Preparing for our contemplative practice is not so much perfecting mechanical technique but choosing finding ways to be present here-and-now. I found that this 12 Breaths to Contemplative Awareness approach has been helpful for me so I pass it on.
Attention to breathing has long been part of all contemplative and meditation practices in Eastern and Western spirituality. Becoming aware of one’s breathing is a low-tech and ever-available way to focus on being in the present moment that prepares us to begin observing the thoughts and feeling we have rather than them “having us.”
Rapid and shallow breathing is often a physical symptom of being in a “fight or flight” frame of mind. It can happen even when we are unconscious of the associated anxious feelings and the story that is creating them. Slow deep breathing stimulates our parasympathetic nervous system and that can calms us and increase our awareness. Our feelings come from the stories we are accepting as the truth. The path to changing our feelings is through awareness of that story and asking if there are other stories about the same situations that may be equally true. Then and only then are we in a place to chose which “true” story to accept and our feelings will follow. [There is no truth in illusions and denial stories so this is a fearless, open and honest search for the truth.]
Herbert Benson’s book “The Relaxation Response” reported his research about the effects of even short-term breathing-focused meditation. More recent research found that breath-focused meditation has a positive effect at a genetic level along with lowering blood pressure and even the pH of our blood.
How we breathe makes a difference. If our exhale is longer than the inhale, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system in a way that “puts the brakes on” our fight/flight physical response.
Try this: sit comfortably, back straight, inhale counting 2, hold for count 1, then exhale for a count of 4. If it’s comfortable gradually increase the inhale and exhale. And smile while you are doing it – that will relax you as well.
Try it for 12 breaths. It seems that many people need about 12 cycles to stimulate their parasympathetic response when they begin this practice. Over time using the strategy, you may find it happening before you complete the 12 breaths but the experience may be so positive that you will keep up the full practice. The is no competition or reward for arriving faster.