Intro, mindfulness of breathing, trauma-sensitive mindfulness, mindfulness of the body, a mindful day.
I hope you are well.
Thank you for your patience with me as I work on my English writing skills and try to figure out this whole online content creation thang. I have sooo many ideas, sooo many topics I’d like to cover (hehe), but being the slow-and-lazy-perfectionist (deadly combo, I know) that I am, the articles and videos don’t come out nearly as fast as your average content creator. Sorry about that, and please rest assured that I will continue to work, at my own 🐌 pace, because this Mental Health Revolution is my life’s mission.
Here is the first half of the script for my upcoming video on mindfulness, one of the ten practices in the Daily Wellness Empowerment Program. I’d love to get your feedback so I can improve it if needed before shooting the video. 💛
Mindfulness is the practice of living each moment with awareness, kindness, curiosity, and acceptance. A mindfulness practice can help you center your mind, relax your body, generate peace and joy, soothe painful emotions, develop emotional intelligence, and cultivate inner freedom. Mindfulness isn't always easy to practice, and even people who have been practicing in a monastery for several years still get distracted sometimes 🙄 but if you train diligently, you will be able to produce these benefits more or less on demand, and you will notice a positive difference in your mental health.
If you’re new to this channel, my name is Brother Promise. As a teenager, I suffered from psychosis, and it was no fun. When I was 18, I attended a mindfulness retreat at Plum Village, a monastery in the south of France founded by Zen master and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, the person most credited with introducing mindfulness to the West.
One thing I loved about mindfulness was that it was empowering — here was a simple tool I could use anytime, anywhere, to take care of my mental health. One year later, at age 19, I returned to Plum Village to request monastic ordination.
In this video, I will give you a complete introduction to mindfulness: what it is, how to practice it, and some of the science behind it. So without further ado, let us mindfully jump into it.
Most of the time, we think too much. We function in what neuroscientists call the Default Mode Network. In this mode, we ruminate on the past, we worry about the future, we judge ourselves, or we worry about how others perceive us. Evolution has hardwired us with these mechanisms to increase our chances of survival, but what helps us survive is not necessarily what makes us happy. In an important research paper called “A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind”, published in the journal Science, the authors conclude,
To become happier, we want to redirect our attention to the present moment. We want to reconcile our mind with the here and now, and engage with life as it is. This is mindfulness, and this is a trainable skill. The more mindful we go about our life, the more clarity we have to appreciate conditions of happiness and deal wisely with difficulties.
The practice of mindfulness originated with the Buddha, a spiritual teacher in the 6th century BC in India.
Mindfulness then spread to other Asian countries, and has recently entered global, mainstream, secular society.
In Pāli, the language of the Buddha, the word for mindfulness is “सति”, “sati”,
and sati also means “remembering”. Mindfulness is the practice of calling our mind back to the present moment, whenever we remember.
Translated in classical Chinese, sati became “念”, “niàn”.
The upper part of the character means “present moment”, and the lower part means “heart” or “mind”, because mindfulness is the practice of keeping our heart and mind in the present moment.
Translating “念” into Emoji is not a task to be taken lightly but I believe we have an excellent candidate in the TURTLE emoji
because the turtle is at home in her body, at home in the present moment, wherever she goes. And this is the power of mindfulness.
But enough scholarly digression for now.
Just remember that to be mindful is to keep your mind in the present moment.
When practicing mindfulness, we don’t fight our disturbing thoughts, but we invite them to connect with what’s happening in the here and the now. There are many objects in the present moment we could chose to direct our attention to. But there is one object which the Buddha favored, and this object is... the breath. The Buddha even said, “If there is one meditation which can be rightly called the meditation of a Buddha, it is mindfulness of breathing.”
Mindfulness of Breathing
The breath is the mindfulness object which works best for most people most of the time. For this reason, mindfulness of breathing is at the heart of most mindfulness practices. Anchoring your attention on your natural in- and out-breaths can regulate your nervous system and help your mind grow calmer and clearer.
Not only the Buddha, but many other people throughout history have noticed something interesting, which is that the state of our breath is tightly linked to our state of mind.
