This post I am discussing how to build a meditation practice. Today’s topic is breath, the foundation of mediation.
As I like to say, the best place to start is at the beginning. For breath, the beginning is the first thing we do when we are separated from our mothers at birth. We take a breath. From that moment we are on our own to breathe. How we breathe, and whether or not we pay attention to our breath, is all up to us.
Pay attention to the automatic
Breathing, like our heart beating, is unconscious. There’s no need to tell our lungs to inhale, exhale, repeat. Breathing simply happens automatically, all day, every day. But just because breathing happens without thought, should breathing be thoughtless? I think not.
When most people start meditation training they are told to focus on their breathing. One of my first questions was, “Why my breathing? Why not a candle like in the Kung Fu shows?” Focusing on breath connects the mind to the body. It brings awareness to the body. It teaches patience; and exposes the frantic nature of our brains. Best of all, focusing on breath helps us quiet that frantic brain.
I have a little experiment for you. Results will vary. I don’t say that as a cop out. Your results really will vary from day to day. It all depends on how in touch you are when you try it.
Find a comfortable lying down position. Put your hands comfortably next to you. First, try to take just 10 breaths. As you take these breaths, notice what thoughts pop into your head. Do you continue the conversation? Do you follow that thought, solve the problem, make a list? Did you get to 10 breaths? Now check in with your breathing. Is it shallow or a full, deep belly breath? Is it smooth or a little more ragged?
Now take a DEEP breath in and simply release it. Two more deep, full and long breaths in and settling further into the ground supporting your body. Notice, did anything release? Take 10 breaths again. This time count the breaths. I recommend counting the exhales to start. The thoughts are still running through your mind, but is it easier to identify those random thoughts, and to brush them aside and focus on your breathing?
With those 10 breaths done, how is your breathing? The same? A little smoother? Notice how your body feels. Are there any areas that feel more relaxed or looser (typically neck, shoulders, jaw, feet and/or hands are the first to relax)? If the answer is yes, then consider that was 10 breaths. If the answer is no, try again in a little while, or tomorrow. See if there is a difference.
The point of this exercise is that after 10 breaths with concentration, the vast majority of people will notice a difference. This is why I think it is such a good place to start. Here is your homework: At least once a day (before bed or first thing in the morning is best, but anytime you can find the time will work) get into a comfortable position (sitting, lying down, whatever works) and repeat the exercise. Settle in. Do 10 breaths with your best effort to stay with them and then stop and take a moment to notice the impact. Keeping a journal of this experience is helpful, but is not mandatory.
Keep in mind that what you feel is, simply, what you feel. There is no good or bad, right or wrong. Everyone’s energy is different day to day. Maybe it was eye-opening the first time and the second time it was miserable. Great; all that means is that you were aware. The important part is to keep going. Not every day is going to be rainbows and unicorns. Some days will simply stink. That is part of life and as I have continued my meditation practice, I am truly grateful for the bad days just as much as the good days. A difficult day reassures me I am conscious of my experience and not feeling what I believe I should. (I will explain this in a later post.) Set judgments aside and relish the experience of just breathing.
I’d like to hear how this exercise goes for you. Click on Comments to share your experience.