Four Ways to Use the Breath in Mindfulness Meditation

I want to share with you all a profound lesson that has significantly enhanced the way I do mindfulness meditation. I learned this a couple years ago at a meditation class lead by a Buddhist monk. It deals with utilizing the breath to be mindful.

It is perhaps one of the most common ways that people do mindfulness meditation, by following the breath. Frequently though, there isn't all that much direction aside from just "pay attention to your breath". Although useful, it doesn't really address which part of the breath to follow. The monk shared a profound story about another monk whom had spent about one year practicing each type of breath awareness. I was moved by such commitment, and also curious to experiment with it myself. I've found that it's helped me sharper my focus and "mindfulness muscle" considerably. Try it out!

Here are the different ways to use the breath in mindfulness meditation:

1.) Temperature: Pay attention to the temperature of your breath as you inhale and exhale. Notice the subtle difference between the heat of the exhale and the coolness of the inhale. You may find it helpful to bring your awareness to the back of your throat where the air hits before it travels down into the lungs. In the beginning it may be helpful to pay attention to the difference, however you can take it a step further and simply be aware of the inhale temperature and the exhale temperature as two separate activities.

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2.) Length: See if you can pay attention to the length of each breath. Again, you may start by noticing the difference between the length of the inhale and exhale. Is one shorter or longer than the other? Are they the same length? Just as above, see if you can pay attention to the length of the breath separate from one another. In the beginning you can use the comparison as a tool, but you want to aim for non-judgmental awareness--even at this basic level.

3.) Depth: When you inhale and exhale how deep or shallow are your breaths? Pay attention to your chest and abdomen to get a sense of this. Again, it may be helpful to notice the difference between each breath in the beginning of your practice, but it is best to eliminate judgment from the experience and to simply notice the depth of your breath for the sake of its own being.

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4.) Sound: What does your breath sound like? Bring your awareness to the subtle sound that your body makes as it takes in life-giving oxygen and pushes out carbon dioxide. Notice the difference between the inhale and exhale, and eventually move away from comparisons.

You may choose to notice without comparison for any of these from the very beginning. I would recommend focusing on one of these per week or longer (a year for each perhaps!)

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Be well, everyone!
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