Share Pin Email
feature image
Live Free

Why the Breath Is Perfect

Breathing is an essential part of meditation and yoga, both philosophically and technically. Learn how to use the breath as a point of focus and uncover the deep benefits of this practice.

0 169
Author Image
Meditation Advisor
SHARE:

The breath plays an important role in meditation, connection, and reflection across a variety of spiritual traditions. In fact, the fine line between the word “breath” and “spirit” in some of these traditions ends up blurred, essentially making them one and the same. In Hebrew it is the word “ruach.” In ancient Greek “pneuma.” In Latin it is “spiritus.” In all these forms there’s an implicit acknowledgment that the breath is overtly spiritual. It connects us to our best self and serves as the perfect anchor into reality.

The story of the Buddha begins with him indulging in extreme luxury before discovering the multitude of suffering around him, at which point he goes to the other extreme of asceticism. He literally tortured himself in the name of spirituality. Having learned a wide variety of meditative techniques, he eventually sat down under a tree and did a simple meditation on the breath. That meditation is what led to nirvana or enlightenment. He didn’t transcend the world and go elsewhere. He became awake to the nature of the way things are. The breath anchored him in the present moment so that he could see past his own confusion and connect to his own sense of inner peace.

Related: Yoga Breathing for Stress Relief with Sharath Jois

The story of the Buddha is not meant to be some outlandish tale that implies that we should worship him; the Buddha serves as an example. If he discovered peace by resting with the natural flow of his breathing so can we! We are not different from him. We possess the same ability to wake up spiritually. Just as the Buddha studied and then rested with the breath, so can we.

Many years later, Buddhist teacher, Tilopa, imparted six words of profound advice to his student Naropa. The author and Tibetan Buddhist teacher Ken McLeod has translated these six words for us from Tibetan into English. The short translation is

  • Don’t recall
  • Don’t imagine
  • Don’t think
  • Don’t examine
  • Don’t control
  • Rest

In other words, if you want to meditate on the breath all you have to do is relinquish thoughts about the past or future (in fact, drop all thoughts altogether) and don’t try to overanalyze or manipulate your experience. In this sense, Tilopa could have shortened this practice advice to just one word: relax! Because the breath is always with us, we can simply rest with this anchor into the present moment.

That is the beauty of the breath. It is always fresh. It is always what is going on right now. It is always with us. So it grounds us in an awareness of this very moment. In addition, it’s calming. Paying attention to the breath actually soothes our body and mind. It helps us relax because instead of meditating on whatever is stressing us out we are meditating on something rhythmic, steady, and cyclical. And, as Tilopa pointed out over a thousand years ago, we don’t have to do anything about it. It’s happening, right now, as you read this piece. All you have to do is bring your focus to it.

Sometimes people fall into one of the traps that Tilopa mentioned, wherein they start thinking about the breath too much. Let’s do a short exercise so you understand what I mean when I refer to the potency of resting with the breath. Begin by paying close attention to your right knee. After a minute of that, switch your focus to your left thumb. After one more minute, shift again so you pay attention to your breath. Rest with the natural cycle of your breath for a minute or two, until you get completely distracted.

Compared to other forms of meditation, I have found that the breath really is quite powerful in this grounding quality. I don’t want to discourage anyone who practices with singing bowls, meditates on sound, or engages in prostrations. I have done those things and they are great. But when you are preparing to go into an important meeting and feel nervous, or you’re on the subway en route to work, or your partner is yelling at you, you may not be able to reach for that singing bowl! But, you always have the ability to reconnect to the breath. It is always there, ready for you to tune into it.

These days people don’t have to look to the example of the ancient Greeks, the Buddha, or even Tilopa. We can look to our modern day scientific findings. There have been many research studies about meditation, and almost all of them have involved participants who meditated on the breath. These individuals, after just a few weeks of doing short sessions where they would meditate on the breath, developed increased gray matter in the hippocampus, which means they had reduced stress, increased resilience, and enhanced memory. They also showed more activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, which means they were better at self-regulation (i.e. fewer knee-jerk reactions). Through simply paying attention to their breathing, a secular thing that we are all capable of, they became healthier and happier human beings.

Related: How Proper Breathing Contributes to Overall Health

Give the breath a try. I’ve practiced a wide variety of meditation techniques over the last 15 years and I have to say, no matter what the practice is, at the end of my session I am left with one thing: the breath. And the breath is absolutely perfect.