The ancient Greek word phren
referred to both the diaphragm and the mind. It is from “phren” that we obtained the English words “phrenitis” (which is an inflammation of the diaphragm) and “frenzy”.
The Latin word
referred to both the breath and the mind. From spiritus came the English words “respiration” and “spirit”.
Furthermore, the exhaling face emoji
reveals both a forceful breathing pattern and a distressed state of mind, and again demonstrates the close connection between breathing and mental health.
[⚠️ This channel may contain weird, nerdy, deadpan humor. Please watch at your own risk.]
But enough scholarly digression for now.
Just remember that befriending your breath can benefit your mental health.
Your respiratory rate is your average number of in- and out-breaths per minute. It is a significant marker of neurological health, and I’d like to invite you to measure yours right now. Please sit down, or lie down, and let your breath be natural. You will soon be counting your natural breaths... starting now. Breathe in naturally, and on the natural out-breath count 1, breathe in naturally, and on the natural out-breath count 2... at your own rhythm. You’re not controlling the breath, you’re just counting how many natural breaths you take in one minute. And, stop. How many breaths did you take?
This infographic is simplistic but useful.
On the left is the first red zone, where you don’t want to be. Between 0 to 3 breaths per minute, you’re either dead or so relaxed you can hardly function. Between 3 to 9 breaths per minute is the green zone, where you want to be. You’re calm and centered, yet you’re also alive and responsive. Beyond 9 breaths per minute is another red zone because the more you breathe, the more stressed you become. Of course, during physical effort or when under stress, your breath will accelerate, but most of the day, you want your respiratory rate to be around 6 breaths per minute.
In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a sacred text of Yoga written in the 15th century CE, we read,
“When the breath is agitated, the mind is agitated, but when the breath becomes calm, the mind also becomes calm.”
According to modern science, faster breathing is associated with increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which is our fight or flight mode, while slower breathing is associated with increased activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is our rest and restore mode. The way I like to put it is, a short breath is for short-term survival, and a long breath is for long-term happiness. As our breath slows down, our heart rate slows down, our blood pressure goes down, and our internal organs such as our brain receive more oxygen. We relax, we feel better, and we think more clearly.
When practicing mindfulness, we never control the breath. We simply tune in and pay attention to our natural breath, with presence and patience, and allow our breath to slow down by itself.
Let us try mindful breathing together.
Your back is straight and relaxed.
Your mouth is closed. You only have one breathing organ and it is your nose. Your nose filters, warms, and moistens the air. It also maintains a slower, more regular air flow which is conducive to relaxation and deeper oxygenation. So please try to only breathe through your nose.
Your eyes can be open or closed, whichever feels most comfortable, but if your eyes are open, please keep them relaxed and only look in front of you.
Now, keeping your attention light and open, gently tune in the sensations of your breath naturally coming in and naturally going out. On the in-breath, notice the cold air entering your nostrils, and your lungs, ribcage and belly expanding, and on the out-breath, notice your belly, ribcage, and lungs collapsing, and warm air leaving your nostrils. Make sure you are not controlling the breath. When you notice your mind contracting on and controlling the breath, loosen it up. And when you notice your mind logging out of the breath, gently bring it back. You want to be in the sweet spot where you are aware of the breath as it is, without controlling it. Keep your mind light and open and stay with the breath, for as many breaths in a row as possible. Of course, you will get distracted. Everyone’s mind is like this, and this is part of the game so please be kind to yourself. When you notice you got distracted, simply tune back into the feelings of your natural breath. Your attention is surfing the breath. Try not to fall. But when you do, smile, get back on the breath, and again, try to “stand on” the breath for as many breaths in a row as you can. Your mouth is still closed. You are not thinking about your breath. You are feeling your breath, naturally coming in, and naturally going out. Whenever you get distracted, kindly and patiently bring your mind back to your breath. In mindfulness, although there is focus, there is no straining. It’s a light type of focus. If you can distinguish whether you’re breathing in or out, your mindfulness is good enough. Your task, then, is to make your mindfulness enjoyable and keep it going. You are present to the breath, without control, without contraction. You are patient with the breath, aiming for a continuity of mindfulness, breath after breath after breath, enjoying as many breaths in a row as possible.
