When it comes to meditation, physical activity, or just the act of being alive, there is one aspect that ties all these human experiences together- the breath.
When I first started learning about various forms of mindfulness meditation, such as zazen or pranayama, the core feature was paying attention to the breath. Mindful breathing has many benefits:
• Connects the mind & body, by consciously controlling a physiological function.
• Clears our head of the constant "monkey mind" activity & mental chatter, by focusing deeply on a singular activity.
• Increases oxygen levels to the brain & body.
• Helps us come to an awareness of our fundamental being.
It is the most simple and innate activity we can practice, yet it is something the majority of people don't even think about.
To start, all you have to do is put one your hand on your chest, one hand on your belly, and feel how you're breathing. Our usual mode is short, shallow breaths as we quickly fill our lungs & chest. To take deep mindful breaths, we inhale sloooooowly down to the diaphragm and expand the belly. Feel how you are breathing right now, and make the adjustment consciously. Continue to do these "belly breaths" and get used to how it feels.
You are now mindfully breathing!
To continue this practice, take 5 minutes to just be with your breath and experience it completely. If thoughts start popping up, let them pass by and continue focusing on your deep inhales and exhales, feeling the belly rise & fall.
Eventually you may want to practice for an extended period of time, but the beauty of this simple act is that it can be done anywhere, for a few minutes at a time. This is enough to keep bringing your awareness back to the present moment and opening your perceptions.
Whenever you are stressed out, feeling anxious or upset, or need to focus, remember....