Breathing is a natural process of life for all humans, no matter what our religion, race or beliefs are. Breathing is something which is continually happening. Meditation is also recognizing that what we truly are is always present. In this way, breathing is used as a universal link to develop self-awareness of oneself.
This meditation technique uses our natural breath as an object of our attention. We direct and focus our attention on the sensations breathing creates within the body. We remain witnessing our natural breath, as it is. Initially, our attention will continuously wander away from witnessing the sensations of breathing. However, with practice we train our attention to remain concentrated on the natural breath, for longer periods of time. Another aspect of this technique is to witness our natural breath in a detached and non-judgmental way. By witnessing our breath in this way, we start to witness other experiences occurring within us such as bodily sensations, thoughts, feelings, states of mind and emotions. This develops self-awareness of aspects of our experiences which are normally happening unconsciously.
This technique anchors our attention into the body and into the present moment.
Developing concentration and self-awareness in a natural way.
Aware of our present moment experience.
STEP BY STEP PROCESS
This step by step method can be used for formal meditation sittings. This technique is also easy to apply in our everyday lives, as we can bring our attention to the breath in any situation. You may sit for however long you wish to. Meditating for 15-20 minutes once or twice a day is a good way to begin.
Sit in a comfortable posture, keeping your back naturally and effortlessly straight. You can practice cross legged, on chairs or using whatever support which makes you feel comfortable. Keep your fingers interlocked together or in any other hand posture. You may keep your hands placed on your lap. Gently close your eyes.
Initially, you may wish to relax your body using any relaxation exercise that you know. If not proceed to the next step.
Next take an initial deep inhalation and exhalation and see where you feel the sensations of breathing the most. This could be at the nostril area or naval area. Focus your attention on this area and be aware of the sensations of breathing occurring.
If you are observing the sensations of the breath at the nostril area, you may feel air touching the inner nostrils, tip of the nostrils or the area above the upper lip. If you are observing the sensations of the breath at the naval area, you may be aware of the area near the navel rise and fall with breathing. Fix your attention on a single area of the body and be watchful of your breathing process at this point.
If you are placing your attention at your naval area, you may wish to put one hand there, to help you initially feel the abdomen rise and fall with breathing.
Placing your attention at either the nostril or naval area, remain aware of your natural breath at that chosen area. Let your breathing be natural, observe your natural breath, coming in and going out. Don’t try to alter your breath. If you unconsciously start to alter your breath, be aware that you are doing so, relax, and allow the breath to return to its natural rhythm.
You may wish to count breaths, if you find it difficult to keep your attention fixed on the in and out breath. You may count breathing by, counting 1 after one inhalation and exhalation, counting 2 after the 2nd inhalation and exhalation, and so forth. Once you reach 10, restart back to 1. If your mind wanders and you lose your count, then return to 1. Once you can be aware of breathing up to 10, for a couple of cycles, you then observe your breath naturally without the aid of counting.
If you notice your attention has moved away from the breath, then recognise where your attention has moved to. If your attention has moved to thoughts, recognise that your attention has moved to thoughts. If your attention has moved to some bodily pain or other sensation, recognise that your attention has moved to such a sensation. Then gently bring your attention back to the breath.
When your attention wanders, you may return your attention to the breath straight away, or defocus your attention back on the entire body and then return to the breath.
To defocus your attention, keep your attention on feeling the entire body. Feel the sensations of breathing occurring within your entire body. Once you are alert, calm and balanced, return your attention back to the chosen area of the body where you are observing the sensations of breathing.
Continue witnessing your breath at your chosen area of attention (the nostrils or naval area). Once you can keep your attention fixed on the in and out breath, you will naturally recognise the subtler characteristics of breathing.
Breathing in, you are aware that you are breathing in.
Breathing out, you are aware that you are breathing out.
Breathing a short breath, you are aware that you are breathing a short breath.
Breathing a long breath, you are aware that you are breathing a long breath.
If the breathing process is slow, you are aware that the breathing process is slow.
If the breathing process is fast, you are aware that the breathing process is fast.
If you are breathing in or out from your left or right nostril, you are aware that you are breathing in or out from your left or right nostril.
If you are breathing in or out from both the nostrils, you are aware that you are breathing in or out from both the nostrils.
