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Body and breath meditation: Your life on autopilot

Person caught under water.

It’s that time of the year when the stresses and worries start to pile up. Are you feeling it, too?

I like to practice mindfulness during this period to keep my sanity and look after my health.

Over the next eight weeks, I’ll be sharing meditations, main concepts and mindfulness practices.

Please note that all exercises and meditations are from the book Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Professor Mark Williams and journalist Danny Penman.

Let’s get started!

Overview: Week One Mindfulness

Week One helps you to see the automatic pilot at work and encourages you to explore what happens when you “wake up”.

Central to this week is a Body and Breath Meditation which stabilises the mind and helps you see what unfolds when you focus your full awareness on just one thing at a time.

Another shorter meditation helps you to reconnect with your senses through mindful eating. Although both practices are very simple, they also provide the essential foundations on which all other meditations are built.

Main idea: Mindfulness and your autopilot

Have you ever turned on your computer to send an email, only to get lured into answering some others, and then turned your computer off again an hour later without sending the original message?

This is not what you had intended to do. But notice the consequence: when you next turn on your computer, you’ll still have to send your original message, and you will also have to look at all the new messages in response to that one hour of unscheduled work.

When this happens, you may think you are doing a good job – just “clearing the decks” – but what you’ve done is to make the email system speed up a notch!

Mindfulness does not say, “Don’t send emails”, but it may remind you to check in with yourself and ask, “Is this what I had intended to be doing?”

– Mark Williams

Week One: Body and Breath Meditation

Meditation One: Mindfulness of Body and Breath

Meditation One: Mindfulness of Body And Breath.

Tip: Bookmark the page on your phone, tablet or computer for easy access. You may also want to download the track to your device, using the Download link provided on the page.

Chocolate meditation

Choose some chocolate – either a type that you’ve never tried before or one that you have not eaten recently. It might be dark and flavoursome, organic or fair-trade or whatever you choose. The important thing is to choose a type you wouldn’t normally eat or that you consume only rarely. Here goes:

  • Open the packet. Inhale the aroma. Let it sweep over you.
  • Break off a piece and look at it. Let your eyes drink in what it looks like, examining every nook and cranny.
  • Pop it in your mouth. See if it’s possible to hold it on your tongue and let it melt, noticing any tendency to suck at it. Chocolate has over 300 different flavours. See if you can sense some of them.
  • If you notice your mind wandering while you do this, simply notice where it went, then gently escort it back to the present moment.
  • After the chocolate has completely melted, swallow it very slowly and deliberately. Let it trickle down your throat.
  • Repeat this for the next piece.
  • How do you feel? Is it different from normal? Did the chocolate taste better than if you’d just eaten it at a normal breakneck pace?

Raisin meditation

Set aside 5 to 10 minutes when you can be alone, in a place, at a time, when you will not be disturbed by the phone, family or friends. Switch off your mobile phone, so it doesn’t play on your mind.

You will need a few raisins (or other dried fruit or small nuts). You’ll also need a piece of paper and a pen to record your reactions afterwards.

Your task will be to eat the fruit or nuts mindfully, much as you ate the chocolate earlier. Read the instructions below to get an idea of what’s required, and only reread them if you need to. 

The spirit in which you do the meditation is more important than covering every instruction in minute detail. 

– Mark Williams

You should spend about 20 to 30 seconds on each of the following eight stages.

1. Holding

Please take one of the raisins or your choice of dried fruit or nuts and hold it in the palm of your hand, or between your fingers and thumb. Focusing on it, approach it as if you’ve never seen anything like it before. Can you feel the weight of it in your hands? Is it casting a shadow on your palm?

2. Seeing

Take the time to see the raisin. Imagine you have never seen one before. Look at it with great care and full attention. Let your eyes explore every part of it. Examine the highlights where the light shines; the darker hollows, the folds and ridges.

3. Touching

Turn the raisin over between your fingers, exploring its texture. How does it feel between the forefinger and thumb of the other hand?

4. Smelling

Now, holding it beneath your nose, see what you notice with each in-breath. Does it have a scent? Let it fill your awareness. And if there is no scent, or very little, notice this as well.

5. Placing

Slowly take the object to your mouth and notice how your hand and arm know exactly where to put it. And then gently place it in your mouth, noticing what the tongue does to “receive” it. Without chewing, simply explore the sensations of having it on your tongue. Gradually begin to explore the object with your tongue, continuing for 30 seconds or more if you choose.

6. Chewing

When you’re ready, consciously take a bite into the raisin and notice the effects on the object, and in your mouth. Notice any tastes that it releases. Feel the texture as your teeth bite into it. Continue slowly chewing it, but do not swallow it just yet. Notice what is happening in the mouth.

7. Swallowing

See if you can detect the first intention to swallow as it rises in your mind, experiencing it with full awareness before you swallow. Notice what the tongue does to prepare it for swallowing. See if you can follow the sensations of swallowing the raisin. If you can, consciously sense it as it moves down into your stomach. And if you don’t swallow it all in one go, consciously notice a second or even a third swallow until it is all gone. Notice what the tongue does after you have swallowed.

8. After-effects

Finally, spend a few moments registering the aftermath of this eating. Is there an aftertaste? What does the absence of the raisin feel like? Is there an automatic tendency to look for another?

Now take a moment to write down anything that you noticed when you were doing the practice. Feel free to respond to this message and tell me how it went. 🙂

Practices for Week One

  • The raisin meditation.
  • Mindful awareness of a routine daily activity (e.g. brushing teeth, taking a shower).
  • Body and Breath meditation twice a day – listen here. 
  • Habit releaser: Changing chairs. That is, try to change chair at home or work.

Over to you

That’s it for the first week of the Mindfulness Program.

I know it may look like a lot, but remember to be kind to yourself during this process. Approach these exercises with self-compassion and curiosity.

Got any questions? Want to share your progress? Simply reply to any of my emails or reply to this post. I’m happy to cheer you on. We’re in this together. 🙂

Thanks for reading.

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