The Formal Practice of Breathing Meditation:
Concentration on Your Breath
Acquaint yourself with your breath. Find or create a place that’s relatively free from distraction to start your practice. Seat yourself in a relaxed, upright position. Notice your breathing and focus your attention steadily at the place in your body where your breath seems most vivid. Start getting to know your breath with its associated sensations – the movement of air through your airway, the sounds of breathing in and out, perhaps the coolness of the air going in, the warmth of exhaled air, or the motion of your nostrils, mouth, chest, diaphragm, and stomach. Get acquainted with the ins and outs of your breathing and allow all else to glide into the background.
Our breath takes care of itself and of us. Should you find yourself judging, simply remind yourself to return to observing or just following your breathing (“Where am I? In…or out?”). If you become panicky, remember that your breath takes care of itself and of you. Our breath, controlled automatically and effortlessly by our cerebellums from deep within our brains, puffs wind into the sails of our vitality and sustains us. So it’s simple: learn to find and follow the breath. Allow your mind to chatter away in the background—and it will– while tuning back into your breath and keeping it center stage.
Crank Up Your Concentration. Begin each practice by verbalizing your intention to focus on every breath and to notice whenever your mind wanders. Spend a few moments putting everything else aside and then just think about the breathing. Breath in, breath out, counting each set until you count set #7, and then start back at 1, and continue like that. Notice when you get distracted, disengage for a moment, and start again. Recognizing distraction heightens your awareness of when you’re mindful of your breathing and when you aren’t. Once you find you can sustain your concentration long enough to count 10 to 15 breaths, then try to maintain your concentration without the counting. Just keep your body relaxed and balanced, work with your attention riveted to the present, to the extent possible, and see what you can accomplish.
Try practicing for a total of about ten or fifteen minutes every day, and longer, if you can manage it. Start each practice by verbalizing your intention to become more familiar with your breath and conclude by engaging in a little reflection. Remember the idea of openness? Allow yourself to be open to the totality of your experience—all of it: Stick with it, and you’ll probably notice slow and steady improvement in your ability to concentrate.