If you practice this for a few minutes, you may notice your breath becoming longer, deeper, quieter, and more regular. With the slowing down of your breath, it becomes easier for your body to relax and for your mind to quiet down. Relaxation is not something you can force. Relaxation happens naturally as you pay attention to your breath, without control or contraction.
While keeping your mind anchored on your breath, also notice the other things happening right now, such as your other physical sensations, the sounds and sights unfolding around you. The Buddha taught, “right concentration is neither outwardly scattered nor inwardly restrained.” When practicing mindfulness, you neither want to be carried away by what’s outside nor stuck with what’s inside. Mindfulness doesn’t ask you to imprison your mind in your breath but to make your mind at home in your breath, and open up your windows to the present moment. Stay aware of your breath coming in and going out naturally, as you notice what is happening around you, with an open heart, not discriminating too much between likes and dislikes. Allow all sensations and sensory inputs to flow the way they want to flow. Keep paying gentle attention to the present moment, aware of your breath, and open to everything else.
Before we continue, I’d like to give a disclaimer. Although the breath is an excellent anchor for most people most of the time, it is not necessarily suitable for everyone all of the time. If, as you focus on your breath, you experience an adverse reaction such as a racing heartbeat, sweaty palms, or trembling, it may be from past trauma. A trauma is an incomplete survival response, stored in the body as nervous energy. This nervous energy wants to flow, but we should be careful not to let it flow in a way which feels overwhelming. In your mindfulness practice as much as with everything else in this Daily Wellness Empowerment Program, please listen to yourself and use common sense. If focusing on your breath is too triggering, it most probably means that, at this stage, the breath is not a suitable object for you. It does not mean that you have failed or that mindfulness will never be for you. It simply means that at this stage, the breath might not be a suitable object for you. If you believe this is the case, here are four trauma-sensitive alternative mindfulness practices you can experiment with. Even if you feel comfortable using the breath as your main mindfulness anchor, you can also benefit from these practices.
Mindfulness of Safe Sensations. Tune in any part of your body which feels safe and comfortable right now. This could be your feet, your hands, or any other part of your body that feels safe. If you like, you can gently wiggle your fingers and toes from time to time, and reappropriate these sensations. Notice how these parts of your body are alive and appropriately responsive. These sensations are a safe place for your mind to come back to. You can use these parts of your body as your mindfulness anchors, instead of the breath.
Mindfully Scanning the Environment. From time to time, you can mindfully scan your environment. Invite all the parts of you, including the fearful parts, to slowly look around. Notice the people and things around you. Integrate the fact that this moment is safe enough. If it is, please smile. Notice the conditions of happiness you have in this moment. Thank your fears and anxieties for trying to help you, and invite them to join the reality of the present moment. If this moment is not safe enough, I hope you can reach out for help and that things will get better soon.
Kindness Meditation. Mentally say any sentence which gives rise to a sense of kindness and compassion in you. For instance, “I want to be well and I want to help others be well,” or “I accept and love all the parts of me,” or, “May all beings be happy and well.” Then, rest in the energy field of kindness. The purpose of mentally saying this sentence is to suffuse your energy field with kindness, in the same way a drop of ink falling into a glass of water would color the water. When your mind drifts away, repeat these kind words, and again, rest, bathe in, and enjoy the energy field of kindness. Kindness meditation is a wonderful practice which can transform your experience of the present moment. After mindfulness of the breath and body, kindness meditation was the Buddha’s second favorite meditation.
Mindfulness of Flow. Become aware of what you are doing, the people you are with, and the sounds and sights unfolding in this moment. Allow your mind to open and notice how life is a flow. Everything is changing. The present moment is in flux. Allow your actions and sensory inputs to flow in your awareness, acknowledging them without too much grasping or resistance. When you get distracted, gently come back to the present moment, and come back to the flow. Your mind is awake, connected to the present moment, yet open and fresh enough to register both the obvious and subtle changes. Mindfulness of flow can be very enjoyable.
You can experiment with each of these four practices separately and keep doing those which feel right for you. Once you have familiarized yourself with them, you can also combine them. For instance, you can mix mindfulness of safe sensations with kindness meditation. Or, mindfully scanning your environment while noticing the flow. The purpose of these practices is to regulate your nervous system so you’re neither in hyperarousal, meaning unnecessarily fired up, or hypoarousal, meaning dissociating from your body and the present moment.
