Deep-breathing Meditation – How to Practice & Incorporate into Daily Life

Last Updated: May.10.18

I have a few interesting questions I love to ask you:

1. Are you aware that you’re breathing, right now?

2. Are you aware that you’re thinking, while listening to me, right now?

3. Are you aware that you’re talking to yourself, right now? (I imagine someone would respond like “What the heck does that mean? This guy is a weirdo. Am I talking to myself? I’m not talking to myself. Wait a second…”)

So, you’re all breathing, thinking, and talking to yourself. Me too. We all are. Now,

Who/What is the entity that is aware of such activities?

You know that you’re breathing, thinking, talking. So that means we are two entities here: 1. You 2. The breather/The thinker/The talker.

And such acknowledgment, we call it mindfulness. By dictionary, mindfulness is, and I quote:

A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique

Today I want to share with you one way to nurture mindfulness – Deep-breathing Meditation.

For me, meditation is not simply a technique, nor a strategy. It’s my way of life. It’s my way of being, living, working, and playing.

Meditation. Now, people tend to have a vision of a saint, very peaceful and serene, sitting quietly on a cushion, meditates. And then they imagine themselves, sitting on their asses, on a bed, rarely a cushion, pretending to be quiet outside, and chaotic inside, striving to be miserably happy, and awake. And because the two imaginary scenes contradict each other too much, they just shake their head, decide that meditation is not for them.

What if I tell you that, you can practice deep-breathing meditation while running, eating, even working?

What if I tell you that, you can meditate, pretty much the same way like you’re breathing, thinking, talking to yourself, all day long, even when you’re not aware of it?

What if I tell you that, meditation has been the key that unlocked my transformation, allowed me to quit smoking, gather the courage to pursue my dreams, and develop all the good habits that have dramatically altered my life?

I don’t exaggerate one bit. Meditation is the savior of my life. In fact, if there’s one activity/hobby/habit that I would do from now on for the rest of my life, it’d be this one.

I used to be in awe and perplexed of all those great saints and spiritual masters of the world, who are enlightened, who seem so calm and serene, who seem to be immune, not affected, nor moved by any disturbance in life, and wonder:

What’s the point of living a life with blank emotion?

What’s the point of being human, yet possessing a heart of stone?

What’s the joy of living an emotionless life?

Doesn’t that make us become like a brainless zombie (I’d been watching too much of Resident Evil and the walking dead series you know)?

So, my curiosity led me to study what enlightenment is all about, and what I’ve found is that: these masters do have emotions like the rest of us. They do have fear, anger, sadness, joy, etc.

However, they are not attached to these emotions. Likewise, they are not attached to their thoughts, nor suppress them. They know that thoughts and emotions are products of the mind’s judgments, whether something is good or bad; whereas they themselves (or the eternal soul if you will) are separate from the thinking mind. An analogy is seeing the thinking mind as a wild horse, and these saints have mastered the art of taming their horse.

It all starts with being aware of, and detached from their own thoughts, becoming an observer.

This is truly an art of living. Words are limited in the ability to express meditation experience, you have to try it to see for yourself. I’m only a beginner on this journey. And with deep sincerity, I invite you to take this path.

Learning and incorporating deep-breathing into daily life is a long journey. Don’t let that discourage you. You’ll see for yourself that, it is not simply a tactic, a hack, a shortcut, a mind trick, etc. that we’d like to put on, as a means to achieve something that we want, and then take off, once we’re done.

No.

Deep-breathing meditation is a way to foster mindfulness, so we can focus on the present moment in a non-judgmental way. By focusing on our deep and rhythmic breaths, the mind remains calm and tranquil.

How?

Well, I give you TWO analogies. It’s extremely hard to keep calm and (ok, not THAT calm 😶!) remain a dead fish while listening to that dance and EDM playlist in your favorite nightclub. In the same vein, it’s extremely hard to get turned on while attending a funeral.

And once you have a taste of its benefits, you wouldn’t believe how you’d lived your life without it.

I. Deep-breathing Meditation    

For starters, aim just 2 minutes for each session. Make it easy, no pressure. Increase the time once you get the hang of it. Go through the following steps:

A. The “Simplified” Version

Basically, find a quiet place, you either sit on a chair or a cushion. Make yourself comfortable. Place one hand (doesn’t matter right or left)  in the other with palms upwards. Keep the tips of the thumbs slightly raised and gently touching. Close your eyes.

Clear your mind. Now, slowly inhale through your nose for 3 seconds. Hold your breath, silently count to 2. Then, slowly exhale through your nose for 4 seconds. Pay attention to your breaths. Repeat.

Whenever you notice your thinking mind wanders somewhere else, gently direct your thought back to the breathing.

