Minding Your Breathing
Breathing in a way that is both relaxed and attentive is central to the practice of meditation. There are many ways to achieve employing mantras and visualisations, although it is possible to pay attention to your breathing by merely fostering an awareness or 'mindfulness' of your breath as it rises and falls.
Spirituality and BreathingBy 'minding' your breathing during meditation it is possible to let go of the day to day thought 'clutter' that builds up as stress. In releasing these thoughts it becomes easier to, in a spiritual sense, become attuned with a fundamental truth - your oneness with all other bodies and beings. When you do this your breath becomes the last thing you carry a sensual awareness of. In time, by observing your breath as it naturally rises and falls it is, arguably, possible to develop an experience of that breath as a movement in the greater body that we are all part of: It is not your breath, but a breath.
The Science Behind Mindful BreathingFrom a purely therapeutic perspective it is acknowledged that a good posture and steady breathing are essential to leading a stress free life. Meditation is one way of 'minding' your breathing in order to foster good breathing practice in general. Anxiety and stress are triggered by the body's coping mechanism. When faced with a difficult situation, the heart will often beat faster, and the brain will release adrenalin, providing more energy with which to confront the problem. This is ideal if your situation demands increased physical activity (running, fighting or similar exertion). However, in most everyday situations (such as in the office, in the supermarket and driving in traffic) this would be inappropriate, leading to a suppression of energy and a build up of adrenalin that is often released inappropriately through angry outbursts, despondency and occasionally leads to depression and breakdown.
Controlling the body's coping mechanism through the practice of mindful breathing is a great way to reduce and avoid stress. By practicing meditation regularly, you will soon be able willfully to control your breathing from day to day.
Whether you are meditating for spiritual reasons, or for general wellbeing, there are a few exercises to help you become mindful of your breathing:
AffirmationAn affirmation is a phrase that can be repeated over and over and is used to positively affirm correct and rewarding attitudes. By repeating affirmations it is possible to train your subconscious mind into new habits. Repeating 'I am a mindful breather' again and again at any point of the day will help you to develop mindful breathing.
CountingCounting breaths is one way of focusing on breathing. 'Za-Zen' practice is characterised by 'just sitting' and being mindful. One Za-Zen exercise recommends that the sitter count each in and out breathe (in - one, out - two, in - three etc.) all the way to ten, before returning to one again.
Mantra'sA 'mantra' is a phrase, word or vowel sound that is repeated over and over in your head in order to help the individual become aware, or mindful, of the moment. A mantra can be useful in paying attention to the breath if it is said in line with your natural pattern of breath.
Try, for example saying 'mind' on the out 'breathe' and '-full' on the 'in' breath, hence 'mindful'. 'Peaceful' is another useful mantra, that can help one to focus and relax. The best known mantra 'Om' (a Hindu sacred symbol that symbolises the Universe) may be preferred by spiritual practitioners, although there are many other spiritual chants and mantras.
Yoga and Chakra'sBoth Hinduism and Yogic are based on a 'Chakra' system. Chakras are considered to be locus points, as many as 5-7 (depending on the belief system) of which extend through the body from the pelvis to the top of the head. Many systems of breathing are conceived in order to revitalise and open these energy (or 'prana') points. One such method is simple and can be practiced by anyone:
Starting with an out breath, visualise your breath as a light descending slowly from the top of your head to a point a couple of fingers below your pelvis, reaching that point in one natural breath. Visualise this breath returning, slowly to the top of your head with your exhalation. Repeat this exercise nine times, counting each full cycle.
There are many variations of this exercise practised across many spiritual disciplines.
Using one of the above exercises will enable you to focus on your breath and if practiced regularly is sure to improve upon your sense of wellbeing. Whichever exercise you choose to use (and there are a great many more to choose from, should you wish to explore further) it is vital not to force the breath, but to literally let the breath take its path. Breathing is an entirely self regulated movement, which is why it will be the last and only thing you should be aware of when in meditation.