Breathing: the Foundation for Practice
Over the years I’ve done a lot of reading, research, and practice of many different spiritual techniques from a wide variety of sources. One of the techniques that is common to all of them is breathing. Granted, breathing is foundational to everything here on the Earth plane. If we’re not breathing for more than a few minutes, our consciousness has moved on. But most of the time we tend to let breathing be an automatic bodily process, something to which we devote little or no thought.
Calm, slow, even breathing is a wonderful help, or even cure, for many difficult situations. It eases pain, calms intense emotions, allows clearer thinking, and helps us relax physically and mentally. All types of meditation involve or begin with a focus on the breath. Breathing is a key component of exercise, healing, concentration, and falling asleep. And, best of all, it’s a technique that costs nothing and is easy to practice!
If you have a daily spiritual practice, or are planning to start one, consider integrating a focus on your breathing. The simplest way to begin is to sit comfortably and just notice your breath. Don’t try to change it yet, just notice whether you breathe quickly or slowly, whether your breath is deep or shallow, and whether you breathe through your nose, mouth, or both. Then gradually begin to slow your breaths. Begin breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. You can give an audible sigh of release on the exhale if that feels good.
Next, you might wish to count as you breathe: inhale for a slow count of 4, then exhale to a slow count of 6. This is a very basic yogic technique and it helps you slow down and focus, as well as getting more oxygen to your brain and internal organs. As your body gets used to this technique over time, lengthen the count, keeping the ratio such that your exhalation is slightly longer than the inhalation. Once you’re very comfortable with this type of breathing, practice it as you go about your daily activities. You’ll find that your body will become used to it, and breathing more slowly and deeply will become your default.
Conscious breathing can be integrated into any type of spiritual practice, from yoga to prayer to journaling and beyond. When you begin your practice, first sit and breathe deliberately for five or ten minutes. You’ll notice that you become more centered and focused and the rest of your practice will go more smoothly. Enjoy this most basic, yet profound, foundational practice: just breathe!