If your breathing is smooth and rhythmic, you are aware that your breathing process is smooth and rhythmic.
If your breathing is rough and irregular, you are aware that your breathing process is rough and irregular.
If your breathing is easily perceivable, you are aware that your breathing is easily perceivable.
If your breathing is subtle, you are aware that your breathing is subtle.
If there is a pause inbetween breaths, you are aware there is a pause inbetween breaths.
If your attention has moved away from breathing, you are aware your attention has moved away from breathing.
If your attention is concentrated on breathing, you are aware your attention is concentrated on breathing.
Whatever the breath is like in the present moment, you are aware.
You may also be aware of other bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings which are arising and passing within you in this moment. These may occur in the background, whilst you are aware of the breath. If this is your present moment experience, recognise this, seeing all experience in a detached and non-judgemental manner. If your attention is caught up in thoughts, bodily sensation, or emotions, then recognise that in this moment your attention is caught up in such objects. Then return your attention gently back to the breath.
Keep bringing you attention back to the breath.
Aware of the entire field of experience arise and pass, within awareness.
If your attention rests in awareness itself, recognise awareness naturally IS.
Awareness is the key, breath is our aid.
Finish your meditation at a set time. You can follow on with any other meditation technique if you wish.
SHORTENED STEP BY STEP PROCESS
1. Sit in a comfortable position, back straight and eyes closed.
2. Relax the body. Release all tensions in the body and mind (you may use a relaxation exercise).
3. Next take an initial deep inhalation and exhalation and see where you feel the sensations of breathing the most. This could be at the nostril or naval area.
4. Focus your attention on your chosen area of the body (nostrils or naval area) and observe the sensation of breathing occurring at this area.
5. Be aware of your natural breath. Initially, just be aware of the inhalation and exhalation. With practice you may be aware of other characteristics of the breath, such as long, short, deep, shallow, fast, slow, rough, smooth, rhythmic, irregular and natural pauses in the breathing process.
6. You may count your breathing, if you find it hard to keep your attention on the breath. (See guidelines).
7. If your attention moves away from the breath, then recognise that your attention has moved. Then gently return your attention to the breath.
8. Finish after a set time.
GUIDELINES FOR PRACTICE
You may sit on a chair, cross legged or in whatever way you find comfortable. Keep your back straight, but do not cause unnecessary strain in doing so. You could lean against a wall or on a chair if you wish. Close your eyes to stop your attention being distracted by external objects. If you need to change your posture whilst meditating, then do so slowly whilst aware of the movement of your body. Continually changing your posture affects the build-up of concentration.
Using Relaxation Techniques
Before you start the awareness of breathing meditation, you may wish to relax your body for a couple of minutes. This will help to get rid of tensions built up over the day in your body and mind. You may do this by any relaxation technique you know.
The smiling relaxation technique is a good way to relax your body. You do this by physically smiling and then allowing your whole being to smile within you. You then move your attention from head to feet, smiling and letting go off all tensions along the way. This could be done for 5 minutes. This smiling practice could also be used during your meditation, when you feel tension within your mind and body. You could use this technique for a couple of minutes and then return to the object of your meditation.
We may initially count our breathing, if we find it hard to concentrate on our natural breathing alone. This is to be used as a tool to help concentration. However, it shouldn’t be used once you have attained a certain degree of concentration on your object. This is because you may become concentrated on just counting and not being aware of your natural breath.
You may count breathing by, counting 1 after one inhalation and exhalation, counting 2 after the 2nd inhalation and exhalation, and so forth. Once you reach 10, restart back to 1. If your mind wanders and you lose your count, then return to 1. Once you can be aware of breathing up to 10, for a couple of cycles, you then observe breathing naturally without the aid of counting.
Sensations of breathing
In this meditational practice, we are aware of the sensations which the breathing process creates in our bodies. If we keep our attention on the nostrils area, we may feel the sensations of air touching the inner nostrils and thus we know we are breathing in. If we keep our attention on the naval area, we may feel the abdomen expand and thus we know we are breathing in. In this way we know that we are breathing in, out, a short breath, a long breath, a pause etc. We may also be aware of other sensations such as the temperature of breath, the pressure of air, expansion, contraction, pain, numbness, tingling etc. Remain aware of whatever sensations you experience.
