Why Focus On the Breath?
In most meditations, you begin with a focus on the breath. It might be simply paying attention to the breath or it might be about taking deep breaths. It might be another variation, but I’d guess probably 95% of meditations begin with focusing on your breath. Is there a reason for that?
Among those who don’t meditate, or who are just starting to, there’s a common misconception that meditation is about doing nothing. They think you need to stop thinking — something that’s impossible — and have a completely blank brain.
The truth is, meditation requires a fairly intense amount of concentration. And focusing on your breath helps you with that.
Have you ever been in flow?
Have you ever been so focused on something you were doing that minutes or even hours passed and you didn’t notice? During that time, you might have not heard songs that were playing, people who spoke, a thunderstorm that passed through, and other sounds. You might not have noticed someone cooking or cleaning around you. You were so lost in what you were doing that the world around you was lost.
Focusing on the breath in meditation is a way to try to replicate that flow. By focusing on your breath, you tune out your thoughts, sights and sounds around you, and other things that might distract you from your meditation.
It’s not perfect, of course. Thoughts never cease, so chances are always good that you’re going to get distracted. Being able to come back to the breath is an easy and simple way to let go of those thoughts when you realize you’ve been getting caught up in them.
It’s always with you
Another reason to focus on the breath is that it’s always with you.
Going to the gym requires having the appropriate clothing and depending on the time of day, toiletries to shower and get ready for work or a date. Therapy requires appointments and meeting with another person.
Meditation’s benefits make it an ideal activity to do any time and any place. And unlike the gym, therapy, or other activities that require pre-planning or special tools, equipment or clothing, meditation only requires your breath and your brain.
Feeling stressed at work? Anxious before a first date? Angry at someone? In any of these situations and so many others, meditation is a simple and always available solution. Your breath is with you no matter where you are, how you’re feeling, or what you’re doing. Taking the time to focus on it can soothe any feeling — even if it doesn’t calm you completely, it can bring things under control enough that you can better deal with the situation at hand.
Breathing is within your control
Breathing is an incredibly unique body function. It’s both involuntary and voluntary at the same time.
The body will breathe whether you want it to or not. Hold your breath long enough and you’ll pass out, at which point your body will unconsciously begin breathing again. Yet we do have that power to hold our breath, to breathe shallowly or deeply, fast or slow.
And it’s these variations that affect our heart rate, blood pressure, stress levels, and more. When you breathe shallow and fast, your heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, and your body begins to prepare for flight or fight. When you breathe slow and deep, on the other hand, your body senses that everything is okay and remains calm with a lower heart rate and blood pressure and you stay relaxed.
What does that mean in the context of meditation?
It means that when you stop to meditate and focus on your breath, you can change the way you feel. You can stop or dramatically decrease your body’s physical responses and soothe your emotional ones as well. Not only is this better for your health, but it also puts you in a better position if you need to address a situation with someone else. You’ll be calmer, able to think more clearly and be able to not only express your feelings but also your issues or concerns with the situation.
Breathing is simple but controls it all
I have meditated in a vehicle as someone else drove, and while parked before an appointment or date that made me very nervous. I meditate in the morning before I start my day, and will meditate in the evening if I have a particularly stressful day.
I’ve also been in situations where the time simply wasn’t available to engage in “real” meditation. And that’s where the breath comes into play.
It’s such a simple thing, yet it controls everything. Focusing on breathing deeply, fully, and slowly allows you to remain calm and collected. Even on days when you feel too busy to meditate, you can also find a few seconds here and there to stop, pay attention to your breath, and change it if you need to.
It’s one of the simplest ways to find inner peace and harmony. Meditation is one of the easiest ways to become more aware of your breath.