Meditation on the breath is a central exercise in many traditions. To such an extent that many people think that it is an important part of all meditation. But that’s not how we normally teach it to beginners in Unified Mindfulness.
There are several reasons for this.
Letting go of control is not easy
Because the breath happens by itself, but we can still control it, it is a powerful way to train attention and the ability to let go. But for many people, trying not to control their breathing is so difficult that they end up controlling it all the time. This eventually becomes very uncomfortable.
That is why we have many different meditation techniques to choose from, so everyone gets a technique they can master quickly. Something that is adapted to their needs and situation.
Breathing meditation can evoke trauma
Meditating on the breath is known to trigger post-traumatic stress. Unfortunately, this disorder is relatively common, and it is not uncommon for sufferers to come to meditation and mindfulness in search of help. Regretfully many of there are scared away from meditation because they do not get the right tools to deal with their suffering.
With other techniques, navigating this landscape can be much easier. Read more about meditating with post-traumatic stress disorder here.
Other techniques are often more effective
We want to provide as in-depth and powerful a tool as possible for those who want to start meditating. In our view, one such tool is to use the senses as a gateway to develop mindfulness skills. We call this See-hear-feel , a technique that combines the meditation paths Focus out and Focus in.
Another kind of meditation that has great potential for beginners is friendliness meditation, also called loving-kindness. In the Unified Mindfulness system, this is in the meditation path Nurture Positive.
Not using your breath as an anchor takes you even deeper
This point is perhaps mostly for the advanced meditator.
The breath can be a useful anchor for attention, but with more experience we want to let go of as many anchors as possible. Eventually we do not want to identify with either unpleasant or pleasant feelings, or find security in any phenomena – not even the breath.
In meditation teaching, we call this to let go of the witness . For deeply transformative liberation, we want to cultivate the ability to let go of everything and to know nothing , the deepest form of equanimity.
A toolbox for breathing
So there is no room for breathing in meditation? Sure there is, lots of room! For the slightly more advanced, breathing meditations are a very useful addition to the toolbox for meditation techniques.
There are many ways to do this, and a little playful experimentation can be very fruitful.
For inspiration, here is a list of how you can use your breath when meditating on the experience of the body.
Places where you can feel your breath in your body:
- In a body part
- Throughout the body at once
- Inward and outward in the body at the same time
- All over the skin at once
Read more about Feel out .
- Tighten muscles at each exhalation
- Focus on relaxing body parts
- Focus on letting your whole body relax
- Let the feeling of melting / thawing / softening spread throughout the body with each exhalation.
Read more about Feel rest .
- Note the emotional charge around the breath and have equanimity with it
- Explore the emotional experience by zooming in and out, or other useful variations .
- If your breathing is not relaxed due to anxiety, overwhelm or intense emotions, you have two options:
- Turn towards the discomfort : Practice having equanimity in the forefront of consciousness. Become interested in how the discomfort around the breath occurs. Try to get a complete understanding of the discomfort, what we call a complete experience.
- Turn away from the discomfort : Place your attention on a neutral area. This takes away the pressure from the fact that the breath should make you calm or relaxed. This is how you train to have equanimity in the background of consciousness. Let the discomfort around the breath just be in the background and let it do whatever it wants to do.
Read more about Focus in .
- Focus on movement and quality in the breath.
- Some possible qualities: Strong, weak, sudden, persistent, bound, free, body part, whole body
- Focus on the fact that sensations arise and disappear
- Focus on expansion and contraction in the form that the breath takes
- Some possible types of change: Expansion, contraction, raising, sinking, bulging, hollowing, pushing inwards, pushing outwards
Read more about Focus on change.
Enjoy the breath
- Focus on the pleasant sensations in the body that the breath creates
Read more about Nurture positive.
- Be fascinated by how breathing takes place all by itself. The body breathes naturally, as if it is you who is being breathed.
Read more about doing nothing.