A Meditation on Breathing

Following the breath is a common technique in many eastern traditions, and you don't have to join a group or change faith to do it. Just count

Feature by Teddy Bradshaw | 16 Apr 2006

Whether you are a smoker or not, if you are anything like me you must be tired of hearing about THE BAN. It's the 'flavour of the month' and has touched on some hot issues – notably the idea of 'Nanny State'. Freedom is important to everyone, so when something impinges on our freedoms it touches a nerve in all of us. On this occasion, the majority opinion has swung in favor of the freedom to breathe clean air.

Now let's take a different perspective on the freedom to breathe clean air. How many times a day do you think you breathe? Sit down quietly, begin to relax then when your breathing has become regular count how many times your breath moves in and out in a minute. Times that by 60 and again by 24, then you'll have the answer. Don't worry too much about what it is since there's no right answer - we all breathe at different rates. By sitting down to count the number of cycles of breath in a minute, you have just completed a first lesson in meditation. Following the breath is a common technique in many eastern traditions, and you don't have to join a group or change faith to do it. Just count, and the benefits include stress reduction, calmness and a sense of well-being. Some say that, empowered with this mindfulness, ultimately there are no limits.

If you tried this experiment you will have noticed something, perhaps on the very first attempt. Concentrating even for one minute and following the natural rhythm of breath makes us aware of our thought process. In some ways, thoughts and breath are similar in that we don't think about either very often. They just happen, without our awareness and that is the point. Thoughts stream through our mind like clouds or butterflies floating past a window, endlessly, effortlessly, and when we turn our attention inward we begin the process of meditation. I don't mean contemplation, that is simply directed thoughts, what I am talking about is observation. Total relaxation, calming the ripples of thoughts by focusing on your breath, brings you to a point of stillness, the present. We have that freedom – no one can take that away from us and through it, we can take charge of our lives with awareness. We can consciously direct our will to decide which of our habitual tendencies we wish to let go – smoking might be one – or which to cultivate. When we own that freedom consciously we are empowered, and we genuinely become the architects of our own future. Thankfully, you can never legislate for that.

Monday evenings at 6:30pm meditation classes are given by John Emery, a former Buddhist monk for 15yrs, who spent over 8 years in retreat. Cost by donation, at Buddhafield, info 0131 624 3777.