Breathing, following the breath, helps focus the mind and bring you back to the present moment. Recognizing the important connection between meditation and breathing, the Buddha taught attention to the breath as a fundamental meditation technique. The breath serves this purpose…Bringing awareness to our breathing we remind ourselves that we are here now. Awareness of the breath breathing in and out nurtures mindfulness; breathing in, you know you are breathing, breathing out, you know you are breathing.
Vietnamese Zen Master and author Thich Nhat Hanh talks about mindful meditation as a way to develop deep insight, which leads to awakening and enlightenment. Meditative breathing, he says, is a tool to calm the mind so it can see into itself and gain that insight. The breath is always with you. When you practice meditation and breathing you gain a skill you can use whenever you need to quiet and clear the mind. Just following a few breaths—in and out, in and out—can relax the mind and body so you can calmly observe and respond to the world around you, rather than mindlessly reacting to events.
Mindful breathing is a technique you can use not only during formal meditation, but also in your daily life.
The Breath of Life: The Practice of Breath Meditation
Everyone has difficult thoughts, feelings, and memories; they are part of life. Trying to banish negativity is a useless pursuit. Rather, the challenge is to recognize negative thoughts and let them pass instead of identifying with them and giving them more power than they deserve. Meditative breathing teaches the mind and body to let go; like the breath, troubling thoughts and feelings come and go, they come and they go. As you learn to quiet the mind by paying attention to your breathing, distractions lose their power to disrupt your focus and disturb your mind.
As you focus on your breath your thoughts settle down and your mind becomes calm and clear. What results is a feeling of contentment, happiness, and inner peace. By following the breath as it courses through your body you learn how your body feels. The breath may feel warm or cool in different parts of your body, it may dissolve tensions, it may pass easily or feel blocked, it may relieve pain. Paying attention to the breath in the body as part of your meditation practice teaches you about who you are in your body.
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First Step: Relax
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Begin by exhaling completely. As the next breath flows in, mentally watch it as if you were observing the flow of a tide. Be very aware of the breath, but make no attempt to control it in any way. Simply observe its natural flow.
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Try to feel the breath as it passes in and out of the nostrils. If you are unable to feel the breath in the nostrils, focus for a short time on the breathing process itself, the movement of the chest and lungs, and then transfer your awareness back to the breath in the nostrils.
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It is also helpful to move the index finger of the right hand slightly toward the palm on the inhalation and slightly away on the exhalation. If the mind wanders, immediately bring it back to concentrating on the technique. As the breath becomes calmer, gradually become aware of it as it passes higher and higher in the nostrils until you are feeling it high up in the nasal cavity.
Now you can transfer your point of concentration from the breath to the point between the eyebrows. Continue to mentally observe the breath, and to silently chant your word formula, still making no effort to control either the rhythm or depth of your breathing. The key to success with this technique is to deepen your concentration at the spiritual eye until you no longer think of anything except the rhythmic flow of the breath.
As the mind becomes very focused and calm you will find your need for breath diminishing.