A Mindfulness Practice to Connect Breath and Heart

By Robin Levick, MFT

There are no shortage of mindfulness practices out there. The best practice for you is the one that you like enough to do regularly. When clients are interested in mindfulness, I work with them to create a practice based on their own preferences and experiences. Research into Embodied Self Awareness, has shown that the act of focusing on bodily sensation during a range of activities supports well-being. Usually, people already have a way they get into their bodies, and with a little intention this can be developed into a practice that will support their goals.

That being said, I would like to offer a specific mindfulness practice that I have found valuable: Tracking the heartbeat along with the sensations of the breath. This is a practice that allows you to experience a cascade of changes in your body. The breath influences the autonomic nervous system, which changes your heart rate, which in turn slows down the circulatory system. Because you will be tracking two bodily sensations and their interaction, this can be a helpful practice if you can sometimes have a hard time with mental chatter while meditating.

The practice is quite simple:

  • Find a comfortable position in which you can feel your pulse in your wrist with your fingers.  You can lie on your back, sit in a chair, or you can kneel or sit cross legged if  you are comfortable in a more traditional meditation pose.
  • Find a particular place in your body where you can feel your breath.  It could be at your nostrils, your belly, or the back of your throat.  Spend a few minutes getting familiar with the sensations you find there.
  • Shift your attention to your heartbeat. Notice that your heart is not a metronome or a drum machine.  Each heartbeat is unique, some coming closer together and some farther apart.  Some feel stronger and some more faint.
  • Shift your attention back to your breath. Are you getting full inhales and exhales?  Is the breath catching at any point?  Do you inhale or exhale faster?  How long do you hold your breath in between an inhale and an exhale? Just see what you can learn about what your breath is doing right now.
  • Now, see what happens to your heartbeat when you play with your breathing.  How does it change when you breathe faster or slower?  When you hold your breath on an inhale?  On an exhale?  What kind of breathing makes your heartbeat slow down or speed up?
  • If you are not noticing a relationship, stick with it. It is definitely there, but it can be subtle.  See what happens if you take a slow, very deep inhale, and then exhale slooooowly.  You might notice that your heartbeats are farther apart as you exhale.
  • Continue in a playful manner; you can’t do it wrong. Spending time practicing this, even for a few minutes from time to time, will give you a resource to regulate yourself next time you are overwhelmed.

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