“Meditation is to be aware of every thought and of every feeling, never to say it is right or wrong, but just to watch it and move with it. In that watching, you begin to understand the whole movement of thought and feeling. And out of this awareness comes silence”
Quote by Jiddu Krishnamurti
Breathing provides us with a unique opportunity for healing because breath is something that is with us all the time, every moment. It does not matter whether we are awake or asleep, working or sitting, lying down or doing something active—the opportunity to train in and be aware of breath is always with us when practicing mindful breathing meditation.
When we speak of breath we are speaking of the ordinary inhalation and exhalation of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Breath is physiological and psychological conditioned behavior and a voluntary action. It is a dynamic, multifaceted and vital function of the body. Physiologically, breathing occurs automatically based upon the metabolic demands of the body. Breath is also influenced by our psychological condition, our perceptions and emotions. We each have a particular emotional temperament, which may be influenced by genetics, our family environment and our life experiences. Because of these variables our breathing rate, depth and quality change in reaction to emotions. When we think about something in the past that upsets us or anticipate something exciting in the future or experience a challenging situation in the moment. The voluntary control of breathing is an important and unique characteristic of the body. What other visceral functions are we able to directly control? None! We can hold our breath or breathe faster or slower at any time by choice. Why does this control matter? It matters because breathing is the link between our inner and outer experiences, we take air from the outside world into the body with every inhalation.
When we are at rest, abdominal breathing is generally considered the healthiest pattern. Abdominal breathing primarily relies upon the contraction and relaxation of the muscle beneath the lungs called the diaphragm. The diaphragm pulls air into the lower part of the lungs. However, when our bodies need more oxygen, such as during strenuous exercise, our body may involuntarily supplement abdominal breathing with thoracic breathing. In thoracic breathing, air is pulled into the upper part of the lungs. As the name suggests, thoracic breathing comes from the accessory breathing muscles in the upper chest and rib cage rather than the diaphragm. Thoracic breathing is shallower and faster than abdominal breathing and often includes active or forced exhalation. The passive relaxation of the diaphragm is accompanied by active contraction of additional muscles that forces the air out of the lungs, rather than simply allowing the diaphragm to relax, as during abdominal breathing. In other words, in thoracic breathing, we are contracting muscles to exhale, rather than just allowing a contracted muscle to relax. To experience these two styles of breathing, try these mindful breathing meditation techniques: Place one hand on your belly and the other hand on your heart. Now take a deep breath. Did you feel your rib cage elevate and expand? That is thoracic breathing (exaggerated by the deep inhalation). Now take in a deep breath but concentrate on not moving your rib cage. Instead, slightly push your stomach out into your hand. Try to breathe so that the hand placed over your heart does not move. This is an abdominal breathing technique. Repeat this a few times, exploring the subtleties of the muscle groups working, until you can feel the difference.
If we examine the body and mind carefully, we notice a connection between breath and how we feel. When your breath is calm and relaxed, you can notice that the body’s energy is also calm, especially in the areas of the abdomen, lungs and chest. As a result, the mind becomes clear and we feel relaxed and even-tempered after undertaking mindful breathing meditation exercises. We feel that we can take things as they come and that we are capable of dealing with whatever life brings us. On the other hand, when we are emotionally upset, we may notice that we breathe harder and faster, or that we are unable to inhale deeply and exhale fully. We notice a sense of pain, heaviness, or dullness in the abdomen and chest area, or even throughout the whole body, and that the mind is agitated by thoughts or overpowered by emotion. This overpowering energy manifests in all sorts of neurotic ways, such as depression, obsession, fear of intimacy, fear of trust, or feelings of grandiosity or inadequacy. Research has associated breathing patterns with specific emotional states —and it has also shown that we can influence our emotions by the way we breathe. In addition, Western medicine connects our psychological state with respiratory alkalosis. Respiratory alkalosis is associated with a lower pain threshold, with feelings of discomfort and agitation, and with imbalances such as anxiety and fatigue —all the result of less efficient oxygen delivery to the tissues and organs, including the brain.
The Positive Effect of Mindful Breathing Meditation
Western science and Buddhist philosophy agree that calm, relaxed breathing makes us healthier. Because to breathe is such an excellent and abundant support for life and vitality for every being on the planet. Everyone can benefit from training in how to breathe, working with the inhalation and exhalation. We have shown how breath is the main support for life, also why practicing is essential for achieving peace of mind for oneself, which further enables us to help and support those around us thanks to mindful breathing meditation. Finally, we have said that it is through training our energy that we can heal and release all physical and mental suffering completely. Ultimately, this is the experience of realization. It is said in the Buddhist teachings that there is no human being who does not wish for happiness, but among all those beings who are wishing for happiness, it is extremely rare to meet a person who actually knows how to find it. From the point of view of the Buddhist scriptures, an ordinary healthy being takes about 21,600 breaths in a twenty-four-hour period. Western medicine also says that the average number of breaths per day is around 21,000. If we practice mindfulness and appreciate breath training, we have an incredible number of opportunities to balance the body and mind every day. When we recognize the opportunity that training provides, we give ourselves a gift, the opportunity to transcend ordinary suffering.
A positive effect of practicing mindful breathing meditation is that the number of times we need to breathe in one day lessens. We may notice this when we sit down to meditate and become mindful our breath, there will be gaps of time where we do not need to breathe. In the case of accomplished or realized practitioners who have trained in any style of breath practice from one of the traditions of Asia, including Qigong, Tai Chi, and Yantra Yoga, the number of breaths taken in one hour can become very few. The result of such practice is clarity and peace of mind, and unshakable physical health. Why is this? Western medicine answers this question in part by noting that ill people need to breathe more often than healthy ones.
When we have the qualities of calm and relaxation in body, speech and mind, we are able to accomplish more and with better-designed plans. We make clear and thoughtful decisions and have more harmonious relationships. We avoid doing things that are at odds with our personal goals and integrity, and do not sabotage our own growth. We avoid making impulsive decisions or speaking impulsive words, ones we may regret later. When we lack chaos on the inside the world outside reflects our sense of inner harmony thanks to the wonderful practice of mindful breathing meditation.