Inner peace starts by being more aware. By learning to observe your breath, you can become calm, connected and more balanced. Once you understand how breathing works and how to apply this technique, you gain insight into life as a whole.
What is breathing, and how does it take place?
Breathing is the process of moving air both in and out of the body. Its main purpose is to supply oxygen to your cells and allow the release of carbon dioxide.
All cells need oxygen to create energy so that they can carry out their functions. For this reason, the process of breathing works all the time to ensure that your cells can fulfil their purpose.
One of the most important features of breathing is its ability to keep a balance in the body. On the level of the breath, this means the correct amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide. In your being, all processes must also have the same type of balance. This is especially true when it comes to your mind and emotions.
To illustrate this, observe how both your breathing and pace of the mind link closely together. When you feel highly stressed and upset, your breathing becomes fast and erratic. In contrast to this, when you feel calm and relaxed, your breath slows and lengthens. With this in mind, the movement of your breath is a mirror of your mind.
Breathing happens on its own and takes place without any effort on your part. Throughout your life, you breathe around 16-20 times per minute. In short, this would be approximately 960-1000 breaths an hour, 23000-24000 breaths per day and 8.4-8.5 million breaths a year. Similarly, your brain thinks thousands of thoughts per minute, hour and day with little effort.
The actions of the breath and mind are both examples of life energy moving. In essence, this means that connecting with the breath is one way to unite with life itself.
Why is it important to be aware of the breath?
The process of breathing gives life to the body and nourishes every cell. Being aware of the breath is one way to feel this vitality. It is also the same energy that nourishes and brings forth all life in the universe.
Breathing only takes place in the present moment, as does the action of all life. Therefore, bringing attention to the breath gets you directly in touch with the present.
When you observe your mind, you will find that most of your thoughts are about past events and future outcomes. It’s important to note that thinking by itself is not a problem and is needed to function in the world. However, if it becomes too heavy and fast, it can hinder your state of wellbeing. Conscious breathing helps take some attention away from your thoughts. As a result, you get a taste of what freedom from the mind feels like.
The small gap between your thoughts is the space from where they arise. Moreover, all things come from the same space of awareness. Consequently, being mindful of your breath allows you to know the source of all life.
In essence, you are one with the cosmos and everything else. The act of breathing in this way helps you realise this partnership.
What are the benefits of watching the breath?
As well as linking you to the movement of life, conscious breathing improves your health in many ways. The pace of your breath begins to slow the moment you draw your attention to it. Once the rhythm of breathing gets longer, it provides some relief from anxiety, stress and depression.
In general, this happens due to the mind following the movement of the breath. To demonstrate this, think of a conductor that leads an orchestra at a concert. In this example, the breath is the conductor, and the musicians are the thoughts in your mind. As the breath slows, the mind follows.
The additional intake of oxygen also works to energise the body and brain. In effect, you notice more energy and all your systems work better. Improved immunity, sleep and blood pressure are just some of the benefits you may notice.
Watching the breath means to be alert of the sensations of breathing. As you carry out this practice, you also develop your level of focus. Eventually, you will find that you can use your mind for longer periods of time. This helps all your daily tasks which require active use of thought.
How do you practice watching the breath?
You can practice whenever you have a few moments to yourself. Anything from a minute to 30 minutes is fine. What’s most important is that you understand why you are focussing on your breath.
The main reason should be to become more astute to the mind and body. The physical benefits take place in their own time as this process grows with you.
At first, close your eyes as this allows you to tune out any surrounding activity. It will also help you draw your focus and attention inward. If you feel confused or uncomfortable, then you can leave your eyes partly open.
To begin with, pay attention to your breathing as a whole cycle. You can do this by observing your breath enter and leave your body. Feel your lungs, ribcage and chest expand, then release. It may be helpful to focus on one point of your body, such as your midsection or nostrils. This gives your mind an anchor of focus which helps you concentrate.
Take a moment to witness the short space between the start and end of each breath. Breathing is the essence of life but it is only one of many processes in your body. The short space between breaths is a reflection of the natural silence that is always present.
During this practice, you may find that your mind wanders from time to time. When you see this happening, do not be concerned. Understand that it is your brain’s nature to think freely. Bearing this in mind, you should not try to force it to stop thinking. Instead, bring your attention back to the point where you feel the breath. You will have to do this many times as you practice. In time, the space between thoughts will become longer.
How does conscious breathing create peace?
In essence, breath has no shape or form. Hence why becoming aware of it is a direct way of merging with the space of being. Establishing this is one of the most empowering things you can do.
While you practice, be alert and try not to use conscious breathing as a way to silence the mind. Such a motive prevents solutions and creativity from arising in you. The mind quietens by itself when you leave it be, all you have to do is allow this to happen.
Sooner or later, you feel the union with life that was with you all along. Watching your breathing is one of many paths to help you reach this point. It’s not important how long it takes, but for the most part, a month of daily practice is enough. From that point onward, your entire being begins to grow lighter and more spacious.
Subsequently, you go beyond the limits of your mind, and the journey of inner peace begins.
Spiro, S.G., Silvestri, G.A. and Alvar Agustí (2012). Clinical respiratory medicine. Philadelphia (Pa.): Elsevier Saunders, Cop.