You are somewhere in the middle, where your nervous system is nicely active and appropriately responsive. By ‘nicely active’, I mean that your nervous system is on: you are aware of your body and your environment, as they are, from moment to moment. And by ‘appropriately responsive’, I mean that in the absence of threat, you are peaceful, and in the presence of a threat, you are able to respond to it with the appropriate level of intensity, before calming down and self-regulating again.
Again, you want your nervous system to be nicely active and appropriately responsive, and these four practices can help you: mindfulness of safe sensations, mindfully scanning the environment, kindness meditation, and mindfulness of flow.
If you also find these practices too triggering, please feel free to put meditation and mindfulness aside for a while, and invest in the eight other self-care practices I recommend in my Daily Wellness Empowerment Program, as these should really help establish a baseline of comfort in your body and nervous system. When these eight practices have made a positive difference in your life and you feel more at ease in yourself, you can give mindfulness and meditation another try. There is no need to force. Slow and steady wins the race.
Mindfulness of the Body
Let’s go back to the progression which works best for most people, most of the time. After tuning in the sensations of your natural breath, patiently, without control or contraction, you can tune in other sensations in your body. Feel your two legs, your trunk, your two arms, and your head, just as they are. Know how your posture is right now, and what your body is in contact with. Try to suffuse, to permeate your whole body with awareness, so that there is no part of your body you’re not aware of. Become aware of all physical sensations at the same time. Your awareness fills your body, and your body is filled with your awareness. If you find you are holding tensions on your face or eyes, just notice the tensions, and allow your face to relax. If you see you are holding unnecessary tensions in your shoulders, give permission to your shoulders to relax, and see if they want to. If you notice you are holding your belly unnecessarily tight, notice the tension, and allow your breath to go deeper. You are aware of your natural breath and all other physical sensations as they are, allowing your whole body to relax, with an open mind, without control or contraction.
Mindfulness of the body is not about thinking about your body, or trying to create any special sensation. It is about establishing a brain-body connection, by tuning in your body as it is and noticing as many sensations as you can, with a sense of acceptance, ease, and relaxation.
Cultivating this brain-body connection in your daily life will enhance your wellbeing. When your mind is in your body, it is more centered, calmer, clearer. You are more attuned to your physical needs, and can make more health-promoting decisions. A healthy mind is an embodied mind, and a healthy body is a body whose signals are received.
Right now, there are countless sensations manifesting and moving in your body, quickly appearing and quickly disappearing. Some of these sensations are pleasant, some unpleasant, and some neutral. Our natural tendency is to pursue the pleasant, run away from the unpleasant, and ignore the neutral. We all do this, all the time. Yet what the Buddha found is that we can touch peace and wholeness in releasing these tendencies. Notice how your physical sensations change: whether they are pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, all of your bodily sensations are changing. All of your sensations are changing, therefore it doesn’t make much sense to discriminate so much against them. Allow your mind to open up. You are less pulled away by the pleasant, less ignoring the neutral, and less afraid of the unpleasant. You can be with all physical sensations, at the same time. Notice the space it brings to your mind, the absence of division, and the peaceful, wholesome joy in that. Notice how this makes you more available to the present moment, mind, breath, and body united. Isn’t it wonderful to feel whole?
Smile, Stand Tall, Slow Down, and Move Smoothly
There are four little tweaks that can support your mindfulness practice at all times, and the first is to smile. If you have an aversion towards smiling, I totally get it. As a teenage boy growing up in Paris, smiling was one of the least cool thing you could do in life. But I learned how to smile a little bit more, and so far I don’t regret it. So far. The smile we’re talking about here of course is not a commercial smile. It is a very light and gentle smile. It doesn’t even have to be visible. As you follow your breath and are aware of your body, very gently stretch your lips. There is a psychologist named Paul Ekman who studied the link between facial expressions and emotions and found that not only our emotions influence our facial expressions, but our facial expressions also influence our emotions. A gentle smile sends the message to your brain that you are here for yourself. That you’ve got this. And that this moment is good enough. Smile with both the joys and the sorrows. Smile with both the part of you you are proud of, and the part of you you are less proud of - the comfortable part and the uncomfortable part. This is a gentle smile of acceptance and embracing. You are allowing both sides of life to flow into each other. It’s nice, isn’t it? Focusing on your breath, aware of your whole body, smiling gently, you can produce feel-good hormones more or less on demand. You become your own drug dealer. You don’t have to smile all the time when you practice mindfulness. Please don’t hurt your cheeks. But a gentle smile can definitely help, from time to time.
