There are only two things that our body does all the time namely that our heart pumps blood and our lungs breathe. Only one of these is voluntary and under our direct and willful control. Many of us are completely unconscious of our breath we breathe without ever giving much thought to it. If our breath is left uncontrolled it simply reacts to the needs of the body; speeding up and slowing down as required. The breath reacts to stressful and relaxing situations automatically by becoming more shallow or deeper. In meditation, we learn to reverse this situation and to purposely use our breath for the betterment of our practice.
Although I know that there are many complicated and advanced breathing techniques taught within the framework of Tibetan Buddhism I will not be touching on any of them here on this website. Simply put, Tumo and Vase breathing are for advanced practitioners only as their misuse can lead to problems in the practice of the beginner. Not to mention that these practices are held as secrets and are only taught at the behest of a qualified Lama only after the student has completed many Ngondros or a three year retreat.
With that being said we can now move on to the theme at hand, Breath and Meditation. I start every meditation by focusing on my breath and setting an intention such as may all beings be happy, healthy, and free and. There is simply no better way to turn one’s attention inward than to feel how the air tickles, cools, or warms the first few centimeters of our noses. Try it now, close your eyes then slowly and calmly breathe in and notice the sensation it evokes as the air enters your body. Turn your attention further inward as your diaphragm slowly moves down and your chest expands to allow for the intake of more and more air. How does this change as we feel the need and begin to exhale? It is as if 100kgs of weight leave my shoulders as my diaphragm rises and my chest contracts. Are you more relaxed and present in the moment? Working with our breath like this is often called shiné as it helps us to calm our mind and keep it in one place for a short time. For some of you, this may have been the first time you have practised to breathe mindfully if it felt good once try it again this time counting to one for the first in and exhalation then two for the second in and exhalation and so on, up to 21. Start over and return to one if you become distracted and begin to think about your grocery list or the pretty girl you passed by on the way to the elevator. It is completely natural if, in the beginning, you can only make it to two or three before having to start over again. One is easily tempted to think that he or she is too distracted to learn to do this, “I cannot meditate or I simply have too much going on in my mind to do this right”. With this simple exercise, we have only noticed for the first time just how distracted we normally are.
Meditation is called a practice because it is something we have to practise. Try this out for four or five days in a row, you can spend as little or as much time as you like. The more time you have the more it will make a difference. Once the body is calm as the waves on water in the evening when the wind has died down one can see deeper into the ocean of mind, this is known as Laktong or insight. Insight is why we learn to meditate as we can discover the innate wisdom of mind. And when we begin and end the practice with the wish that all beings find happiness we start to develop the beyond personal quality of true compassion.