The Importance of Breath in Meditation
Both posture and #breath are synergistic in our meditation practice; they work together to ensure our progress. Today's post is about the latter - Breath, or Pranayama, and builds on the earlier post about posture. So, ready? Let's begin!
While it is true that we all breathe, how many of us can honestly say we are conscious of it? When I teach people meditation, one of the first questions I ask is whether they are aware of their breathing: adults, children, teenagers, I ask everybody. Most people are not aware of their breathing process most of the time. I would venture a guess that most of us only value our breathing when, for whatever reason, we can't! But if that was to happen, I bet you wouldn’t be sitting here reading this! Breath is Life. Breath is immediate. Breath is closer to us than anything else; it is so close that we usually overlook it.
Pranayama is breathing in the yogic context. There are many different kinds of pranayama in the yogic tradition, and usually they are formalized breath exercises and techniques. However, the most important breathing technique for our purposes, for learning a simple and easy #meditation, is natural breathing. Just being aware of the breath as it comes in and goes out. Not forcing it, not trying to change it into anything, not trying to make it different: simply observing the breath. Believe it or not, this natural breath is actually a very potent form of pranayama. Why? Because it does something very significant. Over time it equalizes the in-breath and the out-breath; it helps us to glide into a tranquil state. This happens because the breath and mind are closely connected. I call this the breath/mind connect. Think about it for a minute: when you are worried, anxious, or angry, how is your breath? Choppy. Constricted. Shallow. Forced. Stuck. When you are feeling happy, thinking good thoughts, how is your breath? Smooth. Free. Deep. Easy. Flowing. So, the state of our mind definitely affects the state of our breath.
Exercise: Breath meditation
Working with the breath is approaching things from the opposite way. Calm breath = calm mind. Never underestimate the power of #breathwork to calm and soothe the mind and to take it to stillness. All it takes is a little practice. So let’s do that now.
Duration: 5 - 10 minutes
Find a quiet space away from distractions. Put your phone on silent. Sit quietly. Close your eyes. Apply some of the posture tips explored in the posture post.
Watch the natural flow of your breath. Observe it as it enters your body. Observe it as it leaves your body.
There is no need to do anything, apart from watching your breath. However, since it is the mind’s role to think, it will inevitably wander from the breath. When this happens, gently bring your awareness back to your breath without judging your mind or thoughts.
How did it go? Easy? Great! A bit challenging? Great! Becoming aware of the breath is an ongoing process, and each time we consciously observe our breath it is going to be different. What we are doing here is getting to know the breath with a view to establishing a conscious relationship with it. This may not happen overnight, but the benefits of equanimity, ease, and joyfulness that come with conscious breathing make the effort well worthwhile. Make conscious breathing a joyful habit. Make every breath count. Your life will never be the same.