When I first started trying to learn to meditate, I often encountered the advice to "focus on my breath." When I tried to do this, I would feel a sort of panicky sensation and it seemed related to the fact that I did not know how to manually breathe myself.
Upon further examination, I found that there are actually two different ways to breathe. It's very helpful to get clear on what they are so you can choose one way and consistently use that method. Part of using the breath in meditation is getting comfortable with slow, deliberate breathing and it really helps to have a plan for how to do that.
In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth
Before we get into how the breath moves through your body, let's first understand that there is a proper way to gather and release the breath. Unless your sinuses are congested, always inhale through your nose. Your nose is a filtration system which cleans the air entering your body.
Exhale through your mouth. The mouth is a more direct route than the nose, which is why it is used for the exhale. When exhaling, you are releasing waste products (primarily carbon) from your body, so it makes sense to take the short route (mouth) rather than the long route (nose).
Ideally you want your mouth to be "open but not open," which basically means barely open. It should be opened just enough so you can push a breath outward through the opening. If you end up opening your mouth too wide, your mouth dries out. If you are experiencing dryness in your mouth, you are opening too wide.
Once you really get into the groove of it, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth creates a very pleasant circular sensation with the breathing. It feels like fresh air is cleaning out your sinuses and body in a sort of circular movement through your body. If you get this experience, you are cycling your breath correctly. It may take awhile to get there, though, so please be patient with yourself as you learn this new skill.
"Normal" Breathing (Buddhist Breathing)
There are two ways to breath in terms of where the breath goes in your body. The normal breathe, which is the default breathing mode, is an inwards/outwards motion. As you breathe in, your stomach seemingly gets larger and moves away from you. As you breathe out, your stomach gets pushed back inwards towards your body. When you have fully inhaled, you might look like you have a little bit of a pot belly. When you are fully exhaled, your stomach looks sucked in and you look thinner than usual.
I actually use another form of breathing when I meditate, but first it's helpful to understand this method for contrasting purposes.
"Reverse" Breathing (Taoist Breathing)
When you do reverse breathing, the breathe moves through your body in an up/down motion, rather than an in/out motion. As you inhale, your breathe moves upwards into your chest. On the exhale, the breathe moves downwards towards the stomach.
As a sidenote, a really cool thing about learning to do reverse breathing manually via meditation is that it cures hiccups. Whenever I get hiccups, I meditate and do my Taoist Breathing for 45 seconds to a minute and the hiccups completely go away every time. Interestingly, I have also cured my dog's hiccups by holding him against my chest while I did my Taoist Breathing. He seemed to naturally start matching my breathing and his hiccups stopped. I haven't had the chance to try this out with a baby yet but it seems like it would be a great way to calm one down.
Anyway, the point is that Taoist Breathing is the correct breathing method for meditation, yoga, and tai chi. Occasionally one or two yoga moves will actually force my body to breathe the other way, but aside from that I always use Taoist Breathing rather than Buddhist Breathing. The consistency has totally resolved the panicky feeling that I used to feel during meditation.
Note that good posture is crucial here. If you are hunched over, it's not going to be anatomically possible to do the correct up/down breathing motion. This is a why a yoga practice is a helpful supplement as a way to increase your awareness about your posture.
The Breathe Moves in a Circle
The breathing should follow the form of a circle as it moves through your body. Going in through your nose and out through your mouth is a helpful start. The other part is realizing that there is no stopping point. You don't hold your breath when your lungs are full and you don't pause on empty either. No. You breathe as if you are moving along a circle, with half the circle being the inhale and then half the circle being the exhale. There is no beginning. There is no end. There are only cycles.
With time, you will learn to move around the circle slower and slower. This is your body calming down. In general, the longer you meditate, the more you will be able to slow down your breathing. Why is this important? Because long, deep breathes tell your immune system that you are safe and they also deliver far more oxygen than normal breathes provide. In turn, the oxygen is cleaning the inside of your body at a cellular level and then the waste is being exhaled with each breath cycle.
We hope this has been a helpful quick introduction to how to breathe while meditating. We'd love to hear your questions or comments here.
Article Copyright Aspire LLC
This article talks about how to achieve mindfulness through meditation. We don't personally use any sort of meditation music when we meditate. Mindfulness meditation can also be called pranayama, although there are some key differences. We also get into what is meditation and specific meditation techniques. We teach you how to do meditation, also known as zen meditation. Specifically, we focus on how to breathe properly for meditation. We also tell you how to cure hiccups and how to cure hiccuping.