Meditate on Breathing

The mind directs the breath, letting it sink down,
thereby penetrating even the bones.
Classics of T'ai Chi Ch'uan

Breathing is a physiological process that we all perform naturally, without thought. Traditionally, this seemingly simple body function has been a primary pathway to meditation. Breathing is used in Yoga, Buddhism, Zen, and Taoist meditation as a stepping-stone to the deeper self. Meditative breathing can be linked to many meaningful benefits. Concentration on the breath is a doorway to deeper meditative practices. By meditating on your breathing, you can enhance your calmness, improve your health, and clear your consciousness of extraneous thoughts and concerns.

Breathing Meditation 1: Use Inner Attention to Count Your Breaths
Sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes. Count your breaths from one to ten. One complete breath begins with an inhalation and ends with an exhalation. Keep your breathing natural as you inhale and exhale normally. Do not hyperventilate, forcing yourself to take unnaturally deep breaths, or hold your breath. To the best of your ability, try not to think about anything else but your breathing. Count complete breaths after each exhalation: Breathe in, breathe out&emdash;one. Breathe in, breathe out&emdash;two, and so on, to ten. Then begin again with one and repeat. After you are done, open your eyes and stretch. If you would like, you may repeat this exercise at the same sitting. With practice, you will be able to count your breaths without interruption for as long as you would like. Variations may suggest themselves, such as just counting exhalations.

Breathing Meditation 2: Follow the Breath
Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes again. This time you will pay careful attention to the process of breathing and follow each breath as it goes in and out. Try to focus all your attention on the sensations from air as it enters into your nose, then down into your bronchi, filling your lungs, and then out through your nose. You will begin to find a natural rhythm as you follow your breath, in and out, in and out, meditatively. Do not interfere with this; simply try to allow it. It may want to change as you relax in this exercise.

Counting and following the breath can help you to become more in tune with your natural rhythms. We often overlook many natural rhythms in our busy schedules. One simple rhythm that you can observe as you meditate is the natural cycle of swallowing. In deep meditation, reflexes are slowed. Also, your rhythms will vary at different times of the day, regardless of changes in the room or environment. You probably have noticed cycles of tiredness and wakefulness: At certain times of the day you are at your best in alertness, at other times you may not be very alert. Determine your individual cycles and meditate at your peak moments if possible. Your cycles will form patterns that you can observe. Realize that these patterns may be affected at times by the amount of sleep you may have had, your nutrition, workload, or emotional distress. In Eastern medicine, the vital energy known as chi is believed to circulate in twenty-four hour cycles through the body. Taoism teaches us to find greater harmony with these natural rhythms. All of these different rhythms affect your consciousness. When you stop fighting against your rhythms, you will find greater vitality.
The first step to cooperating more with your inner rhythms is to become aware of them in meditation, as you did with your breathing. You may need to meditate at several points throughout a day, or over several days, to find your pattern. Permit your own individuality, but practice regularly. You will find that you develop a more comfortable harmony with the patterns of your inner self.

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