Why Breath Meditation is Not Only for Beginners
What are the Benefits of Advanced Breathing Meditation?
Most people who are new to meditation are instructed to begin with mindfulness of breath. The breath is a convenient point of focus for meditation, because it’s always with us. But breath meditation is not only for beginners. In fact, it can be quite an advanced practice. If you’re learning how to focus on your breath during meditation, understanding the depths of where this practice might take you can inspire long-term practice.
What Does it Mean to be Advanced in Meditation?
The term advanced generally refers to someone who is further along in their progress than most other people. If you’re an advanced meditator, you likely meditate often and you’ve been doing it for several years. Scientific studies on the benefits of meditation generally classify beginners as those with fewer than 100 hours of meditation experience, while lifelong, consistent meditators may have completed upwards of 10,000 hours of practice. Most advanced meditators fall somewhere between the two.
While some benefits of meditation are readily available to beginners, such as reduced activity in the amygdala, improved focus, and subtle improvements in markers of aging, other benefits are reserved for those who’ve spent more time in meditation.
Mindfulness of the breath is a calming, relaxing meditation practice. When our attention is focused on breath, we’re immersed in the present moment. This keeps us free from ruminating about the past or worrying about the future, which is very relaxing. The practice of noticing when the mind has wandered from the breath and subsequently returning trains us in stabilization. A stable mind is a relaxed mind, more resilient and free from reactivity.
But stabilizing the mind and activating calm is not all that breath meditation can do. The more time we spend in meditation, the greater the benefits we receive. Studies of those who’ve spent at least 1,000 hours in meditation have revealed the following benefits:
- Improved focus and more accurate and efficient use of working memory
- Quicker ability to recover from moments of acute stress
- Stronger introspective awareness which leads to improved emotional regulation
Those with 10 years or more of consistent practice reap the following benefits:
- Increased amygdala and prefrontal cortex connectivity prevents anxiety and depression
- Shrinkage in areas of the brain responsible for attachment and grasping
- Significantly improved retention of grey matter despite aging
- Lower basal heart rate and blood pressure
As practice surpasses the 10,000 hour mark, the brains of lifetime meditators show significant changes, even when they’re sleeping or awake but not meditating. This suggests that in long-term meditators, beneficial meditation states have become permanent traits.
Breath Meditation For Advanced Practitioners
To advance your practice of breath meditation, spend more time meditating. Make meditation part of your daily routine, and periodically make intensive or extended sessions a priority, such as going on retreat.
- Gradually extend the length of each meditation session
- Meditate daily. If you do so already, try twice daily
- Insert brief, but more frequent meditation breaks throughout your day
- Periodically spend 24 hours or more in a meditation retreat
You’ll know your breath meditation practice is advancing when less effort is required to stabilize the mind and your mindfulness becomes more fine tuned. Mindfulness of breath often begins with instructions on paying attention to gross-level sensation in the body alongside an awareness of when the mind has wandered from breath. Once we’ve established a steady foundation, we can fine tune our attentiveness. Less concerned with whether or not we’re still paying attention, we can begin to address how we’re paying attention.
Having stabilized the mind at increasingly more subtle levels, effort relaxes further, allowing us to balance our mindfulness with awareness. We might use breath as a tool for compassion practice, or partner mindfulness of breath with awareness of interdependence or impermanence.
Meditating on the breath is more than just a great place to start, it’s a complete path to awakening should we choose to follow it as far as we can. Where to start following your breath, you ask? Try our online meditation courses for beginners and advanced practitioners alike.