Complete a ‘One Complete Cycle of Breath’ practice before a meeting or spending time with someone today.
Q.) How does it feel to put your full attention on one breath?
Q.) How does this practice impact your state of mind?
Breath Awareness Meditation
To begin this Mindfulness Exercise on Breath Awareness, please bring kind awareness to
– why you chose this topic
– how your belly, chest, and head each feel when you reflect on this topic
– the emotions that you can associate with these visceral feelings
– the positive or negative impact of any stories you believe in regarding this topic
– the consoling/humbling/inspiring fact that many others are feeling similarly about this topic as you
– how you will feel with increased awareness around this topic
– when you can apply increased mindfulness to this topic in your day-to-day life
Breath is one of the most used tools in meditation practices – and for a good reason. It’s always with you, but it’s not fixed in place, it flows on. And it follows the rhythms of life: it’s born, and it dies, and it's born again.
This is why Breath Awareness Meditation is not just a practice for beginners: it’s a powerful way to feel the macrocosm in the microcosm of our own body and have an experiential understanding of our connection with life.
Although many practices aim at manipulating or altering our breathing, this is only advisable if your thoughts are so overactive that you need something complicated to focus your attention on, in order not to follow your mental narrative. In fact, by trying to manipulate our breath, we might end up tangling ourselves in a knot trying to control something that works perfectly well on its own.
How to practice Breath Awareness Meditation
Breath Awareness Meditation is very simple; all you need to do is watch your breath.
Observe the natural rhythm of your breathing. Feel the air enter your nose, feel the freshness in your lungs, feel the rise and fall of your belly.
Let go of control and just observe.
A step further
If you like, you might also do this.
After a while, start taking notice of the amazing paradox that is our breathing.
Are you breathing or is life breathing through you? Are you doing it, or is it happening on its own?
The answer is: both. Isn’t it astounding? When we put into words, this seems paradoxical, but in experience, it is not paradoxical at all.
Alan Watts explains this well when he says: “It is only apparently contradictory to describe a sensation in which it seems that whatever I do freely and intelligently is at the same time completely determined, and vice versa. It seems that absolutely everything both inside and outside me is happening by itself, yet at the same time that I myself am doing all of it, that my separate individuality is simply a function, something being done by everything which is not me, yet at the same time everything which is not me is a function of my separate individuality.”
Breath Awareness Meditation is a wonderful tool to both relax our nervous system and put ourselves in touch with life as a whole.
Practice RAIN meditation with Tara Brach
Sitting quietly, close your eyes and take a few full breaths. Bring to mind a current situation in which you feel stuck, one that elicits a difficult reaction, such as anger or fear, shame or hopelessness. It may be a conflict with a family member, a chronic sickness, a failure at work, the pain of an addiction, a conversation you now regret. Take some moments to enter the experience—visualizing the scene or situation, remembering the words spoken, sensing the most distressing moments.
R—Recognize What Is Happening
As you reflect on the situation, ask yourself, “What is happening inside me right now?” What sensations are you most aware of? What emotions? Is your mind filled with churning thoughts? Take a moment to become aware of whatever is predominant, or the overall emotional tone of the situation.
A—Allow Life to Be Just as It Is
Send a message to your heart to “let be” this entire experience. Find in yourself the willingness to pause and accept that in these moments, “what is…is.” You can experiment with mentally whispering words like “yes,” “I consent,” or “let be.”
You might find yourself saying yes to a huge inner “no,” to a body and mind painfully contracted in resistance. You might be saying yes to the part of you that is saying, “I hate this!” That’s a natural part of the process. At this point in RAIN, you are simply noticing what is true and intending not to judge, push away, or control anything you find.
I—Investigate with a Gentle, Curious Attention
Bring an interested and kind attention to your experience. Some of the following questions may be helpful. Feel free to experiment with them, varying the sequence and content.
What is the worst part of this; what most wants my attention?
What is the most difficult/painful thing I am believing?
What emotions does this bring up (fear, anger, grief)?
Where are my feelings about this strongest in my body?
When I assume the facial expression and body posture that best reflect these feelings and emotions, what do I notice?
Are these feelings familiar, something I’ve experienced earlier in my life?
If the most vulnerable, hurting part of me could communicate, what would it express (words, feelings, images)?
How does this part want me to be with it?
What does this part most need (from me or from some larger source of love and wisdom)?
A final note: Many students initially see “Investigate” as an invitation to fire up their cognitive skills—analyzing the situation or themselves, identifying the many possible roots of their suffering. While mental exploration may enhance our understanding, opening to our embodied experience is the gateway to healing and freedom. Instead of thinking about what’s going on, keep bringing your attention to your body, directly contacting the felt sense and sensations of your most vulnerable place. Once you are fully present, listen for what this place truly needs to begin healing.
N—Nurture with Loving Presence
As you sense what is needed, what is your natural response? Calling on the most wise and compassionate part of your being, you might offer yourself a loving message or send a tender embrace inward. You might gently place your hand on your heart. You might visualize a young part of you surrounded in soft, luminous light. You might imagine someone you trust—a parent or pet, a teacher or spiritual figure—holding you with love. Feel free to experiment with ways of befriending your inner life—whether through words or touch, images or energy. Discover what best allows you to feel nurturing, what best allows the part of you that is most vulnerable to feel loved, seen, and/or safe. Spend as much time as you need, offering care inwardly and letting it be received.
How RAIN Began
meditation teacher Michele McDonald introduced the RAIN practice about 20 years ago, as a way to expand the common view that mindfulness is simply a synonym for paying attention. In identifying the qualities of attention that make up a complete moment of mindfulness, McDonald, who is cofounder of Vipassana Hawaii, coined the acronym RAIN for Recognition of what is going on; Acceptance of the experience, just as it is; Interest in what is happening; and Non-Identification to depersonalize the experience. Over the years, Tara modified and popularized RAIN, shifting the “N” step to Nurture and suggesting non-identification as a product of her revised four steps.