Below are explained the detailed instructions for daily Breath-awareness practice. Breath-awareness practice helps to settle the mind so that we are able to go deeper in our releasing. However, it is essential that we are committed to releasing daily and as frequently as possible if we are to get any benefit from Breath-awareness practice. Also, it is essential that we make changes to our daily living in such a way that we are able to reap maximum benefit from this practice. Such changes include moderation in all activities such as eating, recreation, work, entertainment etc., ensuring our speech is wholesome all the time, ensuring we keep mutuality and harmlessness as our guiding principles while interacting with all beings, trying our best not to take any sort of intoxicants and that we keep a wholesome livelihood by earning money through honest means only. Please note that these changes are recommendations only. We have found that the more closely we follow them, the faster we are able to progress with releasing and reap its rewards.
1. Regarding posture to be adopted for the practice: We sit in a comfortable posture with our head, neck and back comfortably straight and eyes closed. Sitting cross-legged on a cushion or sitting conventionally on a chair are both recommended, preferably not in or on our bed because of its strong association with sleep. Whatever posture we adopt, we ensure we try our best not to change the posture during the duration of the breath-awareness session. We sit still as best as we can. The intent is to adopt a posture that encourages both a sense of calm-alertness as well as the opportunity to forget our body.
2. External conditions to be taken care of for the breath-awareness session: We ensure we are comfortably warm. It can be difficult to sit for breath-awareness if we feel either too hot or too cold. It is also recommended to stay indoors during the practice as outside light, breeze, sounds etc., can be severe distractions during the practice.
3. How to practice breath-awareness: We remain continuously aware of our natural breathing. We breathe in and out without any deliberate pausing (no long breathless gaps between our breaths). We breathe in naturally in an alert manner calming our body and mind, we breathe out naturally in an alert manner calming our body and mind. We do not attempt to make our breathing long or short, hard or soft, or try any kind of control on our breathing nor do we try to change the rhythm of breathing at any time. We allow it to be as it is at all times (exceptions for changing the rhythm of breathing are explained in points 6 and 12 below).
4. Breathe through nose only: We ensure we are breathing through the nose only all the time while we sit for practicing breath-awareness. Only in case our nose is blocked due to cold etc., we use our mouth. However, in such cases we don’t use both nose and mouth. In other words, we don’t use our nose for inhaling and our mouth for exhaling, or vice versa. Using both nose and mouth causes an imbalance between the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the body.
5. Feel the touch of the breath constantly during the breath-awareness session: Throughout the duration of the session, we try to be continuously aware of the touch of our breath as it goes in and out, either on the area inside the nostrils or the area at the entrance of the nostrils, or on the area between the entrance of the nostrils and the upper lip. We do not force ourselves to deliberately look for this touch of the breath at any time. It takes continued practice to develop this subtle awareness. When our mind becomes naturally sharp and focused through continued practice, we will be able to feel the touch of the breath more and more clearly. The touch of the breath is a subtle, physical sensation, so it takes time for the mind to become sharp enough to start feeling it. As we continue with our daily practice even further, we will notice eventually that as the breath passes through our nostrils, in addition to the touch of the breath, the out-breath is slightly warmer than the in-breath. If we are able to continuously feel this difference in temperature of the breath, that means we have progressed very well with our practice and our mind has become exceedingly sharp as well as still. We are once again reminded that such subtle awareness of breath has to come naturally as we continue our daily practice seriously as well as consistently. No forcing or over-exertion should be done at any time.
6. Dealing with distractions during the breath-awareness session: During the initial stages of our practice and even at times after we have been practicing for a while, it could prove difficult to feel the touch of the breath continuously or we may get frequently distracted due to some reason and lose awareness of the breath altogether. At such times, we are not to get disappointed, frustrated, angry, dejected or depressed no matter how many times it happens. Every time such things happen, as soon as we realize that we have lost awareness of the breath, we should calmly and gently come back to awareness of our breathing, and start again. It could happen that for an entire session we were not at all able to stay aware of our respiration no matter how many times we returned to the awareness of breathing. Even then we should not feel dejected, despondent, angry or frustrated at the end of the session. We should renew our commitment and enthusiasm and come back for the next session cheerfully. During the sessions, we can also take few hard breaths whenever we find that we are not able to feel the touch of the breath. However, only few hard breaths should be taken. As soon as we are able to again start feeling the touch of the breath, we let go of all control and return back to normal, natural breathing.
7. Breath should be the only object of attention: During the practice we should NOT engage in any sort of verbalization (chanting mantra, counting the breath etc.), visualization (visualize any shape or form), imagination or contemplation (thinking over some ideas or concepts, using Zen koan etc.). The only object of our attention during breath-awareness practice should always be bare breath and nothing else but the breath.
8. By becoming continuously aware of our breathing, we approach present-moment awareness, which means our concept of clock time changes. For this reason we may initially require a timepiece to assist us in keeping time.