The second tweak which can support your practice is to stand tall. Remember, it’s a two-way street between your body and mind. Your mind influences your body and your body influences your mind. Standing tall and looking a few meters in front of you can boost the quality of your presence. Studies show that a good posture can decrease depression and anxiety, and improve our mood, alertness and self-esteem. Please gently stretch your spine upwards and tuck your chin slightly in. Keep your back quite straight, but only to the extent that feels comfortable. Look a few meters in front of you, and minimize looking side to side in an agitated way. As you learned, you want your nervous system to be nicely active and appropriately responsive. When you catch yourself feeling depressed and looking down, stand tall and look up a little bit, to bring some aliveness and strength into your experience. And when you find yourself agitated or aggressive, look down a little bit to get in touch with your center again. It’s all about balance. Standing tall and looking a few meters in front of you will help you cultivate presence and kindness towards yourself and others.
The third tweak is to slow down. Life is precious and we want to savor it. When you find yourself frantically rushing through your day, you can remind yourself to slow down. You’re slowing down, not to become stiff but to enjoy more, so please only slow down to the extent that still feels natural and enjoyable. When I ordained as a novice monk, I watched my teacher walk super slowly. I tried to walk at the same speed but it didn’t feel so good, and it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that I had to walk at a different speed. He was a eighty-two year old with short legs, I was a twenty year old with long legs, and the right speed for him was not the right speed for me. So I trained myself to walk and move in a way that feels mindful enough while still respecting the natural energy in my body. When I notice I’m agitated and going too fast, I slow down a bit. And when I notice I’m constraining myself too much, I loosen up a bit. But I think you will agree with me that most people, most of the time are too stressed and need to slow down.
The last tweak you may like to experiment with is to move smoothly. We may not even notice it but so many times during the day we tense up, hold our breath, and move jerkily. Please watch out for these tendencies and allow your breath and movements to stay fluid. Don’t hold unnecessary tensions in your body, whether in your breath, in your muscles or around your joints. When sitting down, standing up, walking around, or doing things, try to move smoothly enough. Moving smoothly helps you relax and makes your mindfulness practice more enjoyable.
Smile, stand tall, slow down, and move smoothly: these are not strict instructions to become a mindfulness machine but gentle suggestions to become a happier human. Experiment with them, see how they make you feel, and use them whenever you find them helpful.
You’re the expert of your life. You will learn mindfulness by practicing it. You will learn from your own experiences, through trial and error. The most important is you remember the basic practice, which is to gently come back to your breath, your body, and the present moment whenever you remember, and to remember why you are doing this, which is to bring more presence, more peace, and more kindness into your life.
A Mindful Day
There are many ways for you to bring mindfulness into your daily life.
I suggest you start each day by sitting down ten minutes to focus on your breath. I have a ten-minute guided sitting meditation video you can listen to every morning until you feel confident to guide yourself correctly. Ten minutes may not sound like much but the philosophy behind this Daily Wellness Empowerment Program is to aim low but aim for consistency. A little bit every day goes a long way. You can do your sitting meditation before or after your Hindu Squats and Hindu Pushups, it’s up to you, but I encourage you to follow this routine every morning, before checking your phone, before interacting with others, and before breakfast. This morning routine is for you. It’s super short: just ten minutes of sitting meditation and a few Hindu squats and Hindu pushups, but it can really help you tune your mind and body for the day, so please give it a try.
Another mindfulness practice you can implement is breathing breaks. Between two activities, or at regular intervals of your choice, pause everything, be still, and enjoy a few mindful breaths.
