Breathing Thanks

These last few months I’ve experienced more stress than I have in a long time.  Yet another organization change at work, trying to get a project funded, a rift in a relationship, and election turmoil has driven me to my yoga mat for constructive rest before I go to bed.

(c) AdobeStock Photo

(c) AdobeStock Photo

And meditation in the mornings.

Have you ever tried to meditate and couldn’t get your mind to focus?  No matter what you do or say?  You can’t simply tell your mind to stop working.  It doesn’t cooperate.  You have to focus on something else.  And when your mind wanders, bring it back.

I heard Seth Godin say that he practices a very simple form of meditation.  Every time he breathes, he focuses on the word “breathe”.  When his mind wanders, he thinks the word “thinking”.  It sounded so simple.  And then I tried it.  The breathe part was okay, and then I forgot to say “thinking” when my mind changed its focus.  (Which, by the way, was about every 3 breaths.)

And then I hit on something.  Every time I take a breath, I think “thank you”.  I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, ‘cause there are so many benefits:

  • It gets my mind focused on gratitude, which is a good thing. Especially if I wake up dreading what I’m facing that day.
  • Pairing gratitude with breathing helps me reclaim my natural breathing rhythm and establish it for the day.
  • I breathe more deeply, offsetting the tendency toward shallow breathing when under stress.

And here’s the REALLY cool thing – when my mind wanders, as it still does about as often, I can use this practice to guide my thinking in more positive ways.  I don’t know about you, but when my mind wanders it’s not always to the most positive places.  Especially first thing in the morning.  More often than not, positive thinking takes practice and intention, rather than being my natural state.

Here’s a typical morning.  I’m lying in bed breathing and thinking “thank you”, and all of a sudden this thought dive-bombs me: “Why didn’t he return my call yesterday?  He doesn’t respect me.  I’m so tired of being dissed.”  (When he could have just been busy and didn’t have time.)

Sometimes this goes on for a while before I recognize it.  And when I do, I turn back around and say “thank you”.  That turns my mind and heart toward gratitude.  I am thankful for that person rather than feeling insulted.  It turns my attitude completely around.

[Breathe – thank you – breathe – thank you – breathe – thank you…]

“Wow.  I shouldn’t have said that to _______ yesterday.”   (Now I’ve seen something I need to apologize for.  What a gift!)  “Thank you!”

[Breathe – thank you – breathe – thank you – breathe – thank you…]

“Why can’t I seem to get leadership to understand the importance of this project?  I feel like a failure.”  (I see this all-or-nothing thinking isn’t rational – or useful.)  “Thank you.”

It turns out that using “Thank you” as my meditation word not only helps me to focus my thoughts and express gratitude in general, it also helps me to give thanks for the difficult thoughts that come into my head.  Why?  Because now I can hear them.  And when I hear them I can do something about them.

In some cases, a simple redirect is enough.  A shift of focus.  In other cases, action is needed.  Ask for or offer forgiveness.  Solve a vexing problem.  Experiment or play.  All because I take the time to focus my thoughts and practice gratitude.

It’s so simple.  And not easy.  The other day my mind went off on a tangent that lasted about 10 minutes.  By the time I caught myself it was time to get up.  Like anything worth doing, this takes practice and intention.  I do believe that the more I practice, the better I will get.  And so will you.

Why don’t you try breathing thanks too?  It may be to God, or maybe not.  For me it is.  Start with 5 minutes.  Or ten.  No big deal.  Just breathe in and out and think “thank you”.  Like me, you may end up distracted.  Other thoughts or emotions may come unbidden into your mind.  And when they do, give thanks for what you can learn from them.  Then turn your attention back to breathing.

How do you keep focused?  Please share your tips.  What did you hear when you tried it?  The comments are waiting. As are the share buttons.

And… thank YOU for being the precious, unique person you are.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Thank you Kathleen. I love the suggestion to alternate the word ‘thank you’ with ‘breathe’ between breaths. In terms of aids to help mediation I have found getting myself to do exercise in the morning as very helpful to focus my mind. Even a brisk walk can help this, especially if I am churning inside. Also a few years ago I started using Centerpointe technology (see http://www.cengterpointe.com) for 30 minutes each day – it is basically the sound of rushing water with chimes. I don’t know if it is strictly meditation, but I use that time after my Bible reading and meditation on scripture to pray. The sounds from the audio helps to keep my mind focussed and centred. Also I was recently gifted an iPhone watch and have started using the breathe app on it for 1 minute at a time during the day. I plan to gradually increase using that through the day. Thank you for sharing your life with us and please do continue to encourage us to make our lives sing!

    • Sunil, thanks so much for sharing these tips. I’m going to check them out. Keep on singing, my friend.

  • Kathleen, thank you. I’m going to practice this as soon as I post this. :) Breathe, give thanks—so elemental: I love the simplicity and direct connection to life. Great post. I am grateful for it! And you!

    • Laurie, I am forever thankful for you. Your artistry, love, and zest for life continue to inspire me. Keep breathing deep. Happy Thanksgiving.

      • Same to you! And I spent half of my walk today doing your breathe/give thanks response and it was lovely and deeply relaxing.