by Lauren Krauze
"When I first started practicing meditation, my teacher taught me that the breath—ever-present and unconditional—is the link between body and mind. When we place our full attention on the breath, we pull ourselves out of the past, away from the future, and directly into the present moment. Or at least that’s how the common instruction goes. But using the breath to enter the proverbial here-and-now is easier said than done.
The first few times I sat to meditate, I tried to focus on the steady rise and fall of the chest and the sensation of the air passing in and out through the nostrils. When my mind wandered away, I noted the distraction and returned my attention back to the breath. It didn’t take long for me to notice that my inhalations felt short and shallow, like I wasn’t taking in very much air. I also experienced tightness and congestion in my chest and throat. These sensations weren’t surprising—my breathing had been fraught since I was a kid. Growing up, I often experienced scary bouts of shortness of breath and wheezing. I managed these breathing issues by distracting myself and avoiding the activities that aggravated them. As I got older, I hoped they would go away on their own.
Alas, as I progressed with my meditation practice, the distressed breathing remained right there to greet me. Coming face-to-face with my breathing did not bring me into the coveted present moment; it dredged up memories of coughing during soccer practice and waking up in the middle of the night gasping for air. I began to lose faith in my ability to meditate. With my breath causing so much anxiety, how could I ever use it to deepen my practice?
Around this time I began to study pranayama, a yogic discipline that offers many different techniques for steadying and controlling the breath. I discovered two very useful practices to prepare for meditation. These techniques are especially helpful for those who feel anxious or feel tightness in their chests and air passages. Both practices can bring equanimity to the breath and a sensation of expansiveness to the chest, preparing one to sit in a steady and composed manner..." read it all