The essence of the Breath

“Listen–are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” Mary Oliver

The core of Mindfulness meditation practice is the use of the breath, as one of the tools to bring yourself into the present moment. After all, we carry it with ourselves throughout our lives. It is always there and we, too often, forget all about it. Unless you get a terrible cold. Then you notice it. Generally when you are wheezing.

To practice mindful breathing, you don’t have to sit cross-legged or do anything special. Simply stop what you’re doing and turn your awareness to your breath. Don’t attempt to control your breath,simply observe it.As your breath happens. Moment by moment.

In and out. In and out. Constant, always there, but always changing.

You might be surprised to see how short and inconsistent your breath is. This is normal. We often breathe this way and don’t even notice it. We have developed a habit of breathing at the top of our lungs in a short, compacted manner. Unless you are a singer, or actor, very few people actually use the whole of the breath cycle, breathing right down into the lungs.

The way we breath greatly affects how we feel and act. Mindful breathing can completely transform how we feel on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis. Remember, we are trying to extend and deepen being present and the breath is something that can help greatly in this.

So, how about trying the following…..

  • Count each in breath and out breath as an individual number.
  • So breathe in – one, breathe out – two, breathe in – three, etc. Do this until you get to 10 or until you become distracted by a thought, feeling, or sensation.
  • I can tell you now, that unless you have been practicing Mindfulness, you won’t get to 10. Let alone 100.
  • When you do get a thought, feeling, or sensation, and we all do, don’t worry about it. Don’t feel you have to criticise yourself.
  • Don’t punish yourself. Say you are a failure. You are not.
  • Just start all over again. In a relaxed manner. Focusing on the breath. As it comes and goes.

Even Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the modern Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction movement and who has practiced Mindfulness based meditation for over 40 years, still says it happens to him. That his mind wanders. 

  • In the beginning, it will be very difficult to count to 10 like this without becoming interrupted or distracted by thoughts or feelings.
  • These interruptions aren’t a bad thing, so make sure not to label them as such.
  • When you notice a distraction arise, be it a thought, feeling, or sensation- and they will be plentiful- simply acknowledge it without thinking anything about it (accept it openly as you would a loved one coming into your arms) and then gently direct you awareness back to your breath.

Even if you can practice this for 5 minutes in the morning and for 5 minutes in the afternoon, over a four to six week period, you will notice a difference. Not least of which, the time before the interruption occurs will get longer.

I tried it today, just to see how long I could “last”. I got to 100. Not bad. But then the thoughts came again, And I had to start all over again. Somewhat like the breath itself.

I leave you with the following quote…….

“Can words describe the fragrance of the very breath of spring?” Neltje Blanchan


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