Mindful Breathing

The new movement in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is Mindfulness. This perspective teaches that we have meat computers for brains that have evolved over a few million years to serve us as primitive hunter-gatherers. We lived this way for 98% of our time as humans with only a few thousand years in domestication through civilization and only a few hundred years with modern technology. Our brains are not the latest apple platform capable of running a few dozen programs at once.

We can only run one program at a time and only have access to two programs. The first software application is the doing program. This gives us the initiative to get things started, to plan and to get things done. The second software is the being program. With this program we can experientially or objectively look at our current situation and the world around us. Because of limited RAM we can only run one program at time.

Fifty thousand years ago our doing program would get us out of our cave to search for food. Driving us across the landscape, searching under logs, in crevices, on constant watch for things to eat and always ready to react to things that might eat us. We would keep in this program until we found a possible food source, like a mushroom. Then we would switch to our being program and experientially examine the mushroom. Color, size, texture, patterns, smell and then put this sample up against our memory of all mushrooms and make an objective judgment. This was a life saving program for if you ate it without thinking, like you eat most of your meals now, you could be running through the forest for a few days naked and hallucinating or dead like uncle Louie who ate one like that last year.

The problem is that we are now locked into our doing mind. Our modern world is a doing world. Computers, smart phones, cable TV, work, school, relationships, schedules and business plans all conspire to keep us locked into the doing mode of thinking. How many times have you during a long drive realized that you have just driven for the last half an hour and didn’t notice anything? How many meals have you wolfed down without even noticing what you were eating? You can eat a whole bushel of popcorn in an exciting movie and reach the bottom only to think, where did it all go? That’s your doing mind stuck on doing.

Your experiential mind is rarely used and sometimes it will be quite hard to get running as you are caught up in the doing world busy with a complex life. To get into this mind set or being program you may need to take baby steps first and then practice some basic exercises daily to get things running the way they were designed by evolution.

Here are some experiential exercises:

1. The raisin: take one raisin and look at it for a few minutes. Pretend that it just fell from space and you have never seen anything like it. Look at its color, its texture and its shape. Rotate it to see everything. Now taste it, put it in your mouth and without chewing just let the first tastes occur on your palate. Now chew it and notice the changes in taste from the skin to the flesh. Wait to swallow until it is almost dissolved and then notice the experience of swallowing it. Then notice the after taste. Once a week experience something new to use your being program on.

2. Have an experiential meal one a week: Take one meal alone. From preparing to cooking to eating it, follow the example of the raisin.

3. Breathing: At least twice a day practice this exercise of a minimum of three minutes. I recommend that you expand your evening (two hours before bed) session to ten minutes. Focus on your breath. Breathe deep into your diaphragm, or as some say breathe into your feet. Be your breath. Within a few breaths your attention will wander, this is not a problem, just recognize the thought that comes across your screen and go back to your breath. With the intake feel your lungs, chest and diaphragm expand and then on the out breath feel them all return to the passive position. As thoughts come to you accept them as just mind events, dismiss them with kindness and go back to your breathing. Two physical benefits are; one you will learn to relax deeply and you will clear your lungs, which will allow deeper breaths for the rest of the day and during sleep. Psychologically you will benefit from desensitizing yourself to your thinking. Thoughts are just mind events and have only the power you give them. Negative thoughts produce negative feelings almost immediately while positive thoughts take up to fifteen seconds to produce positive feelings. When you know this and practice reframing negative thoughts into positive thoughts, especially during your breathing exercise you will begin to see that you have some control over what you think.

You probably don’t have to practice running your doing program as most of us are stuck in it but you will have to practice your being program. Deep breathing exercises twice a day can be life changing in many ways and are the easiest way to practice the being program to run in your brain. We can learn much from this experiential state. History has reported that some of the greatest leaps of intellectual pursuit was when we gave up thinking about a problem, relaxed and then had the epiphany.

Thinking (that’s the doing program) about depression or anxiety can make things worse. It’s like struggling in quicksand; you’ll only go down faster. We constantly measure what we think we should be with what we are in attempting to close the gap we frustrate ourselves by making the problem worse. Going into an experiential state and then considering your depression by letting those negative thoughts come across your screen will show you that they are only mind events and enough exposure to such thinking while being objective will desensitize you to them.

If you find relief in this but want more find a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist who is into mindfulness. There is much information on the internet as well as many good books on this subject as well. Knowledge is power.

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