Ten deep breaths
Take 10 deep breaths, as slowly as possible. (You may prefer to do this with your eyes closed). Now focus on the rise and fall of your rib cage and the air moving in and out of your lungs. Notice the sensations as the air flows in: your chest rising, your shoulders lifting, your lungs expanding. Notice what you feel as the air flows out: your chest falling, your shoulders dropping, the breath leaving your nostrils. Focus on completely emptying your lungs. Push out every last bit of air, feeling your lungs deflate, and pause for a moment before breathing in again. As you breathe in notice how your belly gently pushes outwards.
Now let any thoughts or images come and go in the background, as if they were cars passing by outside your house. When a new thought or image appears, briefly acknowledge its presence, as if you were nodding at a passing motorist. As you do this, keep your attention on the breath, following the air, as it flows in and out of your lungs. You may find it helpful to silently say to yourself ‘thinking’ whenever a thought or image appears. Many people find this helps to acknowledge and let go of a thought.
Give it a try and if it’s helpful keep doing it. From time to time a thought will capture your attention, it will ‘hook’ you and ‘carry you away’ so that you lose track of the exercise. The moment you realise you’ve been hooked take a second to notice what distracted you, then gently ‘unhook’ yourself and refocus on your breathing.
Most people get hooked and carried away by their thoughts several times during this exercise. This is how thoughts typically affect us, they reel us in, pulling our attention away from what we are doing (so although we may say my mind wandered what actually wandered was our attention).
By regularly practicing this technique you will learn three important skills
How to let thoughts come and go with out focusing on them
Recognise when you have been ‘hooked’ by your thoughts
How to gently unhook yourself and refocus your attention
When practicing this technique notice the distinction between your thinking self and your observing self. The observing self focuses on the breath your thinking self chatters away in the background. Notice also that this is an acceptance not a control strategy. We aren’t trying to avoid or get rid of unwanted thoughts, we are simply allowing them to be there, to come and go as they please.
You can practice this technique any time any where. When you are in the supermarket, stuck in traffic, waiting for an appointment, during ad breaks when watching TV, in bed last thing at night. Try it any time you have a moment to spare. If you don’t have the time for the full 10 breaths just 2 or 3 breaths even 1 breath every time you remember, can be helpful.
In particular try it any time you realise you have been caught up in your thoughts. When you are practicing it doesn’t mater how many times you get ‘hooked’ by your thoughts. Each time you notice it and unhook yourself you are developing a valuable skill- your awareness is strengthening.
This exercise is helpful for those who say ‘I’m too busy’ to do formal defusion practice. However ‘I’m too busy’ or ‘I don’t have enough time’ is just another story. So here is a challenge for you if you really want to get good at this as well as practicing the brief defusion exercise put aside 5 minutes 2x a day to practice focusing on your breath. During these times keep your attention totally on your breath, while letting your thoughts come and go like passing cars. Each time you notice your attention has wandered, gently refocus. Also if you haven’t already tried it, then try silently saying to yourself ‘thinking’ whenever a thought appears.