Breathing Meditation Practice

Why meditate on the breath? 

  • Our breath is the most basic indicator of the fact that we we are alive. The first thing we ever do when we are born in breathe in, the last thing we do when we die is breathe out. Focussing on this most fundamental aspect of aliveness helps us to really appreciate, revel & luxuriate in our existence.

  • This connection to our own being alive helps heighten our awareness of that experience. It makes life richer & more exciting - allowing us to absorb more subtlety & detail of our experience. Colours can seem brighter, we can become more attuned to beauty in our surroundings, interactions with people can be more nuanced & complex as we notice more of what they communicate & express.

  • This more detailed awareness of the experience of our life means less & less stuff is going on below the radar of our awareness. The more we are aware of, the more we can choose & actively shape our life experience. Habituated & subconscious thoughts, mannerisms & responses limit our ability to ‘direct’ our life & actions. The more we make our thoughts, mannerisms & responses conscious, the more freedom we have to steer them in a direction of our choosing.

  • Meditating on the breath will over time lengthen & smooth the breath mechanism. This has enormous health benefits. It’s been discovered the volume of the breath clearly indicates lifespan. So learning to breathe slowly & smoothly has huge benefits for our physical wellbeing.

  • It also has huge impact on our mental & emotional wellbeing. How we’re breathing at any given moment (along with information from our senses, organs & other body systems) is sending signals to our brain/ CNS about how safe or unsafe we are at any given moment. Based on this information, the nervous system can then judge how excited or relaxed the body needs to be - either primed for action in case of a potential threat, or resting & recharging when we are safe & secure.

  • This process of managing body systems in response to our surroundings is the work of the Autonomic Nervous System  - usually operating below our conscious control - hence the ‘autonomic’ part of the name.

  • But the breath - uniquely can be both a subconscious reflection of the state of the nervous system AND it can be consciously managed by us as we choose.

  • This means that by managing the breath & meditating on it we can start to manage our Autonomic Nervous System - we can start to manage body systems that normally we cannot.

  • The state of our nervous system has huge impact on our mental & emotional state at any given moment. If we’re on physical high alert we will feel excited, anxious or worried. If we’re physiologically feeling safe & relaxed we’ve more chance of feeling emotionally content & relaxed.

  • In this way the breath can be seen as the bridge between the mind & the body. Managing & meditating on the physical breath can help us to access & manage the nervous system & in turn the mind & emotions.

  • Lastly a breath meditation practice is portable & accessible. You will always be breathing so whenever you’re able become conscious of the breath & regulate it’s rhythm - even when you’re unable to do a more formal meditation practice. Management of the breath allows you to manage your whole nervous system.

Breathing mindfully, you are already finding a refuge in your breath, and you become aware of what’s going on in your body, your feelings, your perceptions, your mental formations, and your consciousness.
— Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Breath: A Practice for Our Busy Lives
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