Breath Awareness Meditation

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Breath Awareness Meditation

Find a comfortable position. It is suggested that you sit up, to avoid falling asleep. However, if it is uncomfortable to sit, then you may lie down. Softly close your eyes.

Note: The first few times you practice this meditation, you will need to do it with your eyes gently open as you follow the instructions. Keep your gaze down, do not glance around the room as this will cause your mind to wander more easily.

Begin by bringing your awareness to the back of your head, the back of your neck and to your right and left shoulder.

Take a slow breath in and out through your nostrils, and on the exhale, allow your shoulders to come down and release. Do this for a few breaths.

Now, bring your awareness to your mouth and unclench your jaw. Create some space between your upper and lower teeth.

Relax your tongue on the roof of your mouth just behind your two front teeth, resting on your upper palate.

Mouth, jaw, shoulders, and neck begin to soften and release.

Begin to simply witness your breath flowing; the body simply breathing itself. Or if you like, take the breath you need, remembering the longer the inhale, the longer the exhale; breathing slowly.

Breathing in and out through your nostrils, continue to witness the flow of your breath.

After a few breaths, begin to silently think the words, “I am breathing in,” on the inhale and “I am breathing out” on the exhale.

Now, notice the space in between the inhale and the exhale. That space where the breath turns around from an in-breath to an out-breath. Simply acknowledge that space or if you like, linger there, and you decide when the breath turns around from an inhale to an exhale.

Don’t hold your breath; just linger there for a moment.

You will notice your attention will drift from following your breath to the thoughts that are flowing. That is fine.
Each time it happens, bring your gentle focus back to the awareness of your breath flowing, without judgment.

Breath awareness meditation promotes physical & mental relaxation that can significantly reduce stress on the body and mind. Try our worksheet!

To begin this Mindfulness Exercise on Breath Awareness, please bring kind awareness to

Breath is one of the most used tools in meditation practices – and for a good reason. It’s always with you, but it’s not fixed in place, it flows on. And it follows the rhythms of life: it’s born, and it dies, and it’s born again. 

This is why Breath Awareness Meditation is not just a practice for beginners: it’s a powerful way to feel the macrocosm in the microcosm of our own body and have an experiential understanding of our connection with life.

Although many practices aim at manipulating or altering our breathing, this is only advisable if your thoughts are so overactive that you need something complicated to focus your attention on, in order not to follow your mental narrative. In fact, by trying to manipulate our breath, we might end up tangling ourselves in a knot trying to control something that works perfectly well on its own. 

How to practice Breath Awareness Meditation

Breath Awareness Meditation is very simple; all you need to do is watch your breath.

Observe the natural rhythm of your breathing. Feel the air enter your nose, feel the freshness in your lungs, feel the rise and fall of your belly.

Let go of control and just observe. 

A step further

If you like, you might also do this. 

After a while, start taking notice of the amazing paradox that is our breathing’s. 

Are you breathing or is life breathing through you? Are you doing it, or is it happening on its own? 

The answer is: both. Isn’t it astounding? When we put into words, this seems paradoxical, but in experience, it is not paradoxical at all.

Alan Watts explains this well when he says: “It is only apparently contradictory to describe a sensation in which it seems that whatever I do freely and intelligently is at the same time completely determined, and vice versa. It seems that absolutely everything both inside and outside me is happening by itself, yet at the same time that I myself am doing all of it, that my separate individuality is simply a function, something being done by everything which is not me, yet at the same time everything which is not me is a function of my separate individuality.” 

Breath Awareness Meditation is a wonderful tool to both relax our nervous system and put ourselves in touch with life as a whole.

How to Do It

The most basic way to do mindful breathing is simply to focus your attention on your breath, the inhale and exhale. You can do this while standing, but ideally you’ll be sitting or even lying in a comfortable position. Your eyes may be open or closed, but you may find it easier to maintain your focus if you close your eyes. It can help to set aside a designated time for this exercise, but it can also help to practice it when you’re feeling particularly stressed or anxious. Experts believe a regular practice of mindful breathing can make it easier to do it in difficult situations. 

Sometimes, especially when trying to calm yourself in a stressful moment, it might help to start by taking an exaggerated breath: a deep inhale through your nostrils (3 seconds), hold your breath (2 seconds), and a long exhale through your mouth (4 seconds). Otherwise, simply observe each breath without trying to adjust it; it may help to focus on the rise and fall of your chest or the sensation through your nostrils. As you do so, you may find that your mind wanders, distracted by thoughts or bodily sensations. That’s OK. Just notice that this is happening and gently bring your attention back to your breath.

