Awareness of breath. Simple, yet one of the most powerful and oldest ways of meditation.
Think about the prime importance of breath when it comes to life. Without food you could survive for months, without water for weeks, but without oxygen a couple minutes, maybe a little more if you’re a yogi or a freediver. In another words, life is breath (prana). Another fascinating thing about the breathing process is that it’s one of those bodily functions that happens by itself yet can be controlled by the subjective will of the individual. Luckily it goes on by itself, both when we’re awake and when we sleep.
Here’s a quick history and spiritual trivia for you: Did you know that the Buddha himself, according to certain traditions and sources, realized his true nature and reached nirvana solely through the awareness of breath. So it’s safe to say that being aware of your breath is a powerful meditation technique in and of itself.
With that said, in this article I’ve decided to go through a couple different perspectives or ways of being aware of your breath.
Why might you ask, why these variations? What’s the purpose and function of me being aware of my breath in different ways?
To that my answer would be… Hello! Did you miss the part about the Buddha reaching nirvana and complete fulfillment through this same awareness? But jokes aside, it is now scientifically and anecdotally proven that meditation has many benefits in different areas of a individual’s life, ranging from the physical, mental to the emotional and spiritual. By training your mind and consciousness to recognize different layers of subtlety in the breathing process, you are naturally and effortlessly freeing yourself from anxiety, fear, stress and other nasty things lurking in your psyche. Heck, you could even reach that ultimate spiritual goal of Buddhism and Hinduism, namely liberation, moksha or nirvana, if that is your schtick.
So then let us begin.
First things first, creating a meditative setting in your home or wherever you might be in this world is always advised when wanting to cultivate a healthy meditation practice. Though these things are not essential to meditation, in fact nothing really is, all that is needed is awareness and intelligence, we nonetheless recommend certain spiritual tools if you will, tools that will mostly be revolved around making you more comfortable and less distracted as you meditate. Here are some of the things we recommend.
- Meditation cushion, chair or a bench. These seats used specifically for meditation are almost essential for a healthy and long-term meditation practice but also in the case of these following techniques which you will soon learn about. Choose one
- Meditation shawls are great to create a sense of security, warmth and extra comfort. When you wrap the shawl around yourself effectively turning yourself into a human cocoon, you forget about the innumerable distractions of the outside world. You become one-pointed in mind and body, which is very good for awareness of breath.
- When inhaling always breathe in through your nose, the exhale is optional but I would recommend through the nose as well. The benefits of nasal breathing are many and varied in comparison to mouth breathing.
- Close your eyes. All that you see or perceive should be the breathing. You being breathed by life itself.
- A dark, quiet and cool room is best for these breath meditations.
- If you prefer the outdoors, a lushy and oxygen-rich forest is excellent, or by a lake or on the beach besides the ocean are also viable options.
With no further a due, here are the seven techniques.
1. Breath as a curve
If you pay close attention, everytime you breathe in or breathe out. There is a curve, there is a turning that takes place. Like all of these techniques, this is a subtle thing to notice yet quite self-evident when you do recognize it. In fact you could even imagine or visualize the breathing as a sinus curve, if you’re into that kind of stuff (mathematics). The important thing, however, is not the visualization but the awareness. Remember that! Awareness always before imagination/visualization.
2. Breath as a fusion
This next perspective is about being fully present the moment you take an inbreath and an outbreath. Something interesting happens here as well, seen from this perspective, there is a spark or fusion of some sort. A fusion of opposites and a burst of energy. Pay attention how these sparks compliment each other, like a dance.
3. The gap between breaths
There is a stillness, a silence, a gap if you will, between each breath. These gaps are harder to recognize than the two previous ones, but the rewards could be life-changing. In this gap there resides a space where the mind and thoughts takes form. This gap is consciousness prior to mind, it is also therefore beyond it. Now we’re getting a bit more spiritual, but hey that’s okay hopefully you don’t mind, after all we’re all made of spirit. Because that is indeed what the word spiritus means in latin, etymologically speaking that is, which means “a breathing”, it is also from this latin root we get the words ‘respiration’ and ‘inspiration’.
Having said that, notice this gap in between breaths, and the more you notice it, the bigger and more deep it gets. In this depth you’ll find rest and repose.
4. Breath as a mantra
Most of us have heard the mantra Om, which is one of the most powerful mantras around if you ask me. What most people don’t realize is that the breath can also be seen as a primal mantra that your body is doing by itself. The sanskrit word mantra means “to think” or the “instrument of thought”. For our intents and purposes, the breath is the body’s way to think, the body’s own mantra, which it repeats from the cradle to the grave.
5. Breath as life force
Breath as life force is an obvious one, especially when you consider how fundamental it is even in comparison to other fundamental things like food and water. When you draw in a breath, you are breathing in the life force which sustains you. When you release the breath you are providing the same life force to other organisms in your vicinity. We’re all connected, we’re all in this together. Know this deeply!
6. Breath as a breeze
One of my favorite ways of visualizing the breath is to see it as a breeze that passes through your nose into your lungs and then nourishes the rest of your body. All the cells in your body are affected by this breeze of life, you are rejuvenated and stimulated each passing moment.
Visualize the breath coming through the fine nasal hairs, just as the wind would sweep through a crowd of tall and lanky trees, caressing them and shaking them a bit, somewhere out there in nature. There is great serenity in this visualization.
7. Breath as waves
Last but not least is to visualize your breath as waves coming and going. Water that is overflowing and receding from the shores of a beach. See this clearly, the natural ebb and flow of the breath soothes the body and mind just in the same way sitting by the beach and ocean would. Your breath is the shoreline between life and the next world. Ok now we’re getting out of hand 🙂 But you get my point!
Hopefully you’ve benefited from these seven delicate ways of being aware of your breath.
Life is breath, awareness is life. Merge them all into one unitary experience and see what serene shores you land upon when you decide to open your eyes to face the world anew.
Daniel Seeker is a lifelong student of the past, present and future. He realized deep relaxations of the psyche when meditating in his hermit cave on the island of Gotland. His writings are mostly a reflection of that realization. Daniel has meditated & done yogic exercises daily for more than 10 years and is studying history and philosophy at Uppsala Universitet. He is currently finishing writing his B.A. thesis in history which explores how Buddhist, Yogic and Hindu texts were first properly translated and introduced to the western world in the late 18th and 19th century.