Breathing consciously. So simple yet so powerful.
Why should become more conscious of the breath? An activity that happens by itself, automatically and naturally? Why not let it work its magic without bothering about it? Aren’t there more pressing things to worry about than your own breath?
What could possibly answer these seemingly reasonable questions?
Many things, but here are a few:
The benefits of conscious breathing
You become centered
Not being conscious of yourself as you are, in this case your breath, but instead heavily preoccupied and identified with every random thought or impulse that appears in your consciousness primes you to become somewhat of a slave to the capricious tides of modern life. Meaning that when you’re not anchored in body and mind, life can easily overwhelm you when the going gets rough.
That is why conscious attention to the breath shouldn’t be reserved for your 15-minute meditation practice alone or your time stretching and sweating on the yoga mat, but should rather become a second-nature habit that you can employ whenever you need balance and equanimity.
Stress levels go down. Its really that simple. Now even if I don’t refer to a scientific study in this article, (I’m sure there’s plenty of them out there!), I know first hand, second-hand and “third-hand” that simply paying attention to your breath significantly reduces your subjectively perceived stress levels.
How? Well by simply reallocating your attention from the world of redundant thought and worry to the natural and magnificent fact of you breathing in life nourishing oxygen!
By regularly using your mental faculties and attention to be aware of the breath, you’re effectively training your mind to become more focused and sharper. As you probably know it isn’t an easy task to simply stay conscious of your breathing apparatus. Most of us simply can’t do it without being interrupted by random, no-good thoughts.
Why might this be? Well my qualified guess is that we have a lot of “junk” in our subconscious that hasn’t really been processed or properly looked at, especially as modern humans living in ever so rapidly changing technological world.
Nevertheless with your kind permission lets gracefully move on to the real goodies, here are six actionable tips to help you stay mindfully alert and aware of your breathing.
6 mindful tips for more conscious breathing
1: Focus on the nose
There’s a reason why the term “mouth breather” is synonymous with being unintelligent. Unless you’re doing really intense exercise, healthy breathing almost always takes place through the nose. The nose functions as a filter and regulator of the inhaled surrounding air. This way of breathing lessens the risk of bacterias and other redundant particles entering your airways and lungs.
There are many different ways of focusing in on the breath. One way is to feel the relaxing sensation your nostrils undergo when you breath in and out.
You could also try different yogic pranayamic techniques or perhaps the Buteyko breathing method to learn more about the power of conscious breathing.
2: Pay attention to the stomach
Too many people breathe from the chest. Shallow, inefficient and down right unhealthy breaths.
In addition to breathing from the nose, you should try to induce your breath from the diaphragm. The key thing is not to take bigger breaths but deeper, which means that you should reach deeper into your diaphragm. When you focus on the stomach area when breathing consciously, you will naturally come into a state of mindfulness.
One simple technique you can employ to utilize both these tips is to alternate your attention between focusing on the nose and on the stomach. That is to switch between being conscious of your nose to your stomach and back again etc.
One thing any meditator, whether a beginner or a more seasoned one, knows is how prone to distractions we as human beings truly are. This above technique can help in balancing this psychological tendency.
3: Breathe slowly
Slow and steady wins the race. Breathing slower is not only healthier but also much more relaxing than intense hyperventilating breathing through the mouth.
According to the Buteyko method, slower and fewer breaths is the key to optimal health and longevity. Now whether you align yourself with the russians somewhat controversial medical theory is of course also relevant.
Personally, I’ve felt an increased vigor, tranquility and health since I start to focus on breathing slower from the nose and stomach. It simply works. I feel like that many unnecessary hazards to your health are bypassed or at least minimized.
4: Feel the rhythm
One of the most fascinating things with our breathing, to me, is that its a process that both happens naturally and through the exercise of ones will. Depending on what you’re doing, your breathing pattern can change accordingly. Some people hold their breaths in stressful or engaging situations while others start hyperventilating. All this can result in irregular and inefficient breathing.
When left alone to its own natural functioning, our breathing has a certain graceful rhythm to it. Like the seasons of the year or the transformation of the day into night. There is a subtle yet incredibly lovely rhythm to it. Become more conscious of this rhythm, how it goes “up and down”, how it expands and compresses. Simply become focused on this marvelous natural process taking place in your consciousness and you will most definitely feel deeper relaxations kicking in.
5: The key is in the details
By now you’ve come across a lot of details that I’ve listed. The sensation of the nasal hair when you’re inhaling from the nose, the expansion and compression of the diaphragm, the gentle and graceful rhythm of the breathing process.
These are all details which you can tune in to whenever you feel distracted by life’s innumerable distractions. These actual facts of your existence as an biological being helps center yourself in a loud, buzzing world.
When it comes to the breathing apparatus, there are literally limitless details for your conscious attention to attend to and fascinate over!
6: Silence is your friend
All of the above five tips are great, but these things done in silent surroundings is even better. Moreover, the ideal practice would be if your silent surroundings is matched by an inner silence as well. Well then, you would truly be set for self-realization.
Silence is amongst the highest spiritual teachings/pointings that I’ve personally come across. Some people can’t really grasp that sentiment, but when I really think about it, its one of the truest things that I could possibly express.
By now you know the power and significance of simply being conscious and one with your breath. This may sound like any ol yoga talk that those instructors share in those lovely classes, but it’s nonetheless, quite true.
The master key is to just be here now and being conscious of your breath is one of the most graceful ways to go about it.
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.