The point of mindfulness meditation practice is to cultivate awareness and peace, but beginners often get side-tracked by worrying about the breath. They wonder if there’s a “right way” to breathe during meditation. Common concerns include: Should I breathe like I always do? Should I inhale and exhale through my mouth or nose? Should the air fill my lungs or my belly?
Most meditation experts recommend that you allow your body to breathe naturally. If your breathing is shallow, just let it be shallow; if it is deep, let it be deep. As an optional exercise, some encourage you to take several deep breaths to start with. You might breathe in through your nostrils and breathe out through your mouth. This optional initial exercise helps clear the mind and keep you grounded and focused throughout your meditation practice.
Breathing During Meditation – Breathe Naturally
Find a spot away from daily distractions. Make sure your family and friends know that you need some private time for meditation. It’s very important to find a comfortable position to start with. Sitting is the most natural meditation position; you can sit on a chair, meditation cushion or bench as long as your back is straight.
You may close your eyes or keep them open, depending on your preference. While it might be easier to concentrate with your eyes shut, keeping them open is the best long-term strategy. “Open” is really half open, because your gaze is directed down and in front of you. Some traditional instructions suggest that you imagine a line that follows the slope of your nose and then continues for about a foot – you settle your gaze on the imaginary spot where the imaginary line ends. In meditation we work with accepting everything as it is, which includes your sense perceptions – sights and sounds. Closing the eyes can create an artificial sense of being outside your body or being in a dreamlike state. Remember, in mindfulness practice we’re trying to be here, present – not somewhere else. So use your judgment. You can initially close your eyes to find your focus and reduce distractions, but over time keeping them open will support and deepen your understanding of your mind.
When you feel settled, you may choose to use an initial deep breathing meditation exercise to relax. Breathe in deeply through your nose for at least three seconds and hold it in for a further two seconds. Next, exhale for at least four seconds through the mouth. You can repeat this exercise a couple of times if you’d like. Next, gradually transition into natural breathing. If your nasal passages are clear, you should breathe through your nose. The mouth should be closed or slightly open. During meditation you should let your body, breath and mind be as they are while maintaining awareness.
What is mindfulness of breathing?
Mindfulness simply refers to paying close attention to what is happening in the moment. It involves discovering the richness of the present moment rather than fretting about past or future events. It’s quite easy to get caught up in worrying thoughts, which often culminate in stress, depression or anxiety, or in distracting thoughts about everyday things, such as fantasizing about what you’ll be having for dinner while you’re still at work. Then, when you’re home having dinner, you’re worried about the next day’s to-do list. According to Tsony Francis Devroux, a well-known guide who travels the world teaching meditation and philosophy, by introducing us to the richness of the present, a daily meditation practice allows us to develop a spirit of contentment – the main source of a more lasting and dependable happiness.
Mindful breathing during meditation requires paying close attention to the process of inhalation and exhalation. Notice the sensations that flow through the body as you breathe, sense how your belly moves up and down. When your mind wanders away from the breath, bring it back gently but firmly. This is bound to happen – noticing it and choosing to remain mindful is the practice.
Experts suggest that practicing mindfulness for even 15 minutes a day can make a huge difference in your quality of life. The benefits of meditation are very motivating. Trungram Gyalwa, PhD, breaks these benefits down in his Mind Talk, saying that a contented mind appreciates more, makes better decisions and has a better, more positive perception of the world.
Trungram Gyalwa further explains that whichever meditation method you choose, the benefits that accrue are unquestionable. A calm mind is happier and more peaceful. Although the deepest progress will manifest gradually, some of the benefits appear very quickly. It’s important to commit to a short meditation practice initially – this builds a consistent habit. Even two minutes or five minutes is a good start. For more information on meditation on the breath, read here.
The benefits of meditation can be summarized in one word: joy.
Now that you know how to breathe properly during meditation, try it more often! You can learn to listen to your breath. The more you train your mind, the better you become. Join a group! Or try an online beginner’s mindfulness class. Remember: practice makes perfect!