Do NOT “try” to keep your attention fixated upon the breathing. Instead, do try to direct your thought back to the activity as soon as you become aware of your mind stray. Make it a goal to get back to the exercise as soon as you can.

Remember, it doesn’t matter how many times your mind wanders off, what matters is how soon you become aware of it and get back to your meditation.

B. The “Full” Version

i. The Preparation

Find a quiet place, where no one disturbs you. Sit on a chair or a cushion. Stay away from your bed, or it might seduce you into sleeping.

Keep your back straight, don’t lean forward or backward, don’t slouch. Personally, I like leaning against a wall, or putting a pillow/lumbar support pad behind my back if I sit on a chair to force myself sit up straight.

Follow the points below to get the right posture:

  • Keep your head up and look straight, not leaning backward or forward. One way to ensure this is to check the angle behind your back, from neck to head, is it vertical, almost 90 degrees to your shoulder? Make sure it isn’t tilted forward or backward. Keep your chin slightly tucked in, so that your eyes look a bit downward. You don’t want your eyes casting straight or upward, as that may stir imagination and mental excitement. Looking down makes turning the mind inward easier.
  • Keep your shoulders open, back, and down; open your chest. You can do this by lifting the top portion of your sternum up, keeping it straight, not falling down forward, nor backward. If the top of your sternum is falling forward, that means your upper body is also falling forward, and shoulders are not rolling back. If it’s backward, that means you’re over exaggerating your leaning back (the tips here, which I learned from ATHLEAN-X*, not only ensure comfort over long breathing sessions, but also correct bad postures we don’t know that we have – ex: head forward, round & compressed shoulders, chest).
  • Lean your back against the wall or the back of your chair (or your pillow, if your chair is reclining like mine).
  • If on chair, place your feet comfortably on the floor. If on cushion, cross your legs. Make sure you can sit still and stable.
  • Place one hand (doesn’t matter right or left)  in the other with palms upwards. Keep the tips of the thumbs slightly raised and gently touching.
  • Close your eyes. You can practice with your eyes open, but for starters, closing eyes helps you concentrate.

ii. The Meditation

Relax your body and your mind. Breathe normally with your mouth closed.

After you relax your body and clear your mind, now, slowly inhale through your nose for 3 seconds. Notice how you breathe in, how the air flow into your body, to your chest (or down your abdomen if you practice “stomach breathing”), notice how your chest/belly expand.

Now, hold your breath, silently count to 2. Do count in your mind, so that you keep the mind busy, rather than wandering around.

Now, slowly exhale through your nose for 4 seconds. Again, notice how you breathe out, how the air goes out, notice how your chest/belly contract. That finishes a cycle of deep breathing.

Keep your breathe-ins & breathe-outs naturally, don’t exaggerate, neither force the breathing.

After you breathe out completely, make a mental note that the cycle just finished being number 1. Do NOT count “1” in your mind as this will distract your focus on the breathing; just use your mind to remember which cycle you’ve just completed. Make a mental note from 1-5, then go back to cycle number 1 and repeat.

I’ve found that by forcing myself to remember which cycle I’ve just completed, my mind has less residual mental capacity to wander around.

Now, feel free to adjust the breath-in and breath-out durations as you like, except the holding 2 second duration. Also, take it easy while timing your breath. You don’t have to get the exact durations, because the purpose is to keep your mind focus on the activity.

Soon, a thought will pop up. That’s normal. As soon as you catch yourself straying, gently direct your thought back to the breathing.

Again, remember we’ve agreed that you and the thinking mind are separate entities right? The problem is because we have, for a long time, forgot this fact, we’ve habitually become identified with, and attached to the mind. Therefore, it’s expected to be drifted away from the exercise and get lost in thought. Your goal is NOT to hold your mind constantly fixated upon the breathing. That’s impossible. Instead, make a goal to get back to the exercise as soon as your mind wander around.

However, make your “come back” as calmly and serenely as you can. Don’t criticize, nor scold yourself, don’t indulge in self-pity. Treat random thoughts the way you’d treat unwelcome and persistent salesmen, who keep coming back. Don’t show any interest, nor dwell upon them, nor listen to their reasons. Simply ignore them.

Remember, it doesn’t matter how many unwanted thoughts you possess, what matters is how soon you become aware of them and get back to your meditation.

II. Practice & Incorporate Deep-breathing into Daily Life

The beauty of deep breathing is that it’s so simple, yet so relaxing to perform. In fact, to say that it can reduce stress** is underestimating its potential. From my experience, it gives me bliss and joy. Once you master the technique, you can do it anywhere, anytime you like.

From a modest beginning of only 2 minutes per session, increase the duration over time.

Now, when should I increase?

It depends, on the feedback you get. It might take 1 week, or 3 months. Beware of aiming for a specific number of days before you start learning to meditate.

