note the pause at the end of the exhale. Not holding the breath but just noticing the pause and then continue with a comfortable inhale breath.
    • As you continue your subtle, smooth, soft breathing pattern, see if you notice any changes in your body temperature, overall feeling or even the amount of saliva in the mouth. These will indicate the rest/digest/recover nervous system is turned up in your body.

Counting or Words associated with breath cycle

  • There are so many techniques for this it would be difficult to write all of them. Here are some that I suggest exploring.
  • You can even read a quote or poem you enjoy and then use a line or a couple words from it for your mantra.
  • Counting length of your inhale and exhale. Knowing that each breath is unique and may not match this pattern exactly. Still continue to count and notice the pauses after the inhale and exhale.
    • Inhale, 2, 3, 4, PAUSE, Exhale, 2, 3, 4, PAUSE, repeat…
  • Counting backwards from 27 per breath cycle (kind of like counting yoga sheep)
    • Inhale 27, Exhale 27, Inhale 26, Exhale 26, Inhale 25, Exhale 25…
    • Don’t worry if you lose your place, that is actually a good sign that you are beginning to let go and rest. Begin again or start around 10 and continue counting. I like this one before I go to bed.
  • Saying a word silently to yourself with each breath
    • Inhale “Calm”; Exhale “Stress”; Inhale “Peace”; Exhale “Worry”
    • Or even as simple as Inhale “Inhale”; Exhale “Exhale”

Guided Meditations & Sounds

  • A guided meditation can be helpful since you are listening to someone for directions. Another way is to provide some white noise in the background as a way to provide a calm environment.
  • During these guided meditations, utilize any of the above methods to keep your mind focused.
  • I have some guided meditations on YouTube that you can try. (It is just weird for me to listen to my own voice.)
  • Sanctuary by Rod Stryker cell phone app = Guided meditation and Nidra
  • Relax Melodies cell phone app = You can create custom sounds like rain drops and set a timer. There are also guided meditations on there as well.
  • There are SO many to choose from like calm, headspace, etc for your cell phone.
  • Last little tip is that I normally keep a pen and paper near me just in case I have too many distracting thoughts, I can write them down to get them “out of my head”.

Remember always, you are worth it. Start small, continue on, and you may surprise yourself at the results.

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)

  • This Pranayama (breath control) entails inhaling in one nostril and exhaling out the opposite nostril.  I will be describing the moon-piercing breath (Chandra Bhedana) since I have found it to be the most calming version. It considers your left side of your body, the Yin, which is the restful and cooling side.  The opposite is the right side of your body, the Yang, which is the active and hotter side.  All your inhales will occur via your left nostril.  All your exhales will be done in your right nostril.  If you like a visual, the breath goes in and out in a clockwise fashion.      
  • Have a tissue ready since this tends to clear out sinus blockages and can help during allergy season.  This is a relaxing breath to do before a big meeting or something you know that elevates your stress levels.  It is also a nice one to do right before going to sleep.
  • Steps to perform this breath:
    • Take either hand and curl in your first and middle fingers into your palm.  Bring your thumb to the outside of one of your nostrils.  Your ring and pinkie fingers will be on the outside of your other nostril. 
    • Block your right nostril, inhale left.
    • Block your left nostril, exhale right.
    • Continue this breath for one to three minutes.  Each breath should be slow, controlled and deep. 

Why Use Breath Control in Yoga?

The Sanskrit word Pranayama can be broken down as Prana “Energy” or “Lifeforce” and Yama “Restraint” or “Control”.  Your breath is your energy, your lifeforce.  When you control your breath, you control your mind.  Part of yoga principles include the Sutras.  They are guidelines for how to live, and a famous Sutra is 1.2 and it can be translated to mean “The practice of yoga begins when you calm the mind”.  As yoga teacher trainees we liked to tease that we were practicing yoga to learn mind control.  This is a funny thought, but it is not far from the truth.

When we are born, we automatically perform belly breathing.  As we age, our breath gets more shallow and shorter.  We gradually begin to lose lung capacity as we age.  The average adult, by age 50, loses 50 percent of their lung capacity.  Performing mindful breathing techniques enables you to calm the mind and strengthen your lung capacity.  Most of the yoga techniques are done with an inhale and exhale through the nose.  The breath is slow, controlled and as deep as possible.  If any of the techniques are practiced a few minutes a day, you will notice your natural breathing pattern improve.  This means your unconscious breathing pattern during the day or while you are sleeping will benefit.

If you have trouble focusing on the breath due to distractions, try a counting system or imagery.  Find a number that works for you and repeat it in your mind.  An example would be to count 1,2,3,4 on the inhale and then 4,3,2,1 on the exhale.  Another technique is to imagine you are controlling wave movements on a beach, just like the moon controls the tides.  Picture a beach and each inhale pulls a wave closer to you.  Each exhale returns the wave to the vast ocean.

During our yoga asana practice, the breath is used as a meditation tool.  The sound of the breath brings our attention inward so we can focus on only our practice.  If we get distracted and start looking around the room, we are no longer doing yoga.  If the focus can be centered on just your mat, your breath, your movement in the present moment…then you are performing yoga.

The breath is also an amazing indicator if we need to take a break, like performing a child’s pose.  If the pace of the breath and quality is quick or shallow, we are beyond our edge.  Listening to the feedback we receive from our body is a wonderful part of the yoga practice.  This allows us to listen to our body off of the mat and know when we need to slow down and rest.

Remember, practicing yoga poses is just one branch of a very larger yoga tree (Eight Limbs).  The true yoga practice begins when we step off of the mat.