from Chapter 5 of Being You: A Girl's Guide to Mindfulness
No matter where you are or what you’re doing, you’re always breathing and you always live inside your body. That sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But how often do you actually pay attention to your breath or to other physical sensations?
It may not sound exciting to focus on your breath, but many teen girls say it's their favorite way to practice mindfulness.
Xiaohan said, "It helped me feel less nervous when I had an important exam."
Romina said, "It helps me feel less anxious when I have a lot of things on my mind."
And Maryam said, "It helps me to be able to control myself when I’m mad and think twice before taking any action."
Sometimes you can concentrate on mindful breathing as a way of focusing your attention. Other times, you might want to use breathing exercises to help you calm down when you feel anxious or nervous.
My niece Alina is a theater major and a member of her university’s improvisational comedy troupe. She told me:
I’m absolutely out of my mind with nerves before auditions, and on opening night I feel equal parts nervous and excited. I keep calm by breathing, and typically my friends/cast members will all do some sort of calming down/focusing exercise together.
A lot of people misunderstand the recommendation to “breathe deeply” or “take a deep breath.” They take a big gulp of air instead of a slow, gentle inhalation.
Let’s try taking two different kinds of breaths and compare how they feel. (Check with your doctor first if you have a health condition that affects your breathing.)
1. Quickly take a big gulp of air and blow it out.
2. Now take a long, slow breath in and a long, slow breath out.
When I just tried this, the first breath felt panicky and the second breath felt soothing. That’s what happens for most people. Our breath tends to be short and shallow when we feel worried, so taking long, slow breaths helps us to feel calm.