Like with every practice on this program, I encourage you to set SMART goals for your breathing breaks. If you haven’t printed your DWEP Sheet yet, please do so now, it’s available in the description box below. SMART is an acronym which stands for Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, and Time-bound. An example of breathing break SMART goals could be, “three mindful breaths before starting my car, before meetings, and before dinner with my family.” You can also use one of the many mindfulness apps out there to remind you to pause and breathe at regular intervals. A few breathing breaks here and there may not sound like much but they will compound and end up making a positive difference in your day.
Mindful walking helps you generate the energy of mindfulness wherever you go. To practice mindful walking, tune in the sensations of your breath naturally coming in and out, feel the movements of your legs and the contact between your feet and the ground. Smile. Stand tall. Slow down. And move smoothly. Whenever you get distracted, gently bring your mind back to your breath, your steps, and the present moment, without control or contraction.
Walking mindfully should still feel natural. Sometimes beginners over focus and walk so intentionally that to an outsider it looks as if they’re walking on the moon. Or that they want to show the world that they are more Buddhist than the Buddha.
Please don’t do that. You already know how to walk, and being yourself is good enough. Your main task is to bring some awareness to your walking, without control or contraction. Stay in the flow of the breath, the flow of the steps, and the flow of the present moment, keeping your mind light and open. Mindful walking should feel natural, calming, and enjoyable.
You can bring mindfulness to your steps throughout your daily activities, at home, in your work place, or in the midst of a busy city. You can also create times for mindful walks in nature, and check the Nature part of your Daily Wellness Empowerment Program. And if you bring a good friend along, you’ll be checking the Meaningful Human Connections too. What a DWEP legend.
I encourage you to have at least one undistracted meal per day, if possible with your family. No TV in the background, no newspaper on the table, no smart phone in your hand, and definitely no virtual reality glasses on your head. Just the real you enjoying real food with your real family. As you sit down at the dining table, you can follow your breath and recognize how fortunate you are to have food to eat and loved ones to share it with. Before eating, someone can say a few words of appreciation for the cook and everyone, or a short prayer if culturally relevant. To help concentration, it would be great if you and your family could agree to remain sitting in silence for the first ten minutes of the meal. Follow your breath and be aware of your body as you pick up the food, put it in your mouth, and chew it thoroughly before swallowing it. Smile, sit tall, slow down, and move smoothly. Mindful eating is such a yummy practice.
Bringing mindfulness to your conversations will increase the quality of your relationships. When talking with someone, please put your electronics aside and look at them. You don’t want to take anyone’s presence for granted, even if it’s someone you see every day like your mom, dad, partner, or colleague. Everyone has the need to feel seen and valued, and you making time for more mindful human interactions will make a positive difference in everybody’s lives. Being aware of your breath and physical sensations can help you remain more grounded and emotionally aware in your conversations. If you know you’re about to have a difficult conversation with someone, you can also prepare yourself beforehand by breathing mindfully to embrace and calm your feelings, to think about what’s most important for you, and to emit a positive intention for the outcome of the conversation. During the conversation, following your breath can help you regulate your nervous system and increase the quality of your listening. You will be more likely to pick up any urge to interrupt or overreact, and relax into it. Mindfulness of your breath, body, and feelings can help generate space, kindness and understanding for yourself and the other person.
One way I sometimes guide my mind towards what I’m doing is by mentally saying “enjoying” on my natural in-breath, and the activity I’m doing on the out-breath. For instance breathing in, “enjoying”, breathing out, “sweeping the floor.” Or, in, “enjoying”, out, “walking in the forest”. I just do this for one or a few breaths, to bring my mind into the flow of the breath and the flow of the activity. I use the present continuous tense because life is not a thing but a process. Mindfulness doesn’t call us to grasp the present moment in the way a camera would take a picture but rather to open up to and register change in the way a mirror would reflect a scene. Mindfulness invites us to let go of the past, let go of the future, and enjoy the flow of life in the present moment, with wakefulness and equanimity.
This newsletter is free and will remain free. It is 100% written by me. I only use AI to help me with the spelling, grammar, and word use. I welcome concrete and specific suggestions for improvement.
The #1 thing you can do to get started on this Mental Health Revolution is to print a Daily Wellness Empowerment Program (DWEP) Sheet and get going.