Many newcomers to meditation think meditation is mostly about controlling and manipulating your breath, i.e. a breathing technique that delivers one to the desired meditative state. Although there are many kinds of breathing techniques, both in yoga and other sources, meditation essentially isn’t about controlling your breath, it’s rather about allowing the breath to function as naturally as possible. The proper way to breathe during meditation thus is to let it happen by itself.
When you release tensions and intentions in your body and mind, which in many ways is the aim of meditation, the breath will relax by itself and will most likely find its own optimal rate and volume per minute. To “shortcircuit” this process, before each meditation session start by taking a few deep breaths and then let your breathing continue by itself and then just leave it as it is.
One ancient form of Buddhist and Yogic meditation is about simply noticing how the breath flows in and out, without manipulating it. Some even claim that this was the main meditation technique used by the Buddha some 2500 years ago.
Breathing properly during meditation is about relaxing the overactive mind to such a degree that it does not interfere with the natural functioning of the physical body. The physical body is a marvellous machine, left to its own accord it returns rather quickly to its own “natural” state. What you can do to accelerate this relaxation is to simply follow the natural flow between the inhalations, exhalations and perhaps more importantly the short breaks or gaps in between the breath. Your task is to simply cultivate conscious awareness of how it feels to breathe, in the here and now.
Different ways of being aware of the breath
I wrote an article a couple months ago concerning different meditative ways of being aware of the breath, although some of those ways included visualizations, most of them were about noticing different qualities of the breathing process. Here are the ways:
- Breath as a curve
- Breath as a fusion
- The gap between breaths
- Breath as a mantra
- Breath as life force
- Breath as a breeze
- Breath as waves
These above mentioned ways are mindful ways of relaxing the mind from interfering with the natural process of breathing. For more information about each mentioned way, feel free to read the article.
In most cases, genuine meditation is not about controlling your breath to reach a desired state of high or what have you. Breathing properly during meditation is rather about leaving the intelligence of the body to return to its own natural and optimal breathing. If you notice that you have shallow or ineffective breathing, a set of deep breaths in the beginning of each meditation session can prove helpful.
Daniel Seeker is a wandering dervish and 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 realizaton. Daniel currently studies history and philosophy at Uppsala Universitet, as he is currently 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.