Mindfulness of breathing

We only need to breathe gently for the miracle to be revealed:

Birds singing, flowers blooming.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Our breathing is a stable solid ground that we can take refuge in. Regardless of our internal weather – our thoughts, emotions and perceptions – our breathing is always with us like a faithful friend. Whenever we feel carried away, or sunk in a deep emotion, or scattered in worries and projects, we return to our breathing to collect and anchor our mind.

Mindfulness of breathing calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

Conscious breathing

Conscious breathing is the key to uniting body and mind and bringing the energy of mindfulness into each moment of our life.   Mindfulness of breathing is conscious breathing.  We feel the flow of air coming in and going out of our nose.  We become aware of the rise and fall of our belly as we breathe in and out.  Then we feel how light and natural, how calm and peaceful our breathing can be. At any time, while we are walking, gardening, or typing, we can return to this peaceful source of life.

We do not need to control our breath. Feel the breath as it actually is. It may be long or short, deep or shallow. With our awareness it will naturally become slower and deeper.

As we practise mindfulness of breathing we may like to recite:

“Breathing in I know that I am breathing in.

Breathing out I know that I am breathing out.”

Sitting Meditation

During sitting meditation, we can sit and enjoy our in-breath and out-breath and nothing else.  Sitting meditation is like returning home to give full attention to and care for our self. Like the peaceful image of the Buddha, we too can radiate peace and stability. We sit upright with dignity, and return to our breathing. We bring our full attention to what is within and around us. Enjoying the mindfulness of breathing we let our mind become spacious and our heart soft and kind.

How to sit

When you sit, sit in such a way that your body can rest.  You are erect with your head and spinal column forming a straight line, yet your muscles are completely relaxed.  Sit in the lotus or half-lotus position, or in a position that’s comfortable for you, keeping your back straight.  You can sit with or without a cushion.  If you use one, the cushion may be thick or thin; you need to find a cushion that suits your physical condition.  If you sit in a chair, your back should be straight and your feet flat on the floor.  Find a way of sitting that allows you to sit for at least twenty minutes without feeling tired or stiff.

Relax!

As soon as you sit down, begin to practise mindful breathing, paying attention to your breath.  Then pay attention to your sitting position.  Relax the muscles in your face – there are about three hundred muscles in your face.  If you breathe in mindfully and become aware of your face, and breathe out mindfully and smile lightly, you relax the face muscles.  Then you move down to your shoulders and let go.  Don’t try hard.  If you struggle or make an effort, you can’t relax. Effortlessness is the key to success.  Don’t fight.  Don’t try hard.  Just allow yourself to sit.  Allow your body to rest.

If our legs or feet fall asleep or begin to hurt during the sitting, we are free to adjust our position mindfully. We can maintain our concentration by following our breathing and slowly change our posture.

Sitting meditation is very healing.  We realise we can just be with whatever is within us – our pain, anger, and irritation, or our joy, love, and peace. We are with whatever is there without being carried away by it. Let it come, let it stay, then let it go. No need to push, to oppress, or to pretend our thoughts are not there. Observe the thoughts and images of our mind with an accepting and loving eye. We are free to be still and calm despite the storms that might arise in us.

Sitting quietly

Doing nothing

Spring comes

And the grass

Grows

By itself.

Matsuo Basho

17th Century Japanese poet

Mindfulness of breathing by lake