Breath and Body Awareness 

The first step in learning about meditation is to observe your own breath. This might sound strange initially, after all, we have been breathing since we left the womb, and yet rarely take notice of it. But interestingly, it's an essential part of focused and deep meditation.

At any given moment, our minds are distracted by either the past or the future. We are thinking about what happened at work yesterday and what we will do on Monday to address it. We are thinking about the fight we had with our partners last week and worrying about it happening again one day. Our attention is always elsewhere, and hardly ever in ‘real time’. So that is one of the purposes of the breath. By sitting comfortably (not necessarily in the meditative position but any position that feels right), you can breathe in and out, calmly, and pay attention to the motion.

This is much harder than it sounds. While the idea of sitting down and breathing in and out might appear simple, it can be a real effort to continue the motion for 10 minutes. Thoughts will intrusively attempt to barge their way into the consciousness, but when they do, it's best to acknowledge them, thank them for attending, and then ask them to leave. Imagine your thoughts as clouds, and as you breathe out, push the clouds away with your breath.

This is a good starting technique no matter what your religious background is as it does not align itself with any one particular approach. The breath is something that anyone can meditate on, it's something that we all own.

The process should not be a strain on the body. The inhale should be slow and deep, with the exhale being controlled and long. It should not feel uncomfortable or like you're suffocating, so please alter this method appropriately to fit your own capacity. If you want, you can play around with different kinds of breathing.

Meditation takes practice, patience and endurance. Breathing meditation is a power that can be cultivated, and once it is, it'll help control all manner of thoughts and feelings that can often overwhelm us. It's important that breathing meditations are taken seriously, and that interruptions are properly managed. While meditation experts can practice this technique in any environment, first-timers will need the space, privacy, silence and warmth to full immerse in the experience.

So how do we breathe in a meditative way? Firstly, focus on the sensation of breathing. Can you feel it affecting or changing any particular part of your body? Our breath allows for oxygen to circulate around the body through our blood, keeps our heart beating and our organs healthy. You may be particularly drawn to the sensations in your nose, abdomen, chest, throat or mind. Try to alter your attention to other parts of the body and see if your breathing technique changes the feeling in that area. This self awareness is the best first step you can take.

The breath and the body are interconnected. If your breath is slow and calm, your body will follow. If your breath is fast and erratic, the body will be stressed and out-of-sync. Furthermore, breath and emotions are also interconnected. When you're angry or scared, breathing becomes shallow, fast, even difficult. But when we’re relaxed and happy, our breath is usually controlled and easy. It works in reverse also. If we take charge of our breath, it'll influence our emotions. How often have you heard a doctor say to a patient who’s in shock “Just take a deep breath”, or a parent say to a furious child “Breathe and count to ten”. This is exactly the same technique as used in meditation. Our breath is the foundation of our very existence. We could not live without it. So why don't we pay it more attention? Only when something is wrong, such as experiencing shortness of breath, do we take notice of it. It's important that we invest an active interest in our breathing in order to gain awareness of our inner self.

Use this simple meditative technique for 10 minutes every day. Choose a time that is undisturbed, but first thing in the morning is best as its when you'll likely have the best concentration. At first, it's tricky. You'll find it hard to concentrate on just breathing, because your mind will naturally explore other interests to pass the time. Once a successful 10 minutes is established as a regular routine, try increasing this by 5 minutes every week. Over time, a full hour’s meditation will be possible, if not longer. If you do not feel you have much time to dedicate to meditation, perhaps you're a busy parent or shift-worker, then just keep it at a manageable time per day.

Once the breathing technique is practiced and perfected, focus can be shifted to other parts of the body. By this stage, it'll be far easier to allow the mind to hone in on other areas of the body other than the art of breathing.

We told tension in parts of our physiology that we’d never dare imagine. While meditating, move your consciousness to the sensations in your feet and legs. Examine how they ‘feel’. Are they heavy? Floppy? Tense? Try to relax any muscles that feel stiff. Then bring your attention up to the groin, abdomen and hips. Much of our tension resides in this area, so again, release the tension, with the assistance of mindful breathing. Eventually we come up to the chest, arms and neck. Slowly and carefully allow these tense muscles to submit.

A full body scan like this can be hugely beneficial, not to mention affectionate and loving. Our willingness to be self-interested can often open many physical and psychological doors. Think about what it's like going to a spa. This often includes a wonderful facial, pedicure, foot massage, sauna, scalp treatment, not to mention hundreds of other exotic and indulgent treatments. A full body meditation is very similar, but lending a hand to each individual aspect of our physical wellbeing. Often we are stressed and uptight without realizing it. By looking at the body in sections, in a silent and safe environment, at the height of relaxation, the muscles and energy can be altered, and a sense of wellbeing will be heightened. Many people find they sleep better after completing this exercise.