The Art of One Breath When We Get Too Caught up


After you read the blog, explore the Guided Meditation and respond to the questions in the Reflect & Journal section that align with the theme.

Did you know that the average person has over 60,000 thoughts a day? What’s even more intriguing is that 90% of these thoughts are repetitive, according to Dr. Fred Luskin at Stanford University. That means all but 10% of our mental chatter is a loop of familiar patterns echoing from previous days. In other words, what truly defines us are our automatic, ego-driven thoughts.

This interesting discovery led me to start noticing the mixture of repetitive thoughts and emotions weaving through my mind ­– positive, challenging and everything in between. I marveled at the amount of time my mind was trapped in wanting things to be different from how they presented. What struck me most was how these thoughts manifested in my body, creating subtle yet unmistakable reactions. Throughout the day, I repeatedly noticed the telltale signs of contracting: shoulders hunching forward, teeth clenching and body parts tightening in response. This new-found awareness didn’t entirely surprise me as it’s our natural tendency to get swallowed up by the dominance of habitual, rerun thoughts over the emergence of new ones.

Even so, I still was taken aback by how quickly my thoughts turned into feelings of self-judgment and uncertainty. It felt as if my mind and ego had their own default settings, effortlessly trapping me into believing these storylines.

Amidst this mental chatter, I had to remind myself that a thought is just that — a thought. It holds no inherent reality and its mere presence doesn’t necessitate immediate action. The task at hand became finding skillful means to step out of my tunnel vision and recognize it as a temporary mind state.

Of all things, there actually is a simple yet profoundly supportive way to reduce the commentary in the mind: one breath. Taking a moment to pause, to breathe, to notice, and then to rest in a state of open awareness. Brief as it may be, this pause serves as a grounding force, enabling us to create space between thoughts and establish a healthier relationship to the experience with less reactivity and greater self-regulation.

The funny thing about noticing when we’re ‘contracting’ is that it presents us with a moment of choice, a moment that can be very freeing. It’s as if we stand at a crossroads where we either yield to the relentless tides of our challenging thoughts and experiences and stay in overwhelm mode, or catch the contraction developing by disrupting the thinking process with one breath. It’s like the catch and release practice of sport fishing where reeling in a fish that fiercely resists requires patience, skill and a delicate touch to ultimately set it free, unharmed back into the water.

I learned the 'one-breath' practice from Dr. Andrew Holecek, spiritual teacher and renowned author on death and dying, dream yoga and the nature of mind and reality. He suggests that one-breath meditation is especially helpful in emotionally-charged situations. When confronted with scenarios where reactions overpower reason, taking just one breath can be the difference between escalating behavior and maintaining composure. By pausing in this way, we intercept the automatic urge to react, granting ourselves the space for more reflection and awareness. As Andrew acknowledges, when we don't nip these experiences in the bud, we usually get more contracted and say or do something you regret. By hitting the pause button in our lives, we exercise control of our impulses.

Does this resonate?

As we ponder this question, we acknowledge that, much like many aspects of personal growth, intention and repetition play pivotal roles for changing routine habits. However, what truly distinguishes this process is its simplicity and accessibility. Whether navigating complex relationships, enduring lengthy waiting lines for customer service or feeling frustrated by constant notification pings, the one-breath practice infuses a meditative quality of awareness to each experience.

Ready to give the one breath practice a try? Here's the essence: Take one breath in and out. As you exhale, observe your thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations. Then, as best as you can, let go of any attachments or clinging. In other words, allow the breath to be your guide to relaxing your nervous system and changing your relationship to the experience and in turn, act in the world with increased sensitivity.

If you’re curious, try these four mindful living tips below to help disrupt your habitual patterns:

Mindful Living Tips

Cultivate Acceptance: Set an intention to go with the flow of your daily experiences with a sense of openness and expansiveness. Rather than becoming entangled by your thoughts and narratives, practice releasing them by relating to these moments with less attachment.

Notice the Mind-Body Experience: Pay attention to whether you feel expansion or contraction in your mind and body. Similar to weather patterns, these sensations are temporary — reminding us that just as the weather conditions change, so do our mind states and body sensations.

Practice One-Breath: Take a moment at any time or place to pause and be fully present in the moment with one breath. Observe your body sensations and thoughts and simply rest in the experience just as it is, without the need to pass judgment or add commentary.

Nurture Curiosity: Recognize that interconnectedness of your thoughts, feelings and experiences with the world around you. Instead of resisting or pushing away your inner experiences, cultivate an inquisitive mindset about what they might be revealing to you.

Guided Meditation

Rest and Recharge

"Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like." — Lao Tzu