Follow the Breath

Most everyone by now has heard the recommendation to “live in the moment.” It’s easy to say, but what does it really mean?

A simple way to experiment with living in the moment is to choose a particular object and agree to rest your attention with it for a committed period of time. Setting an intention to stay right with the object has an immediate effect. You’ll see a great deal about being awake and aware, moment by moment, and you’ll also see what’s going when you’re not in the here and now. Adopting a kind willingness to see all of this, and to see how you relate to what you see, is at the heart of mindfulness meditation.

The breath has always been considered one of the best objects to work with. For starters, you always have it with you! So, you don’t need to have a bell or a special sitting cushion, or even anyone to guide you. The breath itself is your guide! You can cultivate awareness of breathing for a little while, or a longer period, as circumstances allow. You can do it with your eyes open, in a waiting room or sitting at a stop light. You can close your eyes, giving yourself a longer time, and giving space for the breath to be as it is, to move and change as it responds to this attitude of kind willingness.

The growing body of science around meditation has shown us what becomes possible, by developing concentration and patience as you attend to the sensations of breathing. For instance, a 2011 Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center study demonstrated that practicing 20 minutes of awareness of breathing meditation for just a few days gave people a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. Morphine, by comparison, has a 25% reduction effect for both. In speaking about the array of study results that have come out of the research around mind-body practices like meditation, David Servan Schreiber concludes that “if results like these were ever achieved with a new drug, every oncologist in the world would feel obligated to prescribe it.” (p. 184, Anticancer: A New Way of Life)

People who have trained their attention to rest in present moment experience report all kinds of benefits, and these are reflected by the science. It’s possible to cultivate ease and confidence, to reduce emotional reactivity, and to find new resilience and ways of coping with the challenges of life. All of this, by patiently guiding your attention into this moment. All of this, breath by breath.

The only time you can feel this breath is now. The only place is here. The breath is always here and now, waiting for you in this moment. So what are you waiting for?!

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2 thoughts on “Follow the Breath

  1. Thanks for this reminder! It’s such a simple and convenient thing to do – breathing, it’s always there…

    And what I always finds happens when I remember to do a breathing exercise is that I am more mindful through that day to take better care of myself. There’s something about observing my breathing that results in making healthier choices for myself, even if it’s just in little ways like taking the stairs instead of the elevator. These things can have a cumulative effect for the good; and not just on the body, but on the psyche. When I’m taking care of myself physically, I feel better mentally and emotionally. I believe the scientific data that you quoted; it makes perfect sense, at least in my own experience. What a powerful impact a simple activity like observing our breathing can have. Cheers for that.

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