If you cannot feel your breath, then put your hand on your naval area and be aware of the rise and fall of the abdomen. As your concentration increases you can observe breath at the nostrils area. You may wish to make the area of concentration smaller with practice, such as the tip or rim of the nostrils, or a coin sized area near the naval. This will increase your concentration. If you feel concentration is making you tense, defocus your attention and observe sensations on a larger area of the body.
Using natural breathing
Do not try to alter your breathing. If you find yourself altering your breathing, then relax and defocus your attention onto a larger area. You may find yourself altering the breath many times at first. Recognise that you are altering your breath, be it consciously or unconsciously. Recognise the characteristics of unnatural breathing, such a heaviness, irregularities and agitation. With practice observe natural breathing, as it is.
Following the breath
You may wish to follow the sensations your breathing creates in the body, or you may wish to fix your attention to a fixed area of your body (e.g. nostrils or naval). Let your breathing be natural. We observe the sensations of inhalation moving from the nostrils to the windpipe, then the lungs, and ending with the rise of the abdomen area. Then observing the sensations of exhalation from the naval, to the chest, and then to the nostril and upper lip area. The three points of observation are the nostril, chest and naval area. You could also just observe the breath at the nostril and naval area. You may choose to follow the breath in this way for some time and then return to naturally observing your breath at a fixed point.
This way of following the breath is helpful when you are tense from over concentrating at a fixed point. You may switch to this way of observing the breath whenever you feel like. It may not deepen your concentration as much as focusing your attention at a fixed point does. However, we continue to be aware of the natural breath and the sensations it creates in the body, in the present moment.
Concentration and witnessing the breath
Initially, we consciously have to remind ourselves to be aware of our breath. We find effort is required to keep the attention on the breath. Each time our attention moves to thoughts, sensations or other experiences, we first have to recognize that our attention has moved to such an experience before we can return it to the breath. We then gently return our attention back to the breath, witnessing the breath come in and go out. We may find that our attention once again moves to some other experience and gets caught up in it. As soon as we notice this, we bring our attention back to the breath.
Concentration develops by constantly bringing the attention back to the breath, as soon as we recognize our attention is grasping onto some other experience. With practice, we can recognize that the attention has wandered in a shorter period of time and find ourselves able to witness the breath for longer periods of time. Once this quality of witnessing our breath becomes stable, we may extend this quality of witnessing onto whatever our present moment experience may be. We are able to witness other experiences such as bodily sensations, feelings, thoughts, states of mind and emotions. The object of witnessing becomes whatever experience the attention touches on. We learn to witness without identification, judgment or reaction. If we find we unconsciously start to identify and react to experiences, as soon as we notice this tendency, we return to detached witnessing. Conscious witnessing of experiences is a step toward recognising the effortless and ever-present awareness within.
Through insight, we discover that there is no separate “I” who is consciously witnessing the breath or other experiences. We recognise that the breath and all other experiences are occurring within awareness or perception itself. This sense of a separate “I” also occurring within awareness or perception itself. This boundless and indefinable sense of awareness is present right now.
(SEE FOR YOURSELF: the key is to return the attention to the SEEING, PERCEIVING, AWARENESS itself, not aware of something, but aware of the awareness itself.)
Strong emotions and states of mind
If you are experiencing strong emotions or unwholesome states of mind in which you can’t observe your breath. Then recognise whatever state you are experiencing and label that experience. If you are experiencing anger, say to yourself that anger is arising, is present, and has passed away. Labelling these strong emotions and states of mind will help you to just observe these experiences without identifying and reacting to them.
Don’t become frustrated if you cannot keep your attention on your breathing. Recognise and mentally label that you are experiencing frustration in this moment. Then relax your attention and defocus your attention onto the entire body. Feel the sensations of breathing occurring in the entire body. Once you are alert, calm and balanced, return your attention back to the chosen area of the body where you are observing the sensations of breathing. Do the same if your attention wanders into strong tendencies of identification and reaction to your sensations, thoughts, mental states and emotions. You may also try relaxing your mind and body by practicing a relaxation exercise for a short period of time. When you are ready, you may return to awareness of the natural breath.
Noting is a technique which helps us objectify the objects of our experience by mentally labelling them. This helps us to be objectively aware of our experience, without continuously being unconsciously identified and caught up in the objects of our experience.
