Getting Into Breath

Breath has sound, it has texture, it has motion. As your body moves with the inflowing and outflowing breath your body balances automatically. Breath even has an impact on the visual field; there are subtle differences to notice.

Breathing with awareness is one of the essential meditation techniques cherished the world over. Simply pay attention to the flow of air with appreciation for the gift of each breath. Doing this even a few minutes a day will bless your life. A human being develops senses for whatever she pays attention to. If you pay a lot of attention to wine, you will learn to identify what type it is just by a sniff of the bouquet. If you watch a lot of baseball, you will learn to see what type of pitch is coming at the hitter earlier and earlier in the wind-up or release. Mothers can tell the state of their babies at a glance. If you pay attention to breath, your body will over time evolve the senses to really, really enjoy it as one of the Fine Things of Life.

Breath has to be mostly automatic and out-of-awareness by default, because our life depends on it every minute. We each breathe many times a minute, whether we are awake or asleep. In a day we breathe more than twenty thousand times. Each of these breaths connects us to the entire planet. Appreciating this connection is joyous but optional — it is what you do after survival is assured.

The movement of attention to cherish breath is instinctive, for all living things have a natural attraction toward that which gives them life. Meditation is an instinctive urge, a calling, as deep as any of the ancient yearnings that move human beings. All the hundreds of techniques are just ways of cooperating with that urge. In order for meditation to feel that innate, it helps to learn it at your own speed in your own way. Start now. Take a breath, have fun.

Take a Breather

Take A Breather. If you feel like it, take a minute to explore what to you right now is enjoyable about breath. Instead of “concentrating” on the breath, take a wondering and exploring attitude toward your relationship with breath. Breath will teach you how to pay attention to it.

For example, what are some times is your life when you have found yourself appreciating the action of breathing?

Walking outside on a snowy morning and seeing the air you exhale turn into a mist.
When in nature, coming to a vista and taking a deep breath to breathe in the beauty.
Saying, “Whew” at a moment of relief.
Yawning and stretching with a deep inhalation.
Saying “Ah...” as you exhale and settle down into yourself.
Playing sports.
Panting during sex.
Inhaling a delicious smell, a time when you would say, “Mmmmmm...”
Finishing a task, you lean back and sigh with relief.

Take a few moments to recall three or four times you said “Ah” or “Whew” or “Mmmmmm”. Then for about a minute or two, simply notice what pleasure there is in breathing. You can have your eyes open or closed or go back and forth.
If you are having a good time, you can continue for another minute or two. Simply notice what happens in your body as you pay attention to the flow of air in and out.
As you pay attention to breathing, a whole world of sensory experience will gradually unfold.

The beginning impulse to inhale.
The air flowing in through the nose.
The air flowing up the nose into the sinuses.
The silky sensation of air flowing down the throat.
The air filling the lungs, deep in the body.
The brief moment of pause at the end of the inhalation, as the breath turns to flow out.
The relief of breath flowing out.
The pause at the end of the exhalation as breath turns to flow in.

Other qualities of experience that emerge are:

The rhythm of the breath.
The smell of the air. Maybe there is a flower nearby, or someone is cooking.
The motion and undulation of the body as the ribs expand into the inbreath and contract with the outbreath.
The quiet sound of the air flowing and whispering through the same passages we use to sing and talk.

If your eyes are open, you may also notice the way the eyes tend to rest on one spot when you are focussed on breathing. You can then let the peripheral vision open up to take in a larger view.

The more senses you allow to come into play during meditation, the more interesting and involving your experience will become.

A wine taster can take a sniff of wine, then a sip, and say what kind of wine it is and perhaps where it was grown and when. You can learn to have that appreciative attitude and richness of experience of your own breath.

You are probably breathing between ten and sixteen breaths a minute right now if you are reading this sitting down. That’s about twenty thousand breaths a day. With each breath, you import substance from the ocean of air that embraces the Earth, and you give back to the world the substance you have already used.

TIP: There is no hurry. Take your time. I have met many people who have taken an earnest, diligent approach to learning yoga breathing techniques. The problem is that the attitude can persist. Years later breath is still something to be controlled. Enjoy your breath. If you explore, you will find what you enjoy, in your own sweet time.

Welcome a Breath

In this meditation you take the attitude of actively welcoming breath. You do not need to control it in any way. Standing or sitting, turn to face any direction you like and welcome the inflowing breath. Lean forward slightly, leaning into the breath. Greet the air as you would a beloved guest coming into your home. Allow your thoughts to come and go, but keep bringing your attention back to the encounter with breath.

You can have any attitude you want, or may find yourself moving from attitude to attitude as you pay attention:

Sensual pleasure.

If you like, say to yourself, “This breath is the breath of my being.”

The breath is a gift to you from the entire history of the world, all the oceans, all the forests, and the Sun. Each time you breathe in, the whole world and all of history is coming in to your body to keep you alive for a few more moments. Each time you breathe, the mystery of the Sun shining on the oceans and forests of the world comes into your lungs. The lungs are temples for receiving the spirit of the universe. A secret of meditation is that the universe is sensuously intimate in its vastness. This is a secret that every breath is eager to share with you.

Be as natural with yourself as you are when you spontaneously sigh or yawn. Notice your relationship with breathing, and take pleasure in it.

Place your attention on each of the following for a few seconds:

— Rest the attention on the flow of breath in your body.

— As you breathe in, notice the sensations of expansion.

— Attend to breath as a flow from the whole world into your body. Aware that the ocean of air which gives you life is something that it took a whole planet and the Sun aeons to produce. Be aware of all the oceans of the world as you breathe.

— Be aware of the Sun shining continuously on the Earth as you follow the flow of breathing in your body.

— Now place the attention in the middle of the chest -- not on the surface, but deep inside, in the space you breathe into. Welcome the breath from there. Celebrate the way the incoming air flows into those deep spaces inside you, refreshing you.