On Mindfulness of Breathing
Practicing with the Four Foundations of Buddhist Mindfulness is the “direct path to realization.” Well, that is according to the ancient Buddhist discourse, the Satipatthana Sutta. This discourse explains the theory and practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness; Body, feeling, mind, and dharmas (the nature of things). Each object is rich with its own explorations, practices, and goals to be attained. According to the Satipatthana Sutta, the practice of the four foundations of mindfulness is the direct path to realization.
Let’s turn to the 1st Foundation of Mindfulness. Mindfulness of Body.
Before we go any further, I like to clarify what I mean by “mindfulness.” Ask 5 people to conceptualize mindfulness and you are likely to get 5 different answers! In Clinical Psychology, we define it as, “deliberate regulation of one’s attention and awareness in the present moment.”
The most natural place to begin with mindfulness of body is the breath. Due to the accessibility of the breath, it becomes the anchor from which we go explore in meditation. Always returning to the breath. It is important to note that mindfulness of breathing is not a breathing exercise! It is not deep breathing. It is a practice of mindfulness. We practice becoming aware of our breath. There is no effort to control it, and no particular type of breath that we are looking for. The aim is to allow space for the body to breathe naturally. Eventually, it becomes quite easy for the breath to fall into its natural, easy rhythm.
Find a way to sit that you can try to sustain for the entirety of your practice. You want to be comfortable because the encouragement is to stay as still as possible. Make any final adjustments to your posture before you continue.
Gently place your attention on the breath. It is helpful to notice where you feel the breath the most in this moment. Is it the cool air at the tip of the nostrils? Maybe the inflating and deflating of the chest? Perhaps it is the rising and falling of the belly? It doesn’t matter. Just notice where the breath is the most obvious in your body and gently hold your attention there. Make no effort to control it. Simply allow it the space to rest in its own natural rhythm.
As you are becoming mindful of the breath, the mind will wander. Each time you catch it, simply return your attention back to the breath without judgment. Some people find it helpful to count breaths in the beginning. Others have found that a naming practice is helpful (inhale, exhale). Others rest in the felt sense of breathing. It doesn’t matter what strategy you use, but it is helpful to pick one and stay with it for the entirety of the practice.
Mindfulness of breathing is a practice that is always available to you. It is a safe place for you to return to as you move through the day. I suggest incorporating it into your daily routine. Once it becomes a habit, you will find yourself able to access the breath in even the most difficult situations.