The Natural Rhythm Of Breath
Each week we feature a couple of Andy's answers to questions he has been sent by members of the Headspace community about their meditation practice.
Here he answers a question from someone struggling to find a natural rhythm of the breath during their practice...
I experience a problem regarding breathing.
When I focus on my breath, I find it very difficult to have a 'spontaneous' rhythm of the breath. I loose the natural rhythm and it feels like I am councsiously deciding when to take the next breath.
I would be thankfull for an advice on how to just notice the breath.
Thanks for writing in and great to hear you've already started Take15.
Yeah, this is a suprisingly common question when learning meditation, especially when the breath is being used as the primary object of focus.
To understand why, we need to look at the relationship between the breath, the mind and the body. Because they are all very much connected and perhaps in a way we might not always consider. So, when the mind is relaxed, the breath tends to be deeper, more steady and we might feel as though the movement of the breath is very obvious in the body (think relaxing on a beach or sitting in a sauna or something similar). But when the mind is very anxious or busy, then the breath is often a lot more shallow, less steady and we may not even be able to feel the movement at all (think just before a big occasion, waiting for some important results or something similar).
Now typically we have a pre-existing idea of how the breath should looks and feel. So, when we sit to meditate and discover it is not how we expect it to feel, we might be inclined to alter it to make it feel that way. But when we do this, the natural feedback loop between body and mind is disturbed. It’s as if the breath is the messaging system between the two. So when we do this, the mind is suddenly being asked to go in a different direction, to move at a different speed and as a result, we tend to feel uncomfortable and will inevitably start over-thinking the process and trying to alter the breath even more.
It is for this reason I always suggest that we allow the mind to find a place of rest on it’s own, rather than trying to enforce it with the breath. For some people this will take some courage at first. It might mean placing your hand on your stomach, your diaphragm, or even your chest to pick up those more subtle movements. It’s almost as though you are ‘listening’ to the breath with your hand, as though it is someone else breathing. This helps us to remove yourself from the equation and instead just focus on the process of feeling and listening.
But as I say, this is very normal to begin with, is nothing to worry about at all and letting go of needing to control the breath is part of the broader process of letting go, which is the very essence of meditation. So great to notice this so early on and let us know how you get on with the rest of the journey.
Warm wishes, Andy
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