The Breath of Life: The Practice of Breath Meditation For Beginners

Why Breath Meditation
Breath meditation is one of the most accessible forms of meditation, practiced globally by millions regardless of race, culture or religion. Breath is the foundation of our lives, yet how often do we focus on our breath? Generally only when we experience shortness of breath do we notice the importance or the gift of breathing at all. While breathing techniques are used in other forms of meditation, breath meditation does not involve focusing on an object,visualization or mantra. Breath meditation asks us to concentrate our awareness on our breath only, bringing much-needed attention to an involuntary function that we often take for granted.

The practice of Breath Meditation

1) Sit upright, comfortable and relaxed, with your hands on your knees or thighs, palms up or palms down or resting, one on the other, in your lap.

2) Turn your eyes slightly downward and close them gently. This removes visual distractions and reduces your brain-wave activity by about seventy-five percent, thus helping to calm the mind.

3) Your mouth should be closed so all breathing is done through the nose. This, too, aids in quieting the mind. Though your mouth is closed, the jaw muscles should be relaxed so the upper and lower teeth are not clenched or touching one another, but parted.

4) Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply four times, feeling the inhaling and exhaling breath moving in and out through your nostrils.

5) Now breathe naturally and easefully, keeping your awareness on the tip of your nose, feeling the breath as it flows in and out of your nostrils. (Some people become more aware of the half-inch or so at the end of the nose, others the very end of the nose, and others remain more aware of the nostrils. Whichever happens naturally is the best for you. So whenever this book says “nosetip” it applies equally to these three areas.) Do not follow the breath in and out of your body, but just be aware of the breath movement sensation at the tip of your nose.

6) Keeping your awareness on the tip of your nose, breathe naturally and calmly, easefully observing the sensation of the breath moving there throughout all your inhalations and exhalations. This enables you to enter effortlessly into the Witness Consciousness that is your true nature.

7) Do this for the rest of the meditation, letting your awareness rest gently on the breath at the nosetip and feeling the sensations of the breath moving there. After a while it may feel as though the breath is flowing in and out the tip of your nose more than the actual nostrils, or you may not feel the nose at all, but just the breath moving at the point in front of your face where the nose is located. That is perfectly all right, but the focus of your attention should be only at that point–not somewhere else either outside or inside the body.

8) Let the breath be as it will. If the breath is naturally long, let it be so. If it is short, let it be so. If the inhalations and exhalations are of unequal length, that is just fine. Let the breath be natural and unforced, and just observe and experience it.

In time your breath will become more subtle and refined, and slow down. Sometimes your breath can become so light that it almost seems as though you are not breathing at all. At such times you may perceive that your inhaling and exhaling are more like a magnetic pull or flow in and out instead of actual breath movements. This occurs as the subtle life force (prana) that produces the breath switches back and forth in polarity from positive to negative. It is also normal for your breath awareness to move back and forth from more objective to more subtle and back to more objective.

Sometimes the subtle breath is silent, but at other times you will inwardly “hear” the breath making sounds as it moves in and out. These will not be actual physical sounds, but very subtle mental sounds. They may be like the sounds made by forceful or heavy inhalation and exhalation–except softer–or they may be quite different. Whatever they may be, just be calmly aware of them while staying centered on the nosetip and breath.

The breath is a kind of barometer of the subtle energies of body and mind. Sometimes it is very smooth, light and easeful, and at other times it feels heavy, even constricted, or clogged, sticky, ragged, uneven, and generally uncomfortable and somehow feels “not right.” When this occurs, do not try to interfere with it or “make it better.” Rather, just relax and be calmly aware and let it be as it is. If you do this, the problem in the subtle energy levels which the breath is reflecting will correct itself and the breath will become easy and pleasant.

9) In Breath Meditation we only focus our awareness on the breath at the nosetip/nostrils, and not on any other point of the body such as the “third eye.” However, as you meditate you may become aware of one or more areas of your body at different times. This is all right when it comes and goes spontaneously, but keep centered on your nosetip and your breath.

10) Thoughts, impressions, memories, inner sensations, and suchlike may also arise during meditation. Be calmly aware of all these things in a detached and objective manner. Let them come and go as they will, but keep your attention centered on the tip of the nose and your breath moving there. Be indifferent to any inner or outer phenomena. Breath Meditation produces peace, awareness and quiet joy in your mind as well as soothing radiations of energy in the physical and subtle bodies. Be calmly aware of all these things in a detached and objective manner–they are part of the transforming effect of meditation, and are perfectly all right–but keep your attention centered in your breath. Even though something feels very right or good when it occurs, it should not be forced or hung on to. The sum and substance of it all is this: It is not the experience we are after, but the effect.

11) If you find yourself getting restless, distracted, fuzzy, anxious or tense in any degree, just inhale and exhale slowly and deeply a few times, feeling the inhaling and exhaling breath moving in and out through your nostrils, at the same time feeling that you are releasing and breathing out all tensions. Then resume meditating as before. Relaxation is the key to successful meditation practice.

12) Keep in mind that Breath Meditation basically consists of being aware in a relaxed and easeful manner of your breath as it moves in and out at the tip of your nose. That is all!

At the end of your meditation time, keep on being calmly aware of your breath moving in and out of your nosetip as you go about your various activities. In this way you can maintain the calm and clear state of meditation.

Meditation checkpoints

Occasionally in your meditation it is good to check three things: 1) Am I aware of the tip of my nose? 2) Am I continually experiencing the movement or energy-flow of the breath at or in the tip of my nose? 3) Am I aware of the breath movement throughout the entire duration of each inhalation and exhalation? These are the essential points of Breath Meditation.

Breath Meditation Benefits

The concept that there is a more proper way to breathe than others is a tricky one to wrap our heads around, as breathing is an instinct we exercise as soon as we exit the womb. But by focusing awareness on the breath and practicing breath meditation, we can develop new breathing techniques that will enable us to use our lungs to their fullest capacity, greatly improving our breathing and overall lung health. In fact, the Mayo Clinic recommends diaphragmatic breathing, the breathing technique practiced in breath meditation, as a treatment for emphysema.

Focusing the attention on the breath only and stilling the mind of all other thoughts is the cornerstone of all breathing meditations. You might have a million thoughts trying to distract you during a 10 minute breathing meditation, but by bringing your awareness back to your breath whenever a pesky thought breaks in, no matter how briefly you are able to hold that awareness, strengthens your mind. Consistently practicing breath meditation encourages you to be more peaceful, balanced and concentrated, and less distracted in all facets of your life.

Ever heard the expression just count to 10? Naturally, when you take a 10-second timeout you measure it with 10 deep breaths. Instinctively, you know that breathing deeply calms you down and reduces stress. Breathing meditations stretch those seconds to 10, 20 or 30-minute intervals of relaxed, stress-free breathing. Breath meditation can help free you from negative thought patternsand fine-tune your focus and awareness.

Guided breath meditations

Ten minutes of breathing meditation everyday is a great way to introduce this healthy practice into your busy lifestyle. For a more advanced guided breath meditation, study with a meditation expert who can guide you through more sophisticated breathing patterns.

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