Photo by Hailey Wist

By

SHARE:

Comments (0)

Load More

Find us on Instagram

@LIVESONIMA
  • Did you catch our Instagram or Facebook LIVE yesterday? Deepak Chopra, MD, gave a profound keynote speech on the neuroscience of self-awareness and higher consciousness at the 2019 Yoga and Science Conference in NYC. Visit the link on our page to hear it and check out or Instagram highlights for a recap of the conference. #YogaAndScience2019 #LiveSonima
  • Day 2 of the 2019 Yoga and Science Conference began with a restorative yoga session led by Gail Parker, PhD. Participants welcomed one another through partnered listening exercises followed by a brief meditation and restorative postures. ❤️🙏 #YogaAndScience2019 #LiveSonima
  • We’re at the Yoga and Science Conference this weekend in NYC! Head over to our Instagram and Facebook Stories for our coverage on the research behind mindfulness-based practices. And be sure to tune today on Instagram or Facebook at 2:30PM for a LIVE video of Deepak Chopra, MD, exploring the reality of science and yoga. ❤️🙏
#YogaAndScience2019 #LiveSonima
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
#yoga #science #mindfulness #mindfulpractice #deepakchopra #yogaandscience #yogaheals #healthylifestyle #yogahealing #yogaresearch
  • We are so excited to announce that registration is now open to all! Join Paramaguru Sharath Jois in the U.S. this Spring. Spaces will fill up quickly, so be sure to reserve your spot on one or more of his teaching weeks:
.
.
* Stanford, California,  April 22 – 27
* Miami, Florida,  May 1 – 7
* New York, New York,  May 11 -16
.
.
Follow the link in our bio to sign up! And once you do, we’d love to see how you’re preparing for it. Share your practice and plans with us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter by tagging @LiveSonima and #SharathJoisUSA2019 ❤️🙏 We’ll see you there!
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
 #sharath #sharathustour #sharath2019 #sharathjois #yogawisdom #livesonima #ashtanga #ashtangacommunity #asana #yogaliving #yogaeveryday #mindfulliving #livewell #livefree #balance #yogilife #yogamaster #ashtangafamily #practiceisprayer #miamilifecenter #stanforduniversity #sharath #sharathjoistour #astangalove #ashtangalove #ashtangapractice #ashtangayogalove
  • Tonight, visit the link in our bio to read groundbreaking studies from leading researchers about how yoga and mindfulness help heal. 💖 #LiveSonima .
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
#mindfulness #2019 #2019intentions #reachyourgoals #newyearsresolutions #mindfulnesstechniques #healthyliving #livewell #achievesuccess #2019goals #mindfulnessmatters #livebetter #yogaheals #yogaandscience
  • The Yoga & Science Conference is only five days away in New York City! The headlining speaker this year is our friend, Dr. @deepakchopra. He is joined by several other renowned scientists who are coming together to speak about their research on the effects of mindfulness-based practices this January 19th and 20th.
.
.
.
There are a few tickets left! Get yours through www.yoganadscience.org or the link in our bio. This is a wonderful opportunity to understand the science behind yoga. And if you are unable to attend, be sure to follow along with us on social media as we will be sharing everything we learn at the conference this year and live-streaming certain sessions. We are proud to be a sponsor of this incredible event! .
Other speakers include Dr. Stephen Porges, the scientist who discovered Heart Rate Variability and created the Polyvagal Theory, Dr. Shirley Telles, head of research for Patanjali Yoga Institute in Haridwar, Dr. Gail Parker presenting on Race Based Stress Trauma and so many more. A huge thank you to @eddiestern for making this happen. We are looking forward to this weekend! [Graphic repost: @eddiestern]
.
.
.
Other sponsors of this event include: @aliceandolivia @ragandbone @nyu_bms @nyutandon @theshalanyc @skytingyoga @ishtayoga
.
.
.
.
.
#yoganadscience2019 #vaguesnerve #yogaandscience #scienceandminfulness #yogaresearch #sciencebehindyoga #broooklyNY #yogaandscienceworks #yogaheals #yogachangeslives #yogalive #livebetter #livewell #mindbodybalance #healthyliving #yogaeverydamnday
Receive fresh content delivered to your inbox every week!