How to do Breathing Meditation
Wealth of resources from Andrew Weil, M.D.
Breath counting technique
"A meditation can be as simple as taking a series of easy breaths, and slowly, gently counting to ten in your mind.”
– Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration
For this hub’s purposes, I chose to feature the breathing meditation as taught by the famous author and a medical doctor Andrew Weil who focuses on natural and preventive medicine. These excerpts have been taken from his book “Natural Health, Natural Medicine”.
“Breathing is a natural object of meditation. By putting attention on your breath, you will change your state of consciousness, begin to relax, and detach from ordinary awareness. Many systems of meditation use focus on breath as the main technique.” (p.91)
“If today you can be aware of breathing for ten seconds more than you were yesterday, you will have taken a measureable step toward enlightenment, will have expanded your consciousness, furthered communication between mind and body, become a little more whole, and so improved your health.” (p.91)
“You can meditate in any position. But most systems recommend a seated posture with the spine straight. It is perfectly all right to sit in a chair if you cannot find a workable position on the floor. All sorts of meditation aids are available, too, from firm cushions to benches, stools, and pads. Try to meditate every day without fail, twenty to thirty minutes being reasonable length of time.” (p. 126)
“Many newcomers to meditation think the goal is to stop all thoughts. That is not possible. What you want to learn is to withdraw attention from the endless chains of associated thoughts that stream through the mind, putting attention instead on the object of meditation. Whenever you become aware that your attention has strayed- to images, sensations, thoughts of dinner, or whatever- gently bring it back to your chosen object. The tedious work of meditation is just this constant running after your attention and bringing it back.” (p.126)
As mentioned earlier, the object of meditation in this particular exercise is our “breath”. This is a breathing meditation practice.
“Breath counting is a deceptively simple technique much used in Zen practice.
· Sit in a comfortable position with the spine straight and head inclined slightly forward.
· Gently close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
· Let the breath come naturally without influencing it. Ideally, it will be quiet and slow, but depth and rhythm may vary.
· To begin the exercise, count “one” to yourself as you exhale.
· The next time you exhale count “two’, and so up to “five”.
· Then, begin a new cycle, counting “one” on the next exhalation. Never count higher than “five”, and count only when you exhale. You will know your attention has wandered when you find yourself up to “eight”, “twelve” even “nineteen”. Try to do ten minutes of this form of meditation.” (p.126)
Dr. Weil advised that it may not be a good idea for people who are mentally ill to meditate without supervision. Though, he quickly added that Buddhist teachers would say that we are all mentally ill, and that meditation is the one and only cure for our dis-ease. (p. 127)
Quick notes on the above breathing meditation technique
This is a short commentary which is a slight variation of the above breathing meditation I learned from a Zen meditation group that I have been privileged to have joined for quite a number of times:
· before and after sitting, we always start and end a session with certain brief shibashi movements
· Having a lighted candle and some incense at the center of the room also helps.
· we were advised to only half-close our eyes while focusing the gaze to any object in front, about 3-ft away (we all face the wall)
· We were made to count “one” to “ten” for each cycle while focusing on our in breath and out breath for each count, yet, we were made to determine where we are more comfortable with as we make the counting silently, either during our in breath or during our out breath.
· After twenty to thirty minutes of sitting meditation, upon hearing the ringing of the meditation bell, we all stand up slowly and start our walking meditation, still focusing on our breathing while making each step around the room in a single file. We do this for about five minutes; then, another sitting cycle begins. We do three cycles (sitting and walking) for every meditation session.
· There is also a chance to talk to the Zen teacher on a one-on-one basis during the session.
· The meditation session ends with a twenty to thirty minutes reflection by the Zen teacher.
Aside from doing a solo meditation at home, I find joining a group meditation once a week, to be especially invigorating. As our Zen teacher says, one needs also to be in a group because the members’ presence supports and strengthens all participants.
Why and how should we practice breathing meditation?
There are numerous ways on how to do breathing meditation and the counting technique is one basic method. Yet, it is important to note that there is no one right way to do it. It can be done lying down, sitting (on a cushion /floor or a chair), or walking, etc... One can choose the way that works best for oneself, which of course depends on the individual or group’s specific purpose at the moment and even for a specific long-term goal, or none at all, that is, just to be or have a simple unarticulated intention will do, e.g.,
(a) For health reasons (through breathing we exchange gases, inhaling brings in the oxygen, while exhaling releases carbon dioxide. The process sends oxygen into the bloodstream which carries it to the whole part of the body to keep the vital organs functioning);
(b) For relaxation to calm the nerves; or
(c) For just touching base with oneself, or just being present, to rest in awareness or presence.
Given that breathing exercise is a basic meditation approach, it is assumed that we are all beginners here and I would like to call us “courageous inner self adventurers”. Though everyone breathes, meditation is not for the fearful, timid or faint-hearted. As practitioners, we dare to encounter and enter something as normal, obvious and as simple yet so profound as the act of breathing.
It is also worth noting that although meditation began and evolved from the Buddhist tradition, breathing meditation knows no nationality nor any creed at all considering that breathing knows no religion; every alive human breathes regardless of his belief system or no belief at all. Yet, we can choose the ways that would align best with our belief system. In that way, the practice will become more useful and comfortable.
"Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor." - Thich Nhat Hanh
Paying attention to breathing is at the base of most meditation practice
Breathing is most natural to life since to breath is to live biologically. Thus, we don’t think much about our breath, unless a situation warrants it. Breathing just happens. Yes, we know too well how important the breath is . . .that is, if we stop breathing for quite long enough, then, we die. It is as simple as that.
But because of this simplicity, instinctiveness, effortlessness or ordinariness of breathing, people as a rule tend to forget about their own breath and, oftentimes, take breathing for granted. We don’t pay much attention to our breath anymore because, anyway, it will always be there until we choke or drown or die, sooner or later, for some reason or the other.
Well, if you’re now reading this hub and have taken a genuine interest to learn more on ‘how to do breathing meditation’ or even just for curiosity’s sake alone, then, you are, definitely, not among the vast majority of the population who would take breathing for granted. Instead, I venture to say that you’re among those very few (yet emerging) people who take the breath (and life itself) quite seriously.
If rightly so, then, you’ve taken the first step on knowing ‘how to do breathing meditation’ and that is, to truly realize the prime importance of breathing in providing more sense and deeper meaning to one’s life, and in the process, making life more fulfilling, enjoyable and worth living for. To me, it is so because by applying meditation to breathing, we’ve come to open ourselves to the opportunity of getting connected and coming home to who we really are, to our essence, where real joy and peace reside and infinitely abounds.
Of course, such connection and rewards are only possible if we take the breathing meditation not only as a one- time technique but also, and more importantly, as a way of life. It is a practice of being, a resting in awareness and not merely a doing. A breathing meditation is a regular practice of being present to one’s breath.
"If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath." - Amit Ray
“Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It is a way of entering into the quiet that is already there - buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day”
- Deepak Chopra
“Let the breath lead the way.”
Guided Sitting Breathing Meditation
More quotes about meditation
“Meditation is a mysterious method of self-restoration.
It involves “shutting” out the outside world, and by that means sensing the universal “presence” which is, incidentally, absolute perfect peace.
It is basically an existential “time-out”—a way to “come up for a breath of air” out of the noisy clutter of the world.
But don’t be afraid, there is nothing arcane or supernatural or creepy about the notion of taking a time-out. Ball players do it. Kids do it, when prompted by their parents. Heck, even your computer does it (and sometimes not when you want it to).
So, why not you?