We may use noting to mentally label the sensations of breathing, sensations in the body, feelings, emotions, states of mind and thoughts.
Examples of labels we may use when observing breath include; in, out, rising, falling, pause, long, short, natural, unnatural, pressure, heat, expansion, contraction, amongst many others.
Examples of labels we may use when observing body include; hot, cold, tension, vibrations, expansion, contraction, lightness, heaviness, itching, sharp pains, burning, throbbing, numbness, pressure, tensions, solidified sensation, amongst many others.
Examples of labels we may use when observing feeling tone include; pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.
Examples of labels we may use when observing states of mind and emotions include; happy, sad, bored, dull, alert, concentrated, scattered mind, judgemental, non-judgmental, reactive, detached, attached, calm, peaceful, agitated, frustration, identified, tense, wandering, anger, pity, pride, courage, timidity, patience, stress, hope, despair, caution, rashness, shame, security, envy, appreciation, negative, positive, confusion, clarity, expectation, imagining, investigative, fear, worry, desire, shame, bliss, sleepiness, self-loathing, subtle, gross, tired, craving, aversion, acceptance, compassion, ecstasy, joy, stillness, surrender, amongst many others.
Examples of labels we may use when observing thoughts include; thinking, wandering, anticipating, planning, visualising, caught up in thoughts, linking thoughts, amongst many others.
Examples of labels we may use when observing the entire field of experience include; arising, present, and passing.
We may also mentally label sounds and our outer environment as it passes within our awareness.
We use this technique by mentally labelling an object of our present moment experience, as we become aware of it and mentally recognize it. We may not be able to give a certain sensation or experience a definite label. We may then generalise the objects as a “body sensation”, “feeling”, “emotions”, ”states of mind”, ”wandering”, “identifying”, “reacting” and ”thoughts”.
We may use this technique of noting whenever we feel it may be necessary. This could be when we find ourselves unconsciously identifying and reacting to objects of our experiences. You may wish to label everything or just objects which you easily identify with. The dangers of this technique are that we might feel too tense trying to label every object within our experience, or we may be robotically labelling without paying attention to the true nature of our present moment experience. If this is the case, return to natural observation without using noting or with minimal use. Experiment with this technique and use it in balance with the other methods.
You may find this technique useful during daily life also. You can practice this in daily life by mentally labelling your outer environmental experiences such as sounds, temperature, smells, amongst other. You may also label your postures, the act of walking, and eating. You may label your physical actions such as “grasping”, “pushing” etc. You may label the sensations you feel in your body, states of mind you experience, thoughts, and emotions throughout your day.
Noting in this way may help you to witness experiences without unconsciously identifying and reacting to them. This leads to the quality of witnessing our present moment experiences in a detached and non-judgmental manner. This brings conscious awareness to the unconscious beliefs we identify and react to. Leading us to the insight, that all experiences arises, stays for some time and then passes.
All experience is temporary and constantly changing in nature, occurring within awareness or perception itself.
Beginners may start practicing meditation for 15-20 minutes a day. You may wish to practice for longer periods of time, as your meditation deepens. You may wish to keep a stopwatch or alarm to alert you once you have meditated for a set time. Practicing formal sitting early in the morning is beneficial and also when you do not have a full stomach. You could also bring your attention to your breath at any time during your daily life.
Initially, you will find it may take some time for your mind to settle and your attention to focus just on the breath. There are no hard rules to how long you need to practice and how often. However, you will find your concentration steadily increases with the frequency of practice, even if they are of shorter periods. Through regular practice in sitting meditation and during daily life, you will find yourself witnessing your present moment experiences in a balanced and non-judgmental. This quality of witnessing experiences, seeing experiences arise and pass within awareness, makes a remarkable difference to ones perspective of oneself.
The benefits of using natural breathing as an object for meditation, is that it can be practiced at any time and in any situation. We can be aware of our natural breath when we are walking. We can be aware of our natural breath when we are lying down. We can be aware of our natural breath when we are doing some action. We can be aware of our natural breath when we are experiencing unwholesome states of mind, such as anger, jealousy, greed, fear etc. We can be aware of our natural breath when we are experiencing wholesome states of mind, such as joy, peace, love, compassion etc. We can be aware of our breath in any situation, at any time. Being aware of the breath, we become self-aware of the experiences occurring within us.
