Anapanasati Meditation: Awareness of Breath

By focusing on the breath, you will also likely decrease the speed of breathing. But why does that matter? And is that a good thing? But first we need to ask why we focus on the breath in the first place. And the funny thing is: that answer is not easily found. Because on the one hand: we need a something steady to concentrate on, which the breath certainly is. But it is not so fixed and clocklike as we often imagine. So, perhaps this is its unique situation, that it is both voluntary and involuntary. What other bodily function can claim that?

And the benefits of a bodily function are obvious: it’s there with you all the time. Big Ben is not, unless you live in Westminster. The other obvious bodily function to reference for meditation is the heartbeat, and I do just that sometimes, BUT: it’s much more subtle, AND: it’s totally involuntary, i.e. you can’t ‘hold’ your heartbeat in the same way that you can ‘hold’ your breath. So, maybe that simultaneous voluntary/involuntary nature of breathing is important, after all, simply because it can be manipulated if you want. But I don’t advise it.

Because, in the sense that anapanasati is the goal here, awareness of breath, that would seem to discourage manipulation. Still, that decrease in the breath rate is a fairly reliable result, and I think that it’s to be encouraged, since calmness is also a secondary, if not the primary goal, of meditation. And that rate of heartbeat will likely decrease, also, though you’re not as likely to notice it. And that’s the main advantage of breath over heartbeat: it’s easily noticed. Still, it’s worth noting the heartbeat, especially if you’re having trouble concentrating.

And here’s a little tip that I stumbled upon in my pursuit of meditative bliss, only to find out later that it’s often recommended: count your breaths. If that sounds a little too similar to counting sheep in order to sleep, then so be it, whatever works works. Those recommendations usually advise to re-start the count after every ten, but I’m not sure why. I don’t, and it’s probably for the same reason that they do. I want to know how long I’ve been meditating, without recourse to a smartphone or Big Ben. And that’s how you’ll know that your breaths are slowing down: the count never matches the clock. You heard it here first.