Several newcomers were in the Zendo last evening for Zazen meditation and Dharma talk. They brought a sincere response to the sacred and sat well in the spirit of silence. It is not an easy thing to do, to walk in the door, receive instruction and sit unmoving for 40 minutes in silence. I admire, appreciate, and learn from those who move through that entry gate to practice.
We were talking about the lifelong importance of breath and learning to breathe well. This can be the most essential part of training for one's whole life and it behooves us to carefully attend to this as a beginner. Even though we may get bored with counting breaths and think we are doing something that doesn't matter, as we continue, this will be the factor that teaches us and determines our ability to cope with daily life matters. Working with the breath is the most essential lifelong practice.
How do we know if we are breathing correctly? Lie down flat on the floor on your back. Let your arms fall at your side. Stay there for a few moments to stabilize and quiet your breath. Now, after a few moments, place your hands gently on your abdomen and notice the rise and fall of the belly. Notice internally, which muscles are involved in the action. Connect with those muscles in the mind and ask your body to remember that this is the correct action of breathing. Stay in the lying down posture for about 10 to 15 minutes breathing gently and smoothly asking your body to continue to breathe this way when you stand up and enter other activities.
If your breath is high up in the lungs and the belly isn't working then it is easier to become distressed, impatient, or fretful. Continue to check the breath throughout the day to be sure you are breathing correctly from the belly. Take a few moments every day to lie on the floor and notice the posture of the breath so that the body is retrained in the mechanics of breathing. After awhile it will become natural and you will discover better oxygenation and stamina in all your activities. This correct posture of breath will then be a guiding aspect of meditation and you can sit on the cushion with confidence and stability as you make deep experiential investigation into everyday life and the chain of causation.
As I mentioned earlier, this practice is lifelong and we who have been meditating for many years can renew ourselves in this beginning way at any time. We can rediscover the beauty and importance of this training and enjoy the delicate presence it brings to being here in each moment. Natural gratitude arises and appreciation of life deepens. How fortunate this gift of life-giving breath and how fortunate to receive this practice.