We have become so accustomed and comfortable with having hectic, busy, and full lives that many of us find it hard to slow down and be present in the moment. When we get stuck in this loop, our minds tend to wander back and forth between our past lives and our future wants, often stopping somewhere in the middle.
This places us in a state of mind where we are without much conscious awareness of where we truly are or what we truly want because we are so preoccupied with the busyness of fitting everything in that we need to in a day. Unfortunately, this mindlessness is so common in our modern world, that we have become unaware of the stress, worry, regret, and fear it creates.
In this article, we will explore what mindfulness is, how to identify when you are stuck in an unconscious state, and how we can use breathing techniques to slow ourselves down and create a space that is filled with awareness and the benefits of being mindful.
First Off, What Is Mindfulness and How Do We Identify Unconscious States?
The practice of mindfulness is when we are able to consciously direct and hold our attention on ourselves in the present moment, without being reactive to our inner thoughts or distracted by our outer experience.
This awareness is non-judgmental and accepting in its observations and experience, allowing us to be wary of what is happening within us and around us without wishing we were anything other than who we are in that particular moment.
To be able to hold such a hyper-vigilant state, we must train our brains to remove distraction, unhelpful thought patterns, and endless states of emotion that cause us to loop or spiral.
This is why we often see mindfulness paired with meditation, as training our brains through meditation allows us to enhance our self-awareness, however, meditation is not the only route you can use to become mindful. Now that we know what mindfulness is, let’s take a look at common examples of what being on autopilot looks like and why identifying it is important to bringing mindfulness into your life.
Our Brains Are Wired With a Default Mode – Yes, Autopilot Is Real
In order to know when we need to utilize mindful breathing techniques, we first must identify the experiences of unawareness that we have in our daily lives. Common examples of this can range from having your mind constantly wander, finding yourself shifting from one task to another without much thought as to why, or finding yourself thinking about the past and future without it being connected to your current surroundings.
Other, more common examples of this, include driving to and from work without any memory of doing so, eating a meal or snack whilst not hungry, ruminating about something that was said to you hours or days prior, or daydreaming.
Our autopilot mode is run by a set of brain structures called the default mode network, which was discovered back in the late 1990s by researchers who found that even when people were doing nothing and laying still, had patterns of brain activity.
This means that even when we are not consciously aware, we are still able to process past events, plan future ones, and complete tasks accurately and without conscious thought. This is why you can play a musical instrument without thinking about it, drive a car on your regular route without directions, and completely blank out while doing routine tasks like laundry and dishes.
Although this state of being sounds excellent for getting tasks done in an accurate and efficient manner and generally, seems harmless on the surface, over time if you are in it for longer than you need to be or longer than your conscious states of being, you are deteriorating your mental and emotional health.
This is because, if we are not mindful and aware of ourselves and our surroundings, we will not be able to recognize when we have fallen into self-destructive patterns such as becoming apathetic or disconnected from life.
Eventually, without conscious awareness, these negative patterns of being whether they come in the form of habits or thoughts, will sow discord, discomfort, and unhappiness in your life. If you believe that this is you, there is an easy way to combat this and it is with mindful breathing techniques.
What Is Mindful Breathing and How To Practice It?
The practice of mindful breathing or intentional breathing is intended to bring your focus to the present and activate your parasympathetic nervous system to initiate a relaxation response. Although not everyone will feel relaxed right away, your heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration will all decrease, allowing your body to enter into a restorative state.
Here is how you practice it.
Step 1. Find a comfortable position that is stable and either allows you to sit or lie down on your back. If you are sitting, keep your back upright but don’t strain it and place your hands where they naturally want to go. Choose to either close your eyes or cast them to a neutral position; this can be down on the floor or a random spot on the ceiling.
Step 2: Be still and allow your body to relax. Be wary of the sensations that your body is feeling, where it connects with what you are seated on, how touch feels, and if there are any areas of tightness, breathe through them. Once you feel these areas start to relax, you know you are breathing and focusing correctly.
Step 3: Tune in on your breath, how you breathe in and out. You do not need to breathe heavy, slow, or fast, just do what is natural and feel how the breath enters and leaves your body. You may notice the breath when it hits your nostrils, when it fills your chest, or when it is in your throat, but regardless of where it is, do not judge it. Focus on when one breath ends and another one begins.
Step 4: If your mind begins to wander, do not fret as this is only natural. Rather than focusing on what those thoughts are or where they go, just state to yourself that your mind is wandering or thinking. Redirect your attention back to the breathing every single time your mind begins or chooses to wander. Remember, in this state you are only supposed to observe and should not react to anything that you are thinking or feeling.
Step 5: Stay in this state for 10-15 minutes.
Step 6: Once the time is up, open your eyes and notice the environment around you. Observe how your body feels right in this moment and notice what your thoughts and emotions are. Then decide on how you want your day to begin or end depending on what time of day you complete this breathing technique.
Begin Today for a Real Life-changing Experience
In completing mindful breathing on a regular basis, you will build inner peace and inner strength by staying present in yourself rather than reacting to thoughts and emotions, you will understand yourself more, and you will be able to become more in control of your life and your self-development.
When you are able to maintain and maximize your choices, release yourself from negative thought patterns, and remove yourself from hectic and busy lives, you will become more connected with your surroundings and the people in your life and able to slow down as a result.
One final note: if you experience unease while practicing mindful breathing, please see here for some possible reasons why that could be so. It is advisable to cease the practice immediately and switch to something more suitable if you still feel any discomfort after a few sessions of mindful breathing and awareness.