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Guided Meditation

Happiness Toolkit: Belly Breathing Meditation to Build Boundaries

When you're highly empathic, emotional contagion is very real struggle. Bo Forbes's small, subtle practice will help you create boundaries in the body to stay healthy.

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Are you highly empathic? Do you catch other people’s emotions the way you might catch a cold or flu?

If you’re an empathic person, research shows you are more vulnerable to emotional contagion; you’ll pick up on a partner, friend or coworker’s emotions or physical ailments and experience them as though they are your own. Empathic overload and stress go hand-in-hand. Dysregulated empathy contributes to unhappiness because our “fuzzy” boundaries allow other people’s “stuff” to get in. Healthy boundaries aren’t just a matter of saying no in a better way; we need to create boundaries in the body to become healthier. And one of the best ways of creating boundaries is by bringing awareness into the body, particularly in our abdomen or “central intelligence agency.”

Introducing Mindfulness 2.0

Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention, on purpose, to what’s happening in the present moment. It turns out that a new offshoot of this time-tested practice, mindfulness in the body, is highly effective in emotional regulation. Neuroscientists are studying this form of mindfulness in the body; they call it interoception, but another word for it is embodiment. To demystify this transformative practice, think of it as the act of paying deep and curious attention to what’s happening in the body from one moment to the next—without needing to change what we find. This special layer of attention makes our practice closer to mindfulness than exercise, which means that it is even more effective than exercise in the quest for emotional resilience, well-being, and boundary-building.

The Tiny Two-Minute Tool

Belly breathing meditation that builds boundaries

Make a first with your left hand and touch it to your right palm. Take your fist and palm into your upper abdomen, just below your ribs. Apply as much or as little pressure with your palm as feels good to your belly. Direct your awareness to the point of contact between your hands and your body. Using nasal breathing, draw your breath into that point of contact, creating an anchor of awareness, for a minute or two. As you inhale, say in your mind the words “This is my center.” As you exhale, say in your mind “My body releases anything that doesn’t belong to me.” Continue for several rounds. Finish with both palms flat on your belly.


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Bo Forbes is a clinical psychologist, a yoga teacher and an integrative yoga therapist whose background includes training in biopsychology, behavioral medicine, sleep disorders and stress management. She is the founder of Integrative Yoga Therapeutics, a system that specializes in the therapeutic application of yoga for anxiety, insomnia, depression, immune disorders, chronic pain, physical injuries and athletic performance. Bo conducts teacher trainings and workshops internationally, writes frequently for Yoga Journal, Body + Soul, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, and other leading magazines, and is on the advisory board of the International Association of Yoga Therapists and the Give Back Yoga Foundation. She is part of a research collaborative that investigates the contemplative practice of yoga, and will participate in the Mind and Life Institute’s Summer Research Institute this year. She is also the author of Yoga for Emotional Balance: Simple Practices to Relieve Anxiety and Depression. Learn more at and via FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.