The Mindfulness of Breathing is the most basic of the meditation techniques that the Buddhists use to calm the mind and observe how it operates, and perhaps move towards achieving enlightenment. The definition or meaning of mindfulness is simply 'paying attention to' - in this case, your breath or breathing.
Meditation can of course be used by anybody, Buddhist or otherwise, and the Mindfulness of Breathing, being very simple, is perhaps the best place for most people to start. It is a very good technique for stress reduction and general relaxation, and with practise it is possible to relax yourself very quickly in any situation, not just when you are meditating.
This happens when you learn to take your own thoughts with a pinch of salt: after observing your own mind in meditation, you will begin to realise how it just thinks any old thing, really, whether it is sensible, helpful, or not. Thinking is what it does by default: sense and helpfulness in addition require awareness. Meditation for 10-20 minutes at a time, once or preferably twice a day, can help you achieve this.
Begin by sitting comfortably with your back upright if possible. You can use one of the traditional ‘lotus’ or cross-legged postures or just sit on a chair; it doesn’t matter as long as the position is comfortable enough not to be a distraction. It is best if the back is upright to help you to stay awake! Choose a particular pose, for example sitting with your right hand cupped in your left: this will help to condition your body to know when you intend to meditate. After a few times, when you get back into this pose, you will automatically slip into 'meditation mode' and your mind will quieten automatically and effortlessly (mostly!).
Close or partially close your eyes and gently pay attention to your breath as it enters and exits your nostrils. This is what the meditation focuses on. There is no need to control your breathing in any way: just observe it and feel the sensation of the breath in your nostrils as it enters and leaves your body.
Probably you will find that your mind, your inner verbal chit-chat, is very busy. Before you know it, you are no longer paying attention to your breathing but are thinking about this and that. This is what an untrained mind does. It can be extremely tempting to keep following these thoughts, but while doing the meditation exercise, you must not. As soon as you realise you are distracted, bring your attention back to your breathing and forget about those thoughts. Just drop them, and feel your breathing once more. If the thoughts are important, you will think them again. If they really are something vital, maybe make a quick note on a piece of paper and get back to the exercise. Mostly though, you will find that the thoughts are just day-to-day junk and will not be missed. Focus on your breathing.
Keep focused on your breathing, bringing your attention back to it every time you are distracted by your thoughts. Do this as many times as necessary. Gradually, your mind will begin to understand what you are trying to do and it will learn to calm down quickly.
You will find that as you do this and your mind quiets down, you experience a very deep sense of inner peace and relaxation; your thinking when you return to it is calm and clear for a while. This clarity will last for longer as you practise more, and is achieved just by controlling your mind and learning how it operates by observation of the way it distracts you when it is not controlled.
- When you have finished, sit quietly with your eyes closed for another minute or two, so that you can come back into normal daily life gently, without jarring yourself out of your relaxed state too quickly.