Being in a state of meditation means being present with what is. Breathing, following the breath, helps focus the mind and bring you back to the present moment. Recognizing the important connection between meditation and breathing, the Buddha taught attention to the breath as a fundamental meditation technique. He said, “Being sensitive to the whole body, the yogi breathes in; being sensitive to the whole body, the yogi breathes out.”
In his classic guide to meditation practice, Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn writes this about breathing: “It helps to have a focus for your attention, an anchor line to tether you to the present moment and to guide you back when the mind wanders. The breath serves this purpose…Bringing awareness to our breathing we remind ourselves that we are here now.”
Breathing for Enlightenment
Awareness of the breath breathing in and out nurtures mindfulness; breathing in, you know you are breathing, breathing out, you know you are breathing.
Vietnamese Zen Master and author Thich Nhat Hanh talks about mindful meditation as a way to develop deep insight, which leads to awakening and enlightenment. Meditative breathing, he says, is a tool to calm the mind so it can see into itself and gain that insight. It strengthens mind concentration and stimulates compassion, awakening each person’s true nature.
Breathing for Relaxation
The breath is always with you. When you practice meditation and breathing you gain a skill you can use whenever you need to quiet and clear the mind. Just following a few breaths—in and out, in and out—can relax the mind and body so you can calmly observe and respond to the world around you, rather than mindlessly reacting to events. Mindful breathing is a technique you can use not only during formal meditation, but also in your daily life.
Breathing to Let Go of Negativity
Everyone has difficult thoughts, feelings, and memories; they are part of life. Trying to banish negativity is a useless pursuit. Rather, the challenge is to recognize negative thoughts and let them pass instead of identifying with them and giving them more power than they deserve. Meditative breathing teaches the mind and body to let go; like the breath, troubling thoughts and feelings come and go, they come and they go. As you learn to quiet the mind by paying attention to your breathing, distractions lose their power to disrupt your focus and disturb your mind.
Breathing for Inner Peace
As you focus on your breath your thoughts settle down and your mind becomes calm and clear. What results is a feeling of contentment, happiness, and inner peace. Through meditation and breathing you will be better able to deal with life’s ups and downs without losing your equanimity.
Breathing to Learn about Your Body
By following the breath as it courses through your body you learn how your body feels. The breath may feel warm or cool in different parts of your body, it may dissolve tensions, it may pass easily or feel blocked, it may relieve pain. Paying attention to the breath in the body as part of your meditation practice teaches you about who you are in your body.
Breathing to Connect Mind and Body
Kabat-Zinn makes clear the powerful connection between meditation and breathing when he writes, “The breath is the current connecting body and mind…It is the current of life.”
Meditative breathing is a way to connect with the here and now, which is life.
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