During your practice and in daily life, notice if you become identified and attached to any pleasurable states or unpleasurable states that you may experience. If these states are pleasurable, just recognise that they feel pleasurable. If these states are unpleasant, just recognise they feel unpleasant. Whatever you experience, just be aware, do not force it to happen or suppress it. If you become identified and cling to some experiences and suppress others, recognise this. Witness all these experiences in a detached and non-judgemental way, knowing that all experience is temporary and changing in nature. Alert, Alive, Aware.
Only when we are constantly aware of our present moment experience, do we come to deeper insights into ourselves.
Awareness is present in each moment.
Subtler aspects of breathing and of oneself
The more we are able to be with our breath, the more we discover the subtler aspects of our breath. Initially, we are aware of the natural inhalation, exhalation and pauses of our breath. We feel the gross sensations of air touching the inner nostrils or our chest and naval area rising and falling as we inhale and exhale. The more our attention becomes fixed on the breath, the more we become aware of the subtler aspects of breath. Once we can stay with the sensations of the in and out breath at a fixed area for some time, we may become aware of the other characteristics of breath. These include;
1. Aware of the entire inhalation and exhalation of the breath
2. Aware of the pauses of breath after inhalation and exhalation.
3. Aware of the length (short or long), depth (deep or shallow), Speed (fast or slow), and quality (smooth or irregular) of our breath.
4. Aware if our breath is moving from the right, left or both nostrils. Also, being aware that the nostrils we predominately breathe through changes with time.
5. Aware of sensations such as pressure, temperature, expansion, contraction, and tingling sensations within the body. For example, we may feel the air that passes through our nostrils is warmer on the exhalation. We also may be aware of the contraction and expansion of the body as we breathe and the pressure this creates within our body.
6.Aware of other experiences which may arise in the moment – we may find our attention moves to other experiences such as stimuli from the five senses, thoughts, sensations, feelings, states of mind, or emotions. Witness these experiences come and go in a detached and non-judgmental way. They are temporary and constantly changing in nature.
7. Aware of unconscious identification and reaction to experiences – we may find ourselves unconsciously identifying and reacting to certain experiences, thus limiting our ability to witness experiences. If we notice this, try to witness these tendencies as they arise, are present and pass. Through constant investigation, you will be able to recognise and witness these tendencies in a detached and non-judgmental way. These tendencies to unconsciously identify and react to experiences are also temporary and constantly changing in nature.
8. Aware of the relationship of breath and the mind– we may find irregular, fast and short breathing usually relates to tensions in the body, negative states of mind and with emotions such as anger, fear etc. We will find our body-mind relaxes with deeper, slower regular rhythmic breathing and experience positive states of mind and emotions.
9. Aware of the movement of energy within our body as we breathe. We discover that we are breathing in and out life energy. The breath is our energetic connection to the deeper aspects of ourselves and the entire existence. We become aware as we breathe in and out there is a constant flow of energy, between ourselves and our environment. We become aware of the circulation of this energy within our bodies and our surroundings. This could be the feeling of energy collect at the naval area and moving upwards along the spine.
10. Aware of the subtle gaps between breaths – this is the pause after inhalation and the pause after exhalation. Witnessing this gap, we are still, entirely present, aware.
11. Aware of the subtler aspects of ourselves through direct intuitive experience. We may discover many insights into the whole sphere of our gross to subtle existence.
12. Aware of our beingness/presence/existence/“I”ness/consciousness/I Am
This intuitive sense of “I”, is the sense that we feel and know that we are existing in this moment. In this moment, we know we are existing, beyond labels that “I am this or I am that”. This sense of existence, aliveness, Iness, beingness, presence is always present. However, we usually associate this with our self-images, memories, experiences, expectations, thoughts, sensations, emotions, attention, and intentions.These may be relative aspects of who we are, but here we are turning our attention back onto the essence of who we are. Here, the attention rests in the underlying existence which is not separate from life. It is life itself. You are life itself.
TRY IT NOW:
- In this moment, rest your attention into this intuitive feeling and knowing that you are existing, you are alive, the sense that I AM . Just simply being, unassociated presence, present in this moment.
