Mindfulness is described as the ability to pay careful, non-judgmental attention to what we are thinking, feeling, and sensing in the present moment. One of the simplest ways
to practice mindfulness is to focus on the breath. The breath is easily utilized to anchor our attention in the present moment, since we are always, in every moment, breathing.
In a study that examined the effectiveness of mindful breathing, participants reported improved emotion regulation and less negative affectivity in response to a series of slides that displayed negative images. Practicing mindfulness has also been shown to lower anxiety and increase resilience to stress.
This tool invites pairs to practice breathing mindfully together. Clients are instructed to sit facing each other, at first with their eyes closed and then open, and focus on the other person’s breathing rhythm. In addition to providing clients with personal mindfulness practice, the exercise also promotes interpersonal connection, which may be particularly relevant in couples therapy.
This tool aims to enhance personal mindfulness practice as well as deepen interpersonal connection and empathy.
■ Begin by sitting upright, facing each other, arm-width apart. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Pay attention to each breath as it flows in and out of your body. Sit gently with your breathing for a few minutes. In through the nose… out through the mouth.
■ Now, gently open your eyes, and let your eyes rest on the person sitting in front of you. Allow yourself to smile or laugh or feel however you do at this moment. Begin to naturally connect with the person in front of you.
■ Now, for the next few minutes, begin to sync your breathing rhythm with your partner’s. Drop your gaze to your partner’s mouth, and observe it opening on the exhale and closing on the inhale. Continue to breathe this way together, in through the nose, and out through the mouth …
■ If you notice that your mind wanders off from the exercise, simply notice the distracting thought without evaluation and return your attention to breathing.
■ Allow yourself to be with whatever feelings and emotions show up during this exercise. If you feel a strong urge to look away or close your eyes, you may do so, though see if you can notice what thoughts or feelings caused the discomfort, and then return to breathing together.
■ At the end of the exercise, feel free to share your experience with each other.