Zen of the Quit

Sitting, Zen

Following the Breath


In an earlier post about sitting, I mentioned that one way of bringing your attention back to the present moment is to “follow your breath,” but I didn’t expand on that concept. Now I will.

There are various schools of thought about the idea of following the breath, but two techniques that I found very useful were from Michael Brown’s wonderful book, “The Presence Process.”

First of all, pay attention to how you’re breathing: make sure that your breathing seamlessly alternates between inhalation and exhalation. Now, you may be thinking, “Of course my breathing alternates between inhalation and exhalation. How else would you breathe!?”

Did you know that humans are the only animal that regularly stops breathing altogether? Most of us do it frequently: we hold our breath when we’re really concentrating on something, or when we’re scared, or when we’re trying to be quiet.

But to be truly mindful of your breathing, concentrate on never holding your breath: just make sure that you end every inhalation by exhaling, and that you end every exhalation by inhaling, so that there’s never a pause between them.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Try it, and you may find it’s not as easy as it sounds. One great thing about this technique is that you can always tell when your mind is wandering by the gaps in your breathing.

Once you’ve got that down, another way to follow your breath is to say to yourself, “Here now, in this,” and time it so that the words “Here” and “in” line up with inhalations and the words, “now” and “this” line up with exhalations.

More on this as we go on.

(If you're feeling a bit lost, it may be helpful to go back to the first post and follow along in order.)

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