Breathe in, knowing you are breathing in. Breathe out, knowing you are breathing out.
This injunction, said to come from the lips of the Buddha, is the instant recipe for bringing us, the mind and the body, together. It’s so simple. We know our minds are full of senseless chatter and we know, too, that we waste extraordinary amounts of energy chasing after rainbows – the gewgaws of modern existence. Yet we can cure much of that – all we need to do is stop and be still.
Breathe or not to breathe consciously
It’s funny, isn’t it? On the one hand, we can live without food for long periods and can even manage without water for a considerable time. There may be discomfort but there’s nothing life-threatening about short periods of hunger or thirst. On the other, breath is so vital that the absence of it can very quickly lead to unconsciousness, and possibly death.
In spite of that, we let our breathing take place in the background. “Breathing in, I didn’t notice. Breathing out, I didn’t notice that, either.” It’s an automatic process. So why should we bother to pay any special attention to it?
There are two main reasons:
- Being aware of the breath is good for your body and vitality
- Your mind becomes clearer and stronger
Conscious breathing strengthens the body
Few people breathe well. Most breathe in a fairly shallow way, where the air circulation is mainly in the top of the lungs. As we age, there is a tendency for lung capacity to reduce year on year, unless we do a lot of cardiovascular training or practise an art such as yoga, pranayama, qigong or tai chi. Reduced lung capacity is often associated with weakening of the body and poor health.
When we breathe consciously, there is a natural deepening of the breath. It isn’t necessary to do deep breathing exercises as such (although they can be enormously beneficial) – just bringing the awareness onto the inhalation has an effect.
…and calms the mind
How we feel from moment to moment hinges largely on the state of our mind. If the mind is erratic or cloudy, we don’t normally feel brilliant. But when the mind is calm, our window onto the world is clearer. Inside, we are more settled.
When we breathe consciously, the mind is naturally more peaceful. It can take a while, but it happens. This is particularly so on the out-breath. The inhalation calms the body, the exhalation calms the mind.
Body and mind at home together
Much of our chasing about in daily life is a wonderful way of avoiding who we are. The body may be here but the mind is not at home. To reverse this, we simply have to stop for a few moments. Notice the breath. Breathe and enjoy the feeling. Enjoy being with yourself. A few breaths will work wonders – and then we can carry on.
Over time, we may notice that during activity, we are conscious of the breath most of the time. That’s a longer project. Every now and again throughout the day, with awareness we just stop and breathe. Then we become present in our body and we are at home.
Doing too much? Take a look at The Art of Not Doing
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