The Mindfulness of Breathing: a led practice

Set yourself up comfortably in your meditation posture; don't rush. Make sure you are sitting up straight, your seat is the right height, and your legs are not taking the weight of your upper body. Make sure your hands are supported. Check that your head feels balanced firmly and easily on your neck.

Take a couple of slightly deeper breaths, and allow your body to relax. Feel your shoulders ease, your face soften. Feel a sense of letting go of the day, and just coming into the here and now.

Experience the contact of your body with the floor. Imagine giving the whole of your weight to the ground, just letting the ground support you. Try to have a sense of the weight of your torso falling directly down through the pelvis into the earth.

Imagine that the more completely you give up the gross weight of your body, the lighter the body feels and the more easily energy can move in the body. So there is a feeling of the weight of your body being held by the earth, and at the same time you can feel the subtle energy in your body rising upwards. There is this opposite yet complementary movement of weight and energy in your body.

So let your body settle into its posture, allowing your shoulders to relax, checking your belly and buttocks for any holding of energy ... relaxing your face. Have a sense of your body becoming quiet, becoming still ... of the space that your body takes up ... and of the space around your body.

Now without any special effort, start to take notice of the breath. We don't need to grab at it - it isn't going anywhere. It is always just there, waiting for us patiently to notice it. So we begin to notice it.

Follow it down into your body, into the space inside your body. Notice how your body responds to the breath, the movement low down in your belly, the gentle expansion and contraction of your chest at the sides and back.

So as you sit with this breath coming and going be aware of how you feel. Let the breath bring you in a simple and direct way to yourself, your feelings, at this moment. What is the tone of your being - light or dark, happy, sad, dull, excited? Just have a general sense of your self, your basic emotional state. Acknowledge your feelings.

Come back to the breath, coming and going. There is plenty of room for your feelings in the breath; allow them, like the breath, just to come and go.

Now begin to count the breaths, counting at the end of each out-breath, just marking the breath. Count to yourself, make the counting just strong enough to stay with the breath. If you lose count, start again at 'one'. It doesn't matter. The breath is still there, waiting for your attention. Just sit with the breath in this way for a few minutes.

Now we are going to make a small change. The breath is just the same, coming and going, but now we count at the beginning of the breath, just before we draw the breath in. So we are anticipating the breath by an instant. Count 'one' - breathe in, breathe out; count 'two' - breathe in, breathe out.... Let the breathing be easy, just follow it.

Keep your body relaxed, your face soft.... Not straining to stay with the breath; just coming back to it. whenever you feel your mind moving away ... just using the counting to help you keep an eye on your mind. If you lose count, start again at 'one'. Never mind how it happened, just start again. So you are counting in sets often, just staying with the breath for a few minutes.

Now let the counting fade into the breath; let it go. Here you are, just with the breath; there is nothing else in the whole world that you need to do just now. Just follow the breath. It does not matter if you lose it - it is always there, waiting for you to come back to it.

Just like watching the great ocean upon the shore, coming and going, feel the breath wash over you, and then withdraw. Feel the whole of the breath, each breath becoming the next. The great tide of your breath inside you - feel it in the body, filling the body, bringing life and energy into the body. Just you and the breath, just the breath, coming and going.... Stay with the breath for a few minutes.

Now, while experiencing the whole of the breath, begin to notice the first sensation you experience as you draw in the breath - where the breath first 'breaks' against your body. You're looking for a subtle sensation in your nostrils or at the back of your throat - wherever you first feel the breath as it enters your body.

Keeping your face relaxed, begin to gather your attention around this point, noticing more and more this detail of your breath. It is a constantly changing sensation, so it cannot be pinned down. If you try to take hold of it you will lose it. Attend to it, appreciate it, let it go. Don't force your attention but look for a sense of enjoying the sensation as it comes and goes with the breath. Spend a few minutes enjoying this sensation.

Now come back to the whole of the breath. Be aware of your body, be aware of the ground beneath you. Slowly become aware of the room around you and any sounds inside or outside the room. Have a sense of the outside world, and in your own time allow your eyes to open and your body to move