To provide even more structure, and help you lead this practice for others, below are steps for a short guided meditation. You can listen to audio of this guided meditation, produced by UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), in the player below; if it doesn’t play, you can find it here or download it from Marc’s website

A Guided Breathing Meditation to Cultivate Awareness

This practice is a breathing meditation. We focus on breathing not because there’s anything special about it but because that physical sensation of breathing is always there. Throughout the practice, you may find yourself caught up in thoughts, emotions, sounds—wherever your mind goes, simply come back again to the next breath. If you’re distracted the entire time and come back just once, that’s perfect.

1) Sit comfortably, finding a stable position you can maintain for a while, either on the floor or in a chair. Close your eyes if you like, or leave them open and gaze downward toward the floor.

2) Draw attention to the physical sensation of breathing, perhaps noticing the always-present rising and falling of your abdomen or chest, or perhaps the air moving in and out through your nose or mouth. With each breath, bring attention to these sensations. If you like, mentally note, “Breathing in… Breathing out.”

3) Many times over, you’ll get distracted by thoughts or feelings. You may feel distracted more often than not. That’s normal. There’s no need to block or eliminate thinking or anything else. Without giving yourself a hard time or expecting anything different, when you discover that your attention has wandered, notice whatever has distracted you and then come back to the breath.

4) Practice pausing before making any physical adjustments, such as moving your body or scratching an itch. With intention, shift at a moment you choose, allowing space between what you experience and what you choose to do.

5) You may find your mind wandering constantly, caught up in a whirlwind—that’s normal, too. Instead of wrestling with or engaging with those thoughts as much, practice observing, noting wherever your attention has been, and then returning to the physical sensation of breathing. 

6) Let go of any sense of trying to make something happen. For these few minutes, create an opportunity to not plan or fix or whatever else is your habit. Exert enough effort to sustain this practice, but without causing yourself mental strain. Seek balance in this way; if you find yourself mostly daydreaming and off in fantasy, devote a little extra effort to maintaining your focus.

7) Breathing in and breathing out, return your attention to the breath each time it wanders elsewhere.

8) Continue to practice observing without needing to react. Just sit and pay attention as best as you are able. As hard as it is to maintain, that’s all that there is. Come back over and over again, without judgement or expectation.

9) When you’re ready, gently open your eyes. Take a moment and notice any sounds in the environment. Notice how your body feels right now. Notice your thoughts and emotions. Pausing for a moment, decide how you’d like to continue on with your day.

How to Meditate Using the Breath

Many meditations involve focusing on the breath. We offer two variations of breathing techniques. This is perhaps the easiest way to begin meditating and you may never need to look further. Begin with the Breath Awareness Meditation and when you find that you are able to follow the breath for periods of time, you can try the Stillness in the Breath meditation.

Posture: It is preferable to sit while doing these breath meditations. Sitting up is more conducive to meditation as the mind is more likely to remain alert. Sit upright with the spine as straight as possible while remaining comfortable. Don’t strain in any way to make the spine straight. It’s important to be comfortable so that you can relax completely.

Breath Awareness Meditation

Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Take a few moments to “simply be”. Notice whatever is being experienced in the moment — sounds, physical sensations, thoughts, feelings — without trying to do anything about it. Continue like this a little while, allowing yourself to settle down.

Now bring the attention to the breath. Simply notice the breath as it moves in and out as the body inhales and exhales. Notice how the breath moves in and out automatically, effortlessly. Don’t try to manipulate it in any way. Notice all the details of the experience of breathing — the feeling of the air moving in and out of the nose, the way the body moves as it breathes, etc.

The mind will wander away from the breath — that’s fine, it doesn’t matter. That’s a part of the meditation! When you notice that you are no longer observing the breath, easily bring your attention back to it.

Let all of your experiences — thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations — come and go in the background of your awareness of the breath. Notice how all of your experiences — thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, awareness of sounds and smells — come automatically and effortlessly like the breath.

In time, you can become aware of the tendencies of your mind. You will see how it resists certain experiences and tries to hold onto others. The natural settling down of the mind allows you to notice these underlying tendencies and creates the possibility to let them go. If you experience a resistance to what is occurring, an attempt to change what is happening, a tendency to hold on to some experience — let it go.

Stillness in the Breath Meditation

This is a variation on the Breath Awareness Meditation that you can try if you find you are able to watch the breath for periods of time. Start as above and when you are settled into the process of observing the breath, become aware of the point at which the breath turns the corner from the inhalation to the exhalation, and from the exhalation to the inhalation. Notice what is there. It is not a thing — it is a gap between the breaths, nevertheless there can be awareness of it. It is a kind of “still point”.

Continue to bring your attention to that still point, bringing your attention back to the gaps in the breath whenever it has wandered away. As you continue practicing this meditation, you may find that the stillness is no longer experienced as discrete gaps between the breaths, but is a more continuous experience. This cultivates the awareness of the stillness that is present in the midst of activity, and can create a profound experience of peace.

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