How not to breathe in meditation
Today, we're going to bust the misconception about the breath in meditation. There is usually a lot of attention placed on breathing in the stereotypical approach to meditation. You'll often hear people taking deep breaths in and out in meditation circles (or maybe you're the one breathing deeply). Sometimes, the meditation teachers will instruct you to control your breath in certain ways. But the reality is you do not need to control your breathing whatsoever in order to have an effective meditation.
Why not breathe like Darth Vader?
It's not that deep breathing is un-meditative. There are entire meditation practice based solely on manipulating the breath in different ways. And everybody knows that deep breathing can have a calming effect.
Looking back to our definition of meditation, we described it as a "comfortable, seated, and consistent eyes-closed practice of experiencing present moment awareness and, when possible, quieting the mind."
If we're having to think about controlling our breathing during the practice, we wouldn't be meditating in accordance with our definition, because breath management makes the experience somewhat unnatural, and therefore more complicated than necessary—which means we sacrifice comfort—which inevitably takes us out of the zone we want to ideally be in.
Breath like you're Netflix and Chilling
Instead of controlling your breath, just breathe normally and allow yourself to fully engage in the moment, with the same effortlessness of watching Netflix. You would ideally want to be fully drawn into your Netflix show, right? And not spend the entire time sitting there trying to watch while also remembering to deepen something that you're already doing naturally, which is breathing.
Noticing the breath is okay
To the breath fanatics out there, if you just have to do something with your breath while meditating, try just noticing your breath. But be aware that noticing your breath is not the same as focusing on your breath. Focusing takes your mind out of that flow state we discussed yesterday—whereas lightly noticing your breath allows your mind to get lost back into the flow state.
To use the breath to settle the mind, all you do is lightly notice that you're breathing naturally. This is the meditation equivalent of counting sheep while attempting to sleep at night. The quality of noticing the breath feels more like an afterthought than a fixed point of focus, where you may find yourself thinking, "Oh yeah, I'm still breathing." And then you may notice that you're not aware of your breathing and you're thinking something unrelated. At this point, you begin to notice your breathing again (but remember, take the Homer Simpson lazy approach to noticing your breathing—no rush back to noticing).
Reduce breath control to simply "noticing" the breath
In today's 10-minute meditation, you're going to still practice being mentally lazy and, in addition to that, whenever you are cognizant of the fact that you're meditating, you'll just begin noticing your breath. This will ideally allow you to slip back into the meditative state (present moment awareness) where you're not thinking about how long the meditation lasts or whether or not you're doing it right. Instead, you may find yourself thinking unrelated thoughts, or feeling as though you might be falling asleep (we'll address this later). That's where you want to be.
- Sit comfortably
- Set a soft alarm for 10 minutes
- Lightly notice your breathing.
- Let go of any need to control your experience
- When the alarm goes off, you're done.
In a typical meditation, you may only be aware of your breathing for 2 minutes out of the 10. So if that's what you experienced, you were right on track. Tomorrow, we'll discuss an often overlooked pitfall to avoid, particularly if you aren't having the described experience.
Post an image that shows where you've been meditating, or your favorite meditation spot so far, and make sure to tag #meditationkickstart so the beginmeditating community can encourage you as well.
Sample accountability post