Adapted by Sheila Key from her book, 50 Ways to Leave Your 40s.
When asked how to meditate, many spiritual masters offer the same simple advice: Sit quietly and observe the breath. But what’s the big deal about breathing? Newborn babies can do it with their eyes closed! So… nothing to it, right?
Right! Yet, as simple as it is, the breath’s power is profound.
You may think of breathing as merely a nose-mouth-and-lung thing, but, in fact, respiration’s exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide occurs within every cell of your body. Breathing is one of the body’s autonomic functions, doing its thing whether you’re thinking about it or not. But unlike other autonomic functions—heartbeat, digestion and such—breathing is within your conscious control.
And that, Dear One, is the key to the kingdom!
Consider this: Through breath, you can use your body to relax your mind. Through breath, you can use your mind to relax your body. (Tweetable) Breathing is like a bridge between the two, and it traffics in more than just blood gases. It also moves chi, the essential life-force energy, throughout the body.
Look at the words spirit, aspire and inspiration. All are close cousins of respiration. By breathing more consciously, you naturally breathe more fully, thus drawing into your body’s every nook and cranny the spirit of life itself.
But the question was how to meditate, so let’s be clear about why breathing is the answer.
Once you’re hip to the ins and outs of your own breath, you may discover what millions of meditators know: connecting with the breath keeps you centered and present, “in the Now.” And, as Wise Ones have been teaching for ages, there is no better place—in fact, no other place—to find spiritual enlightenment.
Ready to give it a go?
Breathe Here Now (Breath-Counting Meditation)
“Sit quietly and observe the breath.” That’s typical meditation guidance for the beginner. But if you’ve tried it, you may have found that, even if you can manage to sit still for ten minutes or so, getting your busy brain to pipe down can be a real challenge.
Our brains do so enjoy being busy, don’t they? So this time during meditation, how about giving yours a little job to do? Put it in charge of something; brains just l-o-v-e being in charge! And let’s give it something it’s good at—namely, counting.
Sit comfortably with your spine tall and at ease, your shoulders relaxed, and your head ever so slightly bowed as if you’re gazing inward. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Then let the breath come naturally. The depth and rhythm of your breathing may vary, but aim for quiet and unhurried.
As you come to feel settled in, begin to count each exhalation, up to five, then start a new cycle. Up to five… then around again to one. Count only the exhalations. You will know your attention has wandered when you find you have counted past five. And what of it? All is well. Just begin again at one and continue the practice for ten minutes or longer.
We’d love to hear from you about your own meditation experiences – please comment below.
If you’re looking for support on getting started in meditating, you may also appreciate our class, Meditation Mastery – 21 Days to an Awesome Life.
Sheila Key is Adironnda & Company’s team writer and editor. A freelancer since 1990, she has written for publications ranging from corporate business journals to spiritual and holistic magazines to anthologies of poetry and art. Her book, 50 Ways to Leave Your 40s: Living It Up in Life’s Second Half, was published in 2008 by New World Library, in Novato, California. Sheila lives with her husband, two children and a couple of four-leggers, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. If she’s not at her desk, try the garden.