– Five Breathing and Meditation Practices –
Attention and concentration on the breath are common practices to attune meditation capacity. We use the breath as an object of attention in our mind training. The better your quality of attention and concentration, the better your meditation flow. In an earlier post, I provided instructions on using breath as an object of attention in pacifying the mind.
Today I will provide brief practice instructions for four other breath meditations. These brief instructions are meant only as introductory formats.
Caution: Although it is rare, some people may become anxious when trying to do breath practices. The anxiety may have many sources: vagus nerve issues, inattention due to digital addictions, a serious anxiety disorder, unresolved traumatic experience involving breaths of submission (in limbic hippocampus memory), etc. If at any time in practicing these breathing techniques you experience strong discomfort, please STOP the practice. Be aware that even though breath re-training can be highly effective in calming a dysregulated nervous system, it is not a substitute for prescribed medical or psychological treatment you may be receiving. However, breath training may be highly compatible with such treatment. Collaborate with your healthcare provider for advice here.
1) Mindful Awareness of Your Breath As It Is
Sit in a comfortable position, either lotus style or in a straight back chair, or use a stool to sit on with your knees on a meditation mat. Keep your back and head straight, ears level with shoulders, eyes slightly open and downward in direction, and the tip of the nose lined up with your navel (Dogen’s way). Just allow your awareness to be set on the in and out movement of your breath. Do not in any way control how your are breathing. Simply allow your breath to breathe you – paying mindful attention to its flow. When your attention moves off the breath, gently return your attention back to your breath. If possible continue for at least 10-20 minutes. If your attention moves off the breath, use self-compassion to carry it back the breath. Be kind.
2) Counting the Breaths
Since mental activity (thoughts in the past or future – or even in the present) is often a common distraction in meditation practice, it may be helpful to count to ten for ten breaths. Sit comfortably in a meditative posture. On the first breath say “one” to yourself on the exhalation; this is subvocal self-talk. Make the sound of “one” in your mind last all the way to the end of the out-breath. Then begin with the next breath – saying “two” on the exhalation and holding the thought all the way to the end of the out-breath. Do this all the way up to ten for ten breaths. When you reach “ten” simply begin again with “one.” If your mind wonders off the breath before you reach ten, or you catch yourself beyond the count of ten, begin again with “one.” You may want to make an mage of the number you are saying to yourself. In this way both cognitive/verbal and visual parts of the brain are active – helping you to meditate. If your mind continues to wonder off, say the number, make an image of the number, and FEEL the flow of the breath on exhalation. If possible continue for at least 10-20 minutes. If you have difficulty, be kind and considerate to yourself – and continue!
3) Variation on Square Breathing
Sit comfortably in a good meditation posture. Begin with a couple full, deep, cleansing breaths. Then bring full concentration to how your heart and belly feel when you breath slowly and deeply. On the first full in-breath pay attention to the right side (downward) of your torso from just below the heart area down to the hara (deep belly about 2 inches below the navel and about 2 inches in). On the first out-breath pay close attention to how it feels when your attention moves (left) across the hare. On the next in-breath notice how it feels when you pay attention to it moving (upward) from the hare and up the left side of the torso to the heart area, and on the next out-breaths simply pay attention to the moving breath as you pay attention to it moving right just below the heart area. A square has been made. If possible practice for at least 10-20 minutes.
4) Gap Breathing Practice
Sit in meditative posture and take a couple full, deep, slow breaths. Now pay complete attention to the noticed GAP between the in and out breath, and between the out and in breath. Yes, there is a slight gap in time when you are not breathing. Do not worry, this gap is natural. It is simply part of our slower, deeper breathing process. Pay attention ONLY to the gap between the in/out and out/in breaths. If you can do this, go psychologically deeper into the gap. It may be bottomless! If you have problems with attention here, make an image on a gigantic, beautiful, far-away valley and pretend that your gap is in that deep, distant valley. Continue to pay full attention only to the gap between your breaths. If you have difficult, gently and self-compassionately bring your attention back to the gap and nothing else. If possible practice for at least 10-2- minutes.
Practice these four breathing meditation, and if you like one best – do that one for the fifth. Good luck on your journey.
Anthony R. Quintiliani, Ph.D., LADC
Author of Mindful Happiness
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