(To get the most out of this post, read Mind Manacles & Mindfulness – The Basics before reading this post)
The breath is phenomenal. We can go weeks and weeks without food, days upon days without water; we can hardly go more than a minute without breath. Breathing is life. Our entire identity rests on breath. Without breath, we cease to exist. The word itself comes from Old English and Old High German which at that time meant ‘burn’ and ‘heat.’ We might say breath is the fire in our life, of our life.
When beginning mindfulness meditation, just get comfortable sitting; be aware of yourself sitting, then notice your normal, everyday, effortless, natural breathing; breathing is an autonomic process. It is automatic, involuntary, unconscious. We need not think about breathing at all to reap its fundamental benefits. Breathing is regulated from deeper regions of the brain. Breathing can also be consciously regulated. We can breathe deep or shallow, rapid or slow; we can hold our breath. Conscious regulation of breathing is a higher brain function. Conscious breathing, as a mindfulness practice, is an excellent object of awareness upon which to focus. It helps integrate the higher and deeper regions of the brain.
Sitting, comfortably, with nowhere to go and nothing to do, being aware of any thing, any object-of-awareness, any commentary going on in the mind, any disturbance or irritation, any feelings in the body, any mental imagery or dialogue, is basic mindfulness meditation. From there, the first object-of-awareness upon which to focus, calmly alert and attentive, is our autonomic breathing. Start with 5 minutes. Your attention, like an untrained puppy, will wander off; when that spark of awareness arises to remind you of what you are doing, you casually and without any real effort, refocus attention on autonomic breathing.
From that basic position, you can begin deep full conscious breathing. Consciously take a full, very full breath in, to the very top, filling your entire abdomen and chest areas, and then exhale slowly and fully, either through the mouth or nostrils, and even tighten the belly as you push out all the breath, and then breathe in fully filling your belly and your chest, and then exhale fully till empty, casually, comfortably, being aware of this conscious breathing. Do this very full in and very full out breathing a few times. Then, adopt the basic mindfulness position of being aware of the very comfortable, effortless automatic breathing that sustains you; of course, you may discover the ever shifting, moving, changing, internal objects-of-awareness arising. Be the naked sky observing the many thought clothed clouds.
Then, again, focus attention on the normal, regular, everyday breathing process. Feel it. Be with it. Feel the in breath occupying space in the belly and the chest; feel the out breath release, and release more. Breathe out through your mouth, or nose; notice the sensation. Breathe in through the nose, or mouth, and be attentive to the experience as it happens. One can spend some time just being consciously aware of normal everyday regular breathing rhythms. It can be pleasant, soothing and calming. The very deep in full breath, to the point of the belly and lungs being full to the top, and the very complete out full breath, tightening the belly and pushing out all breath at the end, is more about rejuvination, and purification. This kind of breathing is energizing and cleansing. A few minutes a day can go a long way.
With a little practice of conscious breathing regulation as outlined above, introduce holding the full breath for a moment at the peak of the in breath, and then holding the empty breath a moment before inhaling again. Establish a comfortable pace and enjoy riding the waves of breath.
With even more fluency in conscious breathing regulation, you can intentionally add audiovisual components as objects-of-awareness. You can visualize the breath, the process of breathing, in symbolic or representative form. A common image is of a micro thin fibrous etherical straw like hollow tube shape from the base of the spine to the top of the head. With every in breath, the shape expands; with every out breath, the shape contracts. The tube shape can have a color, a texture; it can have a sound. It is hollow inside.
In focused mindfulness meditation, sound can be soothing and calming. Typically referred to as ‘mantras’ sound is used to generate a particular state of mind. You know from everyday experience some sounds are soothing, some are grating. The same is true for what you see. Visual experience is also used in mindfulness meditation. The use of visual symbols as objects of awareness upon which to focus attention are historically referred to as ‘yantras.’ It you were to associate the imagery of a fibrous etherical straw tube-like hollow-inside shape from bottom of spine to top of head, and the sound of a waterfall, with conscious regulation of breathing, it would be a very compelling object-of-awareness, not to mention a refreshing experience.
Mindfulness meditation has an extended history along side Yoga. Mindfulness mediation, and breathing practices, are actually just components of a larger system of development, which is Yoga. Mindfulness meditation occupies the last few stages of Yoga. Breathing, and postures occupy more preliminary stages. Engaging in postures, traditionally refered to as ‘asanas’ and the many breathing practices, ‘pranayama,’ is rather easy, something to do, whereas mindfulness meditation is not doing anything other than being awareness, which is weightless. Awareness weighs nothing. There is no texture, no shape to it. Objects-of-awareness are rather weighty, heavy. They have gravity. Our thoughts, emotions and feelings, visceral ‘kinaesthetic’ experience, can be heavy, weighty. There is a gravity there. As on object, any object of awareness is susceptible to gravity. Awareness itself is without gravity; it is weightless. The ultimate realization that can come from mindfulness meditation is a complete shift from identity as heavy weighty objects-of-awareness to identity as weightless awareness itself without an object. A transformation from I am a….(object) -of awareness – to I am awareness, without an object; I am pure awareness.
So, introduce mindfulness meditation into your psychological hygiene. Take some time, half an hour, to be alone, sit comfortably, in a quiet place; be aware of the parade of objects-of-awareness in the container of your mind. Practice conscious regulation of breathing; impose audiovisual content, create an experience, as a compelling object-of-awareness, that is ever so comfortable, completely relaxing and utterly safe.
Read the subsequent post Mind Manacles & Mindfulness – The Audiovisuals