What does “learning how to breathe” mean? After all, everyone knows how to breathe; we start doing it when we exit the womb. Think of all the references to breathing in our language: ”Take a deep breath!” ”Exhale!” ”She’s like a fresh breath of air.” ”Don’t hold your breath.” ”Wow, that knocked the breath out of me!” Breathing; it’s so easy. Right?
Wrong. The fact is, sometimes we forget how to really breathe. Stresses pile up inside us and we try to hold in fear and sadness by holding our breath or breathing too shallowly. I know I do this. Mindful breathing, on the other hand, releases stress and fear and sadness. We can be aware of our breathing by paying attention to the feeling of air flowing into the lungs and then letting the breath out, back into the world. Just… breathe… Ah, if only it were that simple!
In this third part of my life I’ve decided it’s time for me to learn the art of breathing. I want to breathe away my fears and judgmental attitudes toward myself and others; for too long I’ve clung to them like an addict clings to her drug. I want to “get clean.”
Mindful breathing requires practice, though; lots of it. Mindful breathing is, in fact, an integral part of the practice of Zen Buddhist meditation. Start by being aware of your breathing a few times each day. Breathe when you feel fearful or sad. Breathe when you’re by yourself; driving in a car, sitting in a chair, rising in the morning, going to sleep at night. Notice, as you consciously, slowly breathe in and out, how your heart-rate slows down and a sense of peace begins to steal into your core. You might even feel a spiritual connection to the world both seen and unseen. That’s because mindful breathing is a sort of prayer; each breath can be a ‘thank you.’