- Feel and know you are life itself, living in this moment. Feel and know you are existence itself, existing in this moment. Intuitively feel this. Intuitively know this. If you find it difficult to come to the direct feeling of one’s existence then mentally repeat statements such as “I AM”, “I AM existing”, “I AM present here and now”, “I AM that I AM”, “ I AM life itself”, “ beyond I am this or that, I simply AM”. Repeating these mental affirmations will help to bring one’s attention to the natural feeling of existing. This natural feeling is not a thought, but a feeling which we all intuitively feel and know. Once your attention is resting in this natural feeling and knowingness, you can drop the mental affirmations and just stay with the feeling connection.
- If your attention moves to objects such as sounds, thoughts, bodily sensations, or emotions. Recognize that your attention has moved to some experience. See all experiences come and go within awareness. Then bring your attention back to the intuitive feeling and knowing that you exist, that I AM. You may be aware of thoughts arising that “I am this” or “I am that”, just watch these thoughts of who you think you are, they are just thoughts, see them come and go in your awareness. Just feel the sense of your unassociated being. Simply be. You are life existing here and now.
- Keep bringing your attention back to this unassociated sense of existing, in the present moment. Rest in this natural state of being, either through the direct feeling connection or through mental affirmations. Rest your attention, in this sense of existence or I AM which is ever present. Recognise that you are existence itself.
13. Awareness itself – awareness or perception is naturally present in each moment. All conscious and unconscious awareness occurs within this boundless awareness itself. All experience occurs within awareness, all phenomena occurs within this awareness. Without this substratum of awareness or perception, there could be no sense of experience.
In this self-inquiry, we rest our attention into this natural and ever present awareness or perception itself. This leads to recognising that in essence, we are the awareness itself. The sense of being an individual “I”, separate from the whole also occurs within awareness itself. Awareness Is, changeless, without any definition.
Initially, we intentionally bring our attention back to this formless awareness. However, our attention will naturally move and grasp onto experiences. We may feel that we lose this boundless awareness as we identify with some phenomena, thus localising this awareness. Through insight we recognise that the movement of attention, experiences, identification and the sense of a separate “I”, all occur within this boundless awareness. Remaining as the awareness itself, no matter what the present moment experience may be. Awareness is the changeless substratum in which all change arises and passes within. Just Be. Just Aware.
TRY IT NOW:
- In this moment, bring your attention to this sense of just being aware. Not being aware of something. But just the awareness, looking, seeing, or perceiving itself, present in this moment. Just aware.
- If your attention moves to some experience, bring your attention back to this formless and boundless awareness itself. Awareness present in this moment. Keep resting your attention in the awareness itself.
- Through insight one recognises that in essence, one is the awareness itself. All experiences (stimuli from the five senses, thoughts, sensations etc.) may come and go within this awareness. The sense of individuality also occurs within awareness itself. This sense of unassociated existence or beingness also occurs within awareness itself.
Recognise this boundless awareness is ever-present. Experiences may arise and pass. Identification and reaction to experiences may arise and pass. The sense of individuality may arise and pass. The sense of oneness may arise and pass. Everything can arise and pass within this awareness, this awareness is the essence of who you are. Look deeply and see for yourself, who is the one seeing.
Insight and developing Wisdom
Insight is when we become aware of some aspect of reality, by seeing reality as it is. We gain wisdom by applying this insight to our present moment experience and acting from this wisdom in daily life in our thoughts, speech and actions.
These meditation techniques are just tools to bring ones attention back onto oneself. To discover and recognise that truth of who you are, the truth that is ever present. Here are some key insights which you may contemplate upon or discover through your own insight.
To recognise your attention is continually moving and grasping onto objects of your present moment experience. This could be the breath, stimuli from the five outer senses (sounds etc), other bodily sensations, thoughts, states of mind and emotions.
To recognise the tendency to unconsciously identify and react to experiences.
To recognise all experiences are temporary and changing in nature.
To recognise everything in our experience arises, stays for some time, and eventually passes. All experience arises, stays for some time, and passes away in pure choiceless awareness.
To recognise this changeless state of existing, presence, beingness or the sense of I AM which is always present in this very moment. This unassociated sense of being is changeless, ever-present, without definition.
To feel and know you are existence itself, existing in this moment.
To recognise the sense of “I” as a separate individual also occurs within awareness.
Rest as the awareness itself, in this very moment.