Meditation is usually aimed at developing inner peace and calming the mind. Although many people have trouble clearing their minds, focusing on your breathing technique can help reduce undesired distractions during meditation. It is best to not force or change your breathing in a particular way – there is no one correct way of meditative breathing. Just relax and watch your breath. Working on your breathing will help you handle stress and anxiety much better. It’ll also help you shield the persistent negative emotions and temper flares that constantly pop up. Over time, your ability to concentrate for longer timespans will improve immensely.
Follow this simple procedure to improve your breathing during meditation:
1. Look for a quiet place
It’s important to meditate in a space that’s devoid of distracting odors or loud noises. Places with too many colors or decorations for many people are also a no-no. The best place to meditate is indoors since there’s less distracting sounds. If you prefer breathing in fresh air, you can also choose to meditate outside. Make sure you get a space away from cars, people and the general buzz.
2. Find a comfortable seat
You should sit upright for meditation, whether you sit on a chair or a cushion doesn’t matter. It’s crucial to find a surface that will offer you an upright sitting position while remaining relaxed. Do breathing meditation in a posture that you can hold comfortably for your entire session. Therefore, ensure that the seat you choose is comfortable enough to help you concentrate. Sit towards the front of a hard backed chair with a thin cushion or blanket, support your back without leaning back. If you sit on the floor, use a mat with a cushion, adjusted to your height so your knees are below your hips. If you perform yoga, your yoga mat will provide a good surface but you’ll probably need to add a cushion. You can also use a folded up towel or blanket if all other options are unavailable.
3. Eliminate distractions
Your cell phone should either be off or in silent mode during meditation. Make sure you avoid anything that’s bound to make a noise. If you have people over, ask them to excuse you for some time so you can meditate. As much as you love your pets, don’t make them an exception during meditation time. Lock them in a different room where they won’t come to distract you.
Create a distraction-free environment that will help you relax and make your meditation easier. This will go a long way in improving your breathing technique.
4. Count your breaths
After setting up a good posture and eliminating external distractions as best you can, commence by sitting in a comfortable position. Straighten your back and simply cross your legs in front of you. Start to pay attention while you inhale and then exhale.
It is best not to try to time your breathing but to simply let your breath be natural. While focusing on your breath, when you notice a distracting thought arises simply be aware of that and bring your attention back to the breath.
It is often very helpful for beginners to count your breath. Count at the end of each exhalation. Count one cycle of inhalation and exhalation as one, the next as two, up to ten. When you reach ten start over with the next breath as one. The goal is not to be proficient in counting or make a game out of reaching a high number, but to simply foster mindfulness.
5. Watch your breath
After you’ve counted for some time, you can relax this technique and simply watch your breath. While you can watch both inhalation and exhalation, it is best to just focus just on the exhalation. When you exhale it has the quality of relaxation and letting go, whereas the inbreath often has more of a feeling of pulling in and holding on. Focusing on the airy quality of the outbreath helps you let go and notice a more spacious quality of your mind. As before, if you notice you’re thinking, simply return your attention to the next outbreath. If you find you get too distracted, you can also return for some time to counting your breath as before.
6. Notice your body
As you watch your breath, also be aware of how your different muscles and body parts feel while you meditate. Feel the way your muscles expand, your diaphragm shifts and your body gently moves as you breathe in and out.
Having an awareness of your body is a perfect complement to watching your breath, which helps to focus your mind and avoid too many distracting thoughts. If you like, you can choose to concentrate and do a body scan. Start with one part of your body and focus your awareness on each part as you move throughout your whole body. Then return to your breathing as before.
7. Tame your wandering thoughts
This is probably the most crucial and most misunderstood part of meditation. The goal is not to get rid of thoughts but to become aware of them with gentle mindfulness. This is the biggest misconception that beginners face – often people say they can’t meditate because they are thinking more than they do in regular life. In fact what is happening is that, perhaps for the first time, you’re noticing your thoughts. This simple noticing is very important and the first discovery in meditation. How can you tame your thoughts if you’ve never noticed the extent of them? Once again, when you notice your thoughts, simply return your attention to the next breath.
Practicing these breathing techniques will improve the effectiveness of your meditation by enhancing your concentration. This will consequently lead to improved sleep, reduced blood pressure, decreased anxiety and a myriad of other health benefits, as well as more self-awareness.
For more information on breathing meditation, read here. Download the Mindworks Mindfulness Meditation App for access to teachings from great instructors on how to meditate.