Over the last few years of mediation the single most important thing that I have discovered is that the quality of your breathing is a reflection of the quality of your mind.
Breath is the gateway to my awareness of both the thoughts going through my head and the sensations of my body. The deeper my connection with breathing, the better I feel on a daily basis.
My journey in meditation began about 5 years ago due to trouble with Asthma. I was living in Bangalore, India and dealing with some serious breathing issues.
Bangalore is a city filled with dust and pollution, and despite how much I loved living there, I was battling a serious cough/wheeze for a few months. I was constantly using my inhaler, waking up in the middle of the night out of breath, and generally fatigued because of it.
I needed to find a better way.
At this time i was working out of an organic Yoga Cafe called “Yogisthaan”. The owner was a guy who was very experienced in yoga and meditation, and was generally I guy who I had a lot of respect for.
One day I told him about my breathing struggles. He offered to help teach me some breathing exercises that would help me. At the same time though, I was skeptical that breathing techniques would be able to cure me of my asthma. So, we made a bet…
We agreed that if he could cure me of my asthma in one week, I would pay any price he asked for. If it didn’t work however, I wouldn’t pay a dime.
The bet was on.
Long story short, after practicing 30 minutes a day 2x/day for 7 days straight I was able to go 24 hours without using my inhaler. It worked!
However, he assured me that these are exercises I would need to continue to do for the rest of my life. These are not a one and done solution, and in order to maintain the benefits you must continue to practice. They are exercises for my lungs in the same way that I exercise my body. Stop exercising your body and you’ll get out of shape — same with the lungs.
And so it went.
I continued to practice at home each day for 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at night. In those sessions I started to notice how overactive my mind was. How I would get distracted while trying to do the exercises. How my mind would wander off and forget what number I was on.
I would also notice that by the time the 30 minute sessions were over, I felt a stillness in my mind. I felt calmer. I felt like the over-active monkey mind was slowing down and swinging from tree to tree gracefully instead of jumping up and down throwing bananas on the floor.
So I began experimenting with meditation. At the end of 30 minutes I would sit there for 5–10 and just observe my breath. Focus on my breath, allow my mind to wander, and then try to bring it back to the breathing. I continued to practice like this for the next few months.
Then one day, I decided that I wanted to take it to the next level….
I went back to the same Yoga instructor, happy to share my progress and learnings. I asked him “I want to do a 30 day meditation retreat, where can I do it?!?!”
His reply? “30 days is far too much. Try 10. There is something called Vipassana. The website is Dhamma.org. Go there and do a 10 day retreat.”
The writing was on the wall. Nearly 6 months later, in New Years of 2014, I took my first Vipassana meditation course.
There, once again, for the first three days I explored the connection between breath and quality of mind. I focused on nothing but my respiration for the first three days, calming the mind and becoming more focused.
Then on day four I switched to scanning my body for feelings and sensations. It was as if, by using my breath as a tool, I was able to unlock a world of connection to my body I had never previously experienced. It was like I unlocked a doorway into myself, my feelings, and my emotions.
By the end of the 10 day meditation course I felt calmer and more clear headed than ever before in my life. When I walked around it was as if I had a constant awareness of my breathing, instead of being lost in thought.
I was hooked. I still am. I have since completed three more 10-day retreats, and meditation has become a part of my daily ritual.
More importantly, awareness of my breathing has become a staple in my day to day life. When I walk around, I pay attention to my breath. When I’m eating, I pay attention to my breath. Chopping vegetables, taking a shower, talking to someone — I pay attention to my breath.
This attention to breath has provided me with tremendous insight into the quality of my mind. It has shown me that the quality of your breathing is a direct reflection to your quality of mind.
For example, when I am very calm and relaxed I have long deep breaths. When I am angry or anxious my breaths become short and rapid. If I am congested and have a hard time breathing, my mind feels cloudy and sluggish. When I exercise and get out of breath, I feel connected to my body because my heart is beating out of my chest.
I’ve come to realize that every emotion has a type of breathing associated with it. Calm, angry, sad, anxious, excited, all have a quality of breath attached to it. By paying attention to the breath as we experience these emotions, we can learn a lot about ourselves.
Try to imagine someone sobbing right now and think about what they sound like? Loud wails and then lots of short, quick, breaths. It becomes very hard for them to get back to the breath when sobbing.
If you think about it, every meditation course on the planet has you take long deep breaths before you begin. Even for those who suffer from anxiety, the main tool to catch yourself is to take LONG DEEP BREATHS. Sad? Take long deep breaths.
In all of these disciplines when shit hits the fan we are encouraged to TAKE A DEEP BREATH.
There is profound wisdom in this advice.
Personally, I notice that whenever I’m lost in the virtual reality of thought, it’s because I’ve stopped paying attention to my breath. If I haven’t meditated for the day my mind feels frantic. It’s racing from thought to thought, idea to idea.
It’s no surprise to me that things like Wim Hoff Breathing have taken off in popularity recently. Wim Hoff uses the breath as a tool to regulate your internal body temperature. People who take his courses report some amazing things like out of body experiences, tingling, and generally a calmer state of mind after using his techniques. He is a great example of someone who has learned how to use the breath as a tool for understanding the quality of your mind.
Art of Living meditation is another example. In this form of meditation you’re using nothing but breathing techniques. By using the breath we can calm down the mind and reach a healthier quality of thinking and relationship to thought.
Long story short, awareness of my breathing has provided me with great insight into the quality of my mind. The calmer and more controlled my breath is, the calmer I am as an individual. Whenever I have lost my awareness and I’m sad, angry, anxious, etc — I can use breathing as a tool to regain composure and pull myself together.
My father is someone who will probably never try to meditate. However, one day he was stressed and I told him to simply take 5 deep breaths. To this day he always tells me that whenever he is feeling off or stressed, he takes 5 deep breaths. It never fails to help him.
Your breath is always here with you at any time, any place, any moment. Your breath never leaves you. It is the ultimate tool to be accessed whenever needed, on command. If you can cultivate this awareness of respiration it will ripple over into every area of your life, for the rest of your life.
It’s that simple. Connect with your breath for a healthier state of mind. The quality of your breathing is a reflection of the quality of your mind 😃
Thoughts? Similar experiences? Let me know in the comments below!
Originally published at Troy Erstling.