I know some people swear about the idea that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. Not that easy, if that’s the case, I didn’t have to waste 10 years to quit smoking. There’re lots of unseen assumptions there. My experience tell me that it takes around 5 months to build a good foundation for a simple habit.

Anyway, that’s an interesting topic for another post. Now, back to our topic, use your own insight to guide you. Once you feel comfortable doing the exercise, when you feel less resistant to the idea of sitting on your ass trying to act saintly, you are ready. Raise the time of each session slowly, until you get 15 minutes.

Then, you can incorporate deep breathing into all aspects of daily life. As a Buddhist practitioner, although my meditation is different, its concept is very similar to deep breathing. Here’re the steps that I did:

1. Perform 5 minutes meditation between major daily activities   

I believe each of us needs to take periodical retreats during the day, into a quiet room inside our own mind. I’m deeply grateful to Dr. Maxwell Maltz and his classic book, Psycho-Cybernetics, for this concept.

Just 5 minutes, between major activities, find a quiet place and practice deep breathing. This restores your mood to its neutral condition, cleanse your mind from whatever kind of stress/worry that had happened previously.

2. Practice outside

Bring the practice outside. Practice with your eyes open. Start meditating while doing the simplest activity, like walking. You can drop the counting for now, as it might distract your activity.

Initially, I tried this while walking, then jogging and running. If you do this, modify your breathing pattern so that it becomes harmonized with the activity.

For example, I chant Amitābha (pronounce [əmiˈt̪aːbʱə]) silently when I jog, so I try to keep the rhyme of my chanting to correspond with my right foot’s strike. I start chanting “A” when I step with my right foot. Then, depending on my jogging speed, the next sound “Mi” may be continued on the 2nd, or 3rd right foot’s strike. And so on.

So, find your own rhyme. It’ll take some time to get used to practice deep breathing with your eyes open and incorporate it into your movement.

Remember, we don’t plan to learn and practice deep breathing for a month in order to cure ___ [feel free to insert whatever kind of despicable/miserable/stressful condition you’re contemplating right now], and be done with it. No! We plan to learn and turn it into our way of life, from now on. So, we have a whole life to try.

3. Practice while performing simple/mindless/repetitive/routine tasks 

You know the types. Dishwashing, tidying up the room, cleaning, cooking, etc. Those chores that we do every day, and we hate that.

Now, it’s time to turn that around. Just don’t open music, as that would distract your attention. Slow instrumental music is fine.

4. Perform periodical 5 minutes meditations during the day

Being self-employed, I dictate my own schedule. I work in 25-minute blocks (Why? learn how I enjoy my life, either work or play, at intervals here). I take 5 minutes break to meditate between each block. I don’t have to sit still, I can meditate while walking around the house as a way to stretch my body, cleaning the dishes, or having a snack.

If you work with a computer, I strongly advise you to work and take break in blocks. Find the interval that suits you. This recharges your energy, clears your mind, and stretches your body.

5. Incorporate into your work 

Again, select really simple, mindless tasks to practice deep breathing. Try my rule of thumb. If you have to think while doing an activity, it’s not the right one.

I’m talking about data entry, double-checking, carrying stuff, running errands, etc. These tasks do not consume much attention, at most they may involve using short-term memory, like the cases of data entry or double-checking.

And, of course, while pretending to listen to your co-workers’ chitchats (it’s my favorite). But open your eyes and act normal, please, save you the trouble of having to explain why you’re acting silly.

6. Handle stress & emotional turbulence

Keep practicing, and once deep breathing becomes a second nature of yours, you’d possess a powerful tool to handle stress and take disciplined actions toward personal growth.

Why? I’ve found that people take actions based on emotion, not logic. Essentially, meditation allows us to keep our emotion in check.

Even though I’m just a beginner, I’ve used meditation to overcome nicotine addiction; put negative thinking in the right perspective, which is an alert to potential danger; discipline myself to perform good habits daily; gather up courage to move out of my comfort zone; confront difficult situations…to name just a few.

How? Uh, sorry, I’m running out of time. That’d be the topic for future posts. But the main key is to use meditation to be aware of our thought patterns, and take control of our minds to stay in the present, rather than letting them drag us to wherever they want. That’s the essence of the art of becoming an awakened dream-walker.

If you benefit from this post, share it with your loved ones, so that they benefit, too. When somebody shares, everybody wins!

and until our paths cross again, enjoy your journey!

 

* Disclaimer: Unless specifically stated, otherwise I am not associated with any of the recommended products/services/websites on EnjoyYrJourney.com 

** Disclaimer: This blog is intended to provide general information, which do not constitute medical or professional advice. The blog expresses my experience, which is not tailored to your own specific circumstance. Please seek professional help if you believe you have a condition.

Author: Rumi Tran

A vEgEtAriAn/A wAnnAbe Artist/A DreAmer/A PsYcho