9. What to do at the end of the breath-awareness session: After we complete our breath-awareness session, we are encouraged to take our attention off our breathing, sit quietly, and be unconditionally with whatever we are experiencing. We allow ourselves to unconditionally feel our body inside and outside. Whatever natural, physical sensations we feel in or on the body, we just observe them without any preference or reaction. Every natural, physical sensation that we feel either in or on the body, whether it feels pleasurable or painful, pleasant or unpleasant, gross or subtle, have the same nature: they are ALL impermanent, that is, they arise, seem to stay for some time, and then they pass away sooner or later. We learn to clearly observe this basic nature of all body sensations that we come across, by training our mind to not to react to the sensations either with craving (when the sensations are pleasant/pleasurable) or aversion (when the sensations are unpleasant/painful). To be able to clearly observe all body sensations without reacting to them is a skill that takes time to develop. We develop this skill by constantly reminding ourselves that all experiences are valid. As our breath-awareness becomes more and more sharp, steady and subtle, we will be able to feel even more sensations throughout the body, which naturally arise in the body. However, we need to remember that maintaining continuous awareness of our breathing should be our core practice. At the end of a breath-awareness session, we can spend as much time as we want unconditionally feeling the body as described above. It is not possible to explain here why it is important to practice feeling the body by watching the body sensations, at the end of breath-awareness session. However, it is worth noting that continuous observation of body sensations is as powerful a method as Releasing Process and provides the same benefits. Also, when we find ourselves in extreme situations such as while we are faced with a challenge or a crisis, or when we have been completely overpowered by a strong emotion such as fear, grief or anger which causes us to completely lose our metal balance, it often becomes difficult to do any releasing during the situation in order to regain our mental clarity and balance. However, unconditional and alert observation of body sensations is a powerful tool which would not only help us to stay fully present and deal with the situation effectively, but also at the same time, a natural integration process happens within us which frees us from the negativities the arise as reaction to the situation.
10. How long to practice breath-awareness daily: 15 minutes is the essential, bare minimum time required for breath-awareness practice and should be done twice daily. As we progress, we may feel inclined to sit for breath-awareness for longer than 15 minutes during our twice-daily sessions. This intent is valid. By regular and daily practice we can extend our breath-awareness sessions to 40 minutes and even more. 40 minutes of continuous breath-awareness with minimal distractions is extremely helpful to settle the mind for releasing. However, it’s strongly recommended we don’t practice breath-awareness for less than 15 minutes per session. We may also choose during some sittings to devote more time feeling the body (observing body sensations) at the end of the breath-awareness session, but even in such cases also we ensure that we have practiced breath-awareness for at least 15 minutes before we start practicing feeling the body. The mental body provides many excuses to justify why we can’t put this small amount of time aside for ourselves. Let its craftiness die from neglect.
11. Dealing with discomfort that may be experienced while practicing breath-awareness: Whatever happens physically, mentally, and emotionally during our breath-awareness practice is valid. No matter what the nature of our experience – whether we perceive it as comfortable or uncomfortable – we remain continuously aware of our breathing, we remain relaxed, and sit as still as possible. By continuously staying aware of our breathing and remaining as relaxed as possible, discomfort that arises during our breath-awareness sessions undergoes a natural integration which is very healthy for us. Tingling sensations may remain in the extremities of our body afterward. This is natural, normal and beneficial. Any discomfort we experience during a consciously connected breath-awareness session is an indicator of charged emotion surfacing for integration which we can release on. Discomfort experienced during breath-awareness sessions is the past coming to pass which is a natural process. We must cooperate with nature (as in Mother Nature) so that we can be free of all mental-emotional limitations. Trust the process and complete the session. The breath-awareness practice is simple and gentle for what it accomplishes, as well as safe when we pay attention to these simple instructions. We don’t let any discomfort experienced in these sessions steer our mentality into imaginary fears nor do we allow them to become excuses for discontinuing our practice. Rather, we allow discomfort to serve as confirmation that we are energetically impacting the causality of the quality of our experience. Trust the procedure. No one is hurt by breathing normally and naturally.
12. If we feel sleepy while practicing breath-awareness: At times during breath-awareness sessions, we may lapse into states of unconsciousness. This manifests as seemingly falling asleep without warning during our breath-awareness session. We may also feel as if we are anesthetized. This experience is valid. It occurs when deeply unconscious memory becomes activated and surfaces. If we experience a reoccurring loop of unconsciousness, so that we lapse into sleep each time we sit to breathe, it’s recommended we double the tempo of our breathing pattern until we again feel present. Even when we double the speed of our breathing pattern, we still keep our inhalation and exhalation evenly balanced. Doubling our breathing pattern minimizes the occurrence of any pausing. Notice that the point at which we lapse into sleep is at the end of an out-breath. Doubling the tempo of our breathing helps minimize the possibility of this. Once we feel more alert, we let go of all control on breathing and return to the tempo of our regular, natural breathing pattern. The more present we become to our respiration, the less this surfacing unconsciousness overwhelms us. When we are feeling deeply unconscious, the only way out is to breathe our way through.