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Mindful self-compassion: affectionate breathing meditation

I'm just back from a five day Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) retreat in Iceland with Chris Germer & Christine Brahler.  MSC teaches a whole host of meditation practices, with three underlined as core meditations.  These three are Affectionate Breathing, Loving-Kindness for Ourselves, and Giving & Receiving Compassion.  In this post I talk a bit more about the initial core meditation practice - Affectionate Breathing.

I like the Affectionate Breathing practice.  It's kind of a heartful, mindfulness body relaxation.  You can download a written description of the practice from Chris Germer's website and there are approximately 20 minute versions of the practice freely available from a variety of teachers.  You can play or download Affectionate Breathing meditations led by Chris and by Kristin Neff from the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion or by Christine from her website.  A further excellent option is to visit the Insight Timer website.  Insight Timer is rated the top free meditation app on the Android and iOS stores.  Insight Timer provides the Affectionate Breathing meditation guided by Chris, Christine, Kristin, and no doubt by other teachers too.  The downloadable practice description states:

  • Please find a posture in which your body is comfortable and will feel supported for the length of the meditation. Then let your eyes gently close, partially or fully. Taking a few slow, easy breaths, releasing any unnecessary tension in your body.​

  • If you like, placing a hand over your heart or another soothing place as a reminder that we’re bringing not only awareness, but affectionate awareness, to our breathing and to ourselves. You can leave your hand there or let it rest at anytime.

  • Now beginning to notice your breathing in your body, feeling your body breathe in and feeling your body breathe out.​

  • Just letting your body breathe you. There is nothing you need to do.

  • Perhaps noticing how your body is nourished on the in-breath and relaxes with the out-breath.

  • Now noticing the rhythm of your breathing, flowing in and flowing out. (pause) Taking some time to feel the natural rhythm of your breathing.

  • Feeling your whole body subtly moving with the breath, like the movement of the sea.

  • Your mind will naturally wander like a curious child or a little puppy. When that happens, just gently returning to the rhythm of your breathing.

  • Allowing your whole body to be gently rocked and caressed – internally caressed - by your breathing.

  • If you like, even giving yourself over to your breathing, letting your breathing be all there is. Becoming the breath.

  • Just breathing. Being breathing.

  • And now, gently releasing your attention to the breath, sitting quietly in your own experience, and allowing yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling and to be just as you are.

  • Slowly and gently opening your eyes.

​                    © Christopher Germer & Kristin Neff.  Mindful Self-Compassion. June 2017. 

The Insight Timer website gives access to over 5,000 downloadable meditations guided by over 1,000 different teachers.  Probably most of them will involve some kind of awareness of body and/or breathing.  Why do I like the "Affectionate Breathing" practice?  Paul Gilbert has highlighted that "Humans have evolved with at least three primal types of emotion regulation system: the threat (protection) system, the drive (resource-seeking) system, and the soothing system."  I like the way Affectionate Breathing helps ease us out of the threat and drive systems, into the soothing system.

When I personally start an Affectionate Breathing practice, I like to get an overall sense of my body state, asking something like "What's my internal 'weather' just now?"  Sometimes I use a simple & very approximate 0 to 100 scale, where 0 represents complete profound calmness/no apparent activity in threat or drive systems, and 100 represents extreme tension & agitation/very high activity in threat or drive systems.  If I'm using this scale, sometimes during and usually at the end of the practice, I will note where I have got to on the 0 to 100 scale.   I note where the threat or drive systems feel active and gently acknowledge that I have a choice.  I don't have to keep these systems going right now.  I can let go of this activity ... softening & quietening.  Not so much 'doing' as 'undoing'.  I find it helpful to take a few breaths to scan through my body methodically, sweeping it clear, bringing to awareness where I'm holding tension and acknowledging that I have the choice to no longer keep doing this.

More to follow ...

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