There are innumerable variations of basic breathing techniques that can be used to help one better focus during meditation. At a base level it is worth considering the reasons that breathing exercises are intrinsic to many forms of meditation. Firstly a focus upon one’s breathing helps one to calm the mind. When you have cleared the mind of all thoughts, the breath is the single last thing that you will be aware of. This leads to our second consideration as, from a spiritual perspective, the breath is exemplary of the fact that we are connected to all beings: The breath we breathe is part of the world and universe around us. Therefore a focus upon that breath brings us to an awareness of our oneness with the source of all things. Finally, from a scientific perspective it is clear that breathing naturally and in a relaxed manner is intrinsic to good health. The breath is our life source and channelling it correctly will lead to an improvement in our physical and mental wellbeing as it contributes to the steady flow of blood around our body.
The notion that breathing should be allowed to occur of its own accord seems somehow alien. Accordingly, it is common for people to deliberately breathe hard and fast in line with the intense pace at which they live. Breathing thus reflects our stressful lifestyle, and vice versa.
Generally if we do not observe our breathing it becomes too fast and shallow as a result of living our lives under constant pressure. The build up of this stress will in turn contribute to poor breathing as stress further triggers fast and shallow breathing in preparation for intense physical activity. It seems that in a Western society we live under the belief that everything must be achieved at the price of intense exertion.
Practicing Awareness of BreathingSitting upright with legs crossed, in a chair, or laying down with your weight balanced evenly, it is possible to maintain an awareness of your breathing simply by counting your breaths. Here are two simple ways of doing this:
Laying down, do not force or observe your breath, but merely clear your mind over a period of several minutes, focusing upon the movement of your belly. Over time you will notice that your stomach will begin to rise and fall of its own accord as your breath takes its course. Focusing now upon this breath, but without engaging with it directly, will enable you to come to an awareness of natural breathing. You will be able to feel your breath rise from a point just below your navel to a point just behind your forehead, with no concerted effort from yourself. Your breath, you will note, is like a perpetual momentum pump - it moves constantly of its own accord, and much more deeply and slowly than if you were to directly control it!If in direct need of controlling your breathing, due to intense stress, simply find a place to sit comfortably with your weight evenly balanced and exhale deeply. Allow your inhalation to occur naturally and then slowly recite the word ‘Breath - ing’, saying the word ‘Breathe,’ when you exhale, and ‘ing,’ when you inhale. Repeat this about ten times so that you can redirect your breathing and slowly recover your calm before continuing with your day. If you cannot find a suitable place to sit then simply conduct this exercise as best you can in the most appropriate place that you can find.
By conducting exercises such as these you will be able to come to a principle understanding of the fact that breathing is not something that you do, but something that just ‘happens’. In light of this it is possible to appreciate that all other aspects of life are best enjoyed not as a result of doing, but in accord with the natural progression of your own body and mind in conjunction with the world around you.