Thursday, November 13, 2008

Getting to know your breathing

When you first begin paying deliberate attention to your breath, you may be surprised and somewhat frustrated to discover that your body tenses up and your breathing becomes stiff, labored, and unnatural. Suddenly, you can’t remember how to breathe anymore, even though you’ve been doing it just fine ever since your first breath at birth.
Don’t worry — you’re not doing it wrong. You just need to develop a lighter, gentler touch with your awareness so that you’re following but not controlling your breath. It’s kind of like learning to ride a bicycle — you keep falling off until one day, miraculously, you just keep going. From then on, it’s second nature.
You may find it helpful to begin by exploring your breathing, without necessarily trying to track it from breath to breath. Notice what happens when you breathe — how your rib cage rises and falls, how your belly moves, how the air passes in and out of your nostrils. You may find that some breaths are longer and deeper, while others are shorter and shallower. Some may go all the way down into your belly, while others barely reach the upper part of your lungs before exiting again. Some may be rough or strong, others smooth or weak.
Spend five or ten minutes exploring your breathing with the fresh curiosity of a child encountering a flower or a butterfly for the first time. What did you discover that you didn’t know before? How does each new breath differ from the last? When you feel comfortable with your breath, you can begin the practice of counting or following your breaths.

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