The breath is always with us and allows us a ready-made focal point for mindfulness meditation. Bringing simple, non-judgmental attention to the breath can be more complicated than it sounds. Our breath is so tied to our mood states: when we are anxious we may notice a corresponding shortness of breath. When we are depressed, we might be surprised by the miserable sounds of a seemingly innocuous sigh.
We may even trigger a change of mood this way. We might judge ourselves for how difficult it can be to breathe “deeply,” an instruction which we are given without full detail. What is usually implied when we are told to “relax” or “breathe deeply” is to inhale deeply. What if a deep inhalation is not available to us, because of the position of our body, our pre-existing anxiety, or some other subconscious factor?
Then, we may judge ourselves for our inability to do something that sounds so easy. Then, we may further shorten the inhalation and exhalation and increase our anxiety. Which can increase tension. Which can increase discomfort or pain. Not meditative in the least.
But as I was taught in beginning TM practice 20 years ago, the task is to pull back and get a wider view. Mindfulness skills hinge on our ability to observe our experience. So if you are having trouble observing an “inadequate” breathe, observe yourself having trouble. Observe your shortened breath. The observer effect will eventually change the quality of your breath.
If you are still having trouble, you could bring some more intention to your breath. In meditate-on: breathing the outbreath we will explore what to do in this intention.
For now, meditate-on: allowing the breath to breathe itself.