Most people don’t know how to breathe. I presume it’s one of the many reasons why the world is going insane. Focus your attention to your breathing right now. Are you taking steady, consistent breaths? What about while you’re at work? Exercising? Eating? Talking?
I’ve never had an anxious moment that wasn’t accompanied by stifled breathing. This stifled breathing is literally a form of slow death. When we stop breathing altogether, we obviously stop living. When we breathe erratically and inconsistently, we might find ourselves living erratically and inconsistently.
There’s a long spiritual tradition (with science recently making an unprecedented attempt to step back it up) of focusing on the benefits of controlled breathing. In learning to be mindful of our breathing, we become mindful of ourselves, our thoughts, and our world. Simple enough. But slightly more difficult in practice…
This is a short guide to breathing. I hope it will encourage you to practice mindful breathing in your daily life. The art of breathing is the art of living. If we can focus on breathing with grace and unconscious finesse, we can begin to live more peaceful lives.
Meditate each day.
The first step to breathing in a healthier way is to meditate each day. Even if you start with a simple 5 minutes, you can begin to train the mental and spiritual muscle that enables control over the breath. I wrote a short guide to Zen meditation here. It’s a good place to start.
Eventually you’ll work your way up to (ideally) 10 or 20 minutes a day. Find the time. It’ll change your life. Don’t expect remarkable obvious results right away. Meditation changes you subtly and deeply, rearranging your core sense of self. Don’t think about this stuff too much, though. Just breathe.
Direct your attention inwards.
If you’re meditating regularly, you’ll find yourself to be more aware of your breath. I sometimes notice myself counting my breaths without even realizing it while walking or biking. This is one of the key aforementioned “muscles” meditation builds. It’s simply known as ‘mindfulness’— being self-aware without being self-critical.
When you recognize yourself feeling stressed out, anxious, or even just mildly pissed off, direct your attention inwards. Notice your breath. Observe it before jumping to action. You’re probably either holding your breath, hyperventilating, or breathing in a weird and stunted way. I find this to be the case 90% of the time I’m feeling tense. It’s remarkable. If we don’t train ourselves to direct our attention to the breath, we never notice it. We wonder why we feel miserable, use various cultural or chemical numbing agents, or die young.
The process of introducing mindful breathing into your life may become frustrating. This is our conditioned mind, the ego, trying to constantly produce results, like a factory owner. We think we always need to be thinking, learning, acting, and producing. We don’t. We can simply sit with ourselves and focus on the breath for a bit each day. This will change the tiny decisions we make throughout our day: how to react to others, how to carry ourselves, how to form an identity, how to treat our bodies. If we learn the art of breathing, we can revolutionize ourselves in a deep and wonderful way. We can find beauty in the simple act of being, and learning how to exist in a state of peace rather than war.