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Breath Watching

A Foundational Practice   

          Breath watching is one of the simplest and most powerful of all the breathing techniques.  It alone can change your life in a number of profound ways.

          A few minutes of breath watching, anytime during the day, will help to focus your mind and make you more effective at whatever you’re involved in.  

          If you’re caught up in a negative emotional reaction of your downstairs brain, a moment or two of breath watching will bring your upstairs brain on line, calming you down,  and making it possible for you to respond more constructively to whatever or whoever triggered your reaction.      

          Practiced regularly, over time, breath watching will increase your overall capacity for concentration.  It will also strengthen the mid-prefrontal cortex of your brain (the MPFC).  This makes it a powerful tool for strengthening your connection to the core experience of calm, ease, and contentment, which naturally will bring a greater sense of well-being, purpose, joy, and harmonious connection to others into your life. 

How It's Done

          Ultimately, this exercise can be done anywhere, anytime. However, when first learning it, you may want to be somewhere quiet, with few distractions.

          In breath watching, all you’ll do is gently observe the sensations of your breath without trying to change how you're breathing.  

          There are three places in the body where you can choose to observe the sensations of your breath. 

  • The most challenging place to focus is just below your nostrils. With your attention settled there, you’ll observe the changing sensations as you breathe in and breathe out – noticing that the air is a little cooler as your breathe in, and warmer as your breathe out.  It's a somewhat subtle sensation so your attention needs to be very focused in order to notice it.

  • A second option for breath watching is to focus your attention on your belly and observe the sensations of the belly as it rises with your inhalation and falls with your exhalation.  Many people find this is the easiest and most relaxing place to watch their breath.

  • A third alternative is to focus on the sensations of your breath in your body as a whole. You can observe the subtle movements in various parts your body in response to the breath.  And/or you can focus on the sensation of energy expanding through your body as you breathe.

          Once you choose one of the above three places to focus, simply focus all your attention on calmly observing the changing sensations there as you breathe. Don’t try to make your breathing conform to any particular rhythm or quality.  

          Just calmly observe it as it is –without judgment or concern.  The breath may (and probably will) change on its own as you observe it, but the key is not to make any effort to change it.

          When thoughts arise, just let them pass by without giving them your attention.  When you do get lost in a stream of thought, as soon as you realize it, you're no longer lost, and you can just gently bring your attention back to the sensations of the breath wherever you've chosen to watch it.

Concluding the Practice

          After practicing, it’s helpful to remain quiet for a moment to observe and assimilate any effects the practice may have had on your body, mind, or emotions.  

          As you go on to your next activity, try to stay aware of any positive effects you experienced.

          If you would like to be guided through it, you can find an audio version of breath watching here.

Abdominal or Diaphragmatic Breathing
Ocean Breathing

Alternate Nostril Breathing
Fast Belly Breathing
Spinal Breathing
Andrew Weil's Breathing Exercises
How We've Used Breathing Techniques