Breath Awareness Instructions
In this summary, we include much of the science that is not usually explained in “regular breath awareness”. More importantly, we emphasize subtle methodological changes that make all the difference in terms of the results you can get from meditation. Please make sure that you read this and implement the instructions as it will very likely speed up the results for you. The sections in italics are the “musts” of the technique.
1. What is Breath Awareness?
Breath awareness is a type of meditation. During breath awareness, it is important to know that we are not watching our breath, but rather sensing ourselves breathe – without judgment. The idea is to breathe normally and to observe how it feels. We are turning on our sensory awareness, and turning off our logic, conceptualizations, thinking, etc. (i.e. during breath awareness the goal is to utilize sensations in your body as your primary guide). Breath awareness is about very strong, and single mindedly focusing your attention – you are not relaxing. Instead, breath awareness is about creating the neural pathways in your brain that allow you to be in the present moment. The ultimate goal of breath awareness training is to bring your focus to the “very next”. To experience the very next sensation during the very next millisecond allows the “very next” to be brought from your future to as close to the now as possible.
2. Brain Fitness
Breath awareness is thought to be a type of exercise that is toning the muscles of the brain (our neurons). With increased brain fitness comes increased overall health, mental health, and healthy interpersonal relationships.
Breath awareness is the most effective sensory awareness – especially for the formation of neural pathways. Within six weeks of breath awareness training, we can create and strengthen synaptic connections, stimulate new neurons to grow, and enhance the conduction speed of neurons. The end result is that the connected neurons (the new neural pathway that you are building through the practice during the six weeks) build myelin around the axons. Myelin acts as a conductor between neurons and speeds up the processing of information between neurons. After six weeks, the myelin speeds things up and allows the neurons to communicate 3000 times faster than any of your other dominant pathways.
“Myelin can increase conduction speed by 100 times. And while all neurons need to rest after firing, myelin can reduce that resting time – called a refractory period – by 30 times. The end result, you can imagine, is that if you and I are neurons in a circuit and we’ve been training well, our communication with each other will be 3000 times faster than an unmyelinated pair of connected neurons. Three thousand times more efficiency in the brain means that our functional connectivity will outshine other neuronal communication. The brain overall can be considered a competitive real estate market: Action goes to the most active bidder. In this case, our enhanced communication will dominate over our competitors, and our circuits will become a prominent player in the overall impact of neuronal firing in the brain as a whole” (Siegel, 2010).
“The number of hours of practice is proportional to the amount of myelin wrapping the relevant circuits. Expertise, practice, and myelin go hand in hand. To become a mindsight maven, to learn to see and shape the flow of energy and information within our subjective lives, we need to train the mind to myelinate the brain in specific areas” (Siegel, 2010).
3. The “Very Next”
The ultimate goal of breath awareness training is to bring your focus to the “very next”. To experience the very next sensation during the very next millisecond allows the “very next” to be brought from your future to as close to the now as possible. This allows you to experience every tiny nuanced sensation that is happening in the present, rather than anticipating what is to come in the future. For instance, at the beginning of your training, you may be thinking of your very next as what you will be having for dinner later on. Then, after some practice, your very next will be brought closer to the point where you are thinking of your whole breath, and then eventually brought so close to observe what you are sensing millisecond by millisecond in the present moment.
4. The Key Ingredients:
- Everyone struggles with breath awareness at the beginning – that is completely normal. The mind is constantly wandering and juggling countless thoughts. It is important to remember it takes time to train your brain to be in the moment. Practicing once a day for even 5-10 minutes is enough to train breath awareness. Once properly trained, five breaths can bring you back to the moment. Struggling while learning this meditation is not optional – it is neurologically required.
- You want to feel your breath millisecond by millisecond.
- Every distraction is a welcome opportunity to notice you are distracted and to train your ability to detach from a distraction and refocus. This ability to witness a negative thought, feeling, etc. and then detach from it is extremely effective at bringing mental health. You are directly rewiring your brain to tolerate uncertainty and unfinished business in real life because each and every time you practice, you are accepting a distraction and then moving on calmly. After training for a few weeks, this ability permeates your day-to-day life.
- You are rewiring your brain not to get entangled or blinded by a thought, memory or powerful emotion and this as well extends to your day-to-day life within a few weeks.
- Finally, you are also rewiring your brain to tolerate failure calmly and with discipline, rather than with harsh self-criticism. Each distraction puts you against a small “failure” and the only way to refocus is to be gentle with yourself (not self critical) and return to your focus. This way of facing failures or frustrations in a gentle non-critical way is a result of the rewiring of your brain that you do with the practice.
Breath Awareness Introduction: http://www.wwnorton.com/common/flvplayer/?flvID=/npb/MindfulTherapist/BreathAwareness.mp3
Breath Awareness Practice (Jon Kabat-Zinn): A better option. Please remember that it takes at least 5-7 minutes to generate precursors to dopamine. Dopamine results in more focus and feelings of well-being. So try to continue past the 5-7 minutes, as it usually gets much easier. NB: If you cannot complete all of this meditation it is not an issue. Do more than 7 min and as much as you would like.
*To access this practice, search Jon Kabat-Zinn into the ITunes Stores. Purchase is required ($19.99). The album is titled “Guided Mindfulness Meditation, Series 1 with Digital Booklet.”