Thursday, February 24, 2011

Breath Meditation For Everyone

Nearly every contemplative tradition makes use of the breath.  I’ve discovered that simple breath meditations can transform students’ fundamental relation to themselves and the world.  In one meditation, I ask students to simply focus on their breath.  Here are the instructions: Close your eyes and take several deep, slow breaths.  Now allow yourself to breath naturally, and begin to focus on your inbreaths and your outbreaths.  Be present with your breath in the region of body where you observe it most clearly and distinctly.  It can be the in and out at the nostrils, or the rising and falling of the chest or the belly.  Don’t look for anything in particular.  Just observe whatever sensations and feelings are actually occurring moment to moment.  The breath may be slow or quick, regular or irregular, deep or shallow, steady or unsteady, warm or cool, moist or dry.  And the pauses between breaths may be long or short, regular or irregular.  If your mind wanders, which it naturally will, simply bring your attention back to your breath.  Be gentle with yourself.  It is natural for the mind to wander and to chatter, so each time you notice it wandering or chattering, simply refocus your attention on your breath.
            This bare attention meditation, which can be conducted for as few as two minutes, helps to clarify and concentrate attention and relax the mindbody.  It is called a “bare attention” technique because it requires the practitioner to simply observe the breath as it is -- without imposing ideas, visualizing images, projecting wishes and aversions, or making judgments, assumptions, and evaluations.   Nearly all students become aware of the busyness of their own minds -- of the insistent mental chatter.  For some this is a surprise; for others, it is a fuller realization of a familiar phenomenon.  The first time the meditation is done, some students will notice that the chatter diminishes as the exercise proceeds.   Repeating and lengthening the meditation on subsequent occasions will deepen its effects, and more and more students will benefit.  The continual bringing back of the attention to the breath gradually builds concentration.  Students also discover powers of inner perception they didn’t know they had.  Many, for the first time, are able to experience subtle and complex bodily sensations, such as the movement of their nasal hairs, the blockage or free flow of air through their sinuses, the expansion and contraction of their chest muscles, the elasticity or tightness of their belly muscles, the changing rhythms of breathing.  This meditation is quite powerful when practiced for ten or more minutes.

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