Breathing is by nature an intimate act. Atoms of oxygen and nitrogen that have been breathed by other beings on Earth for millions of years come into our bodies, are absorbed by our bodies, and are borne by blood throughout our bodies to permeate every cell. So we are already intimate with breath, and vice versa. And as with any intimate relationship, issues arise that must be dealt with: fear of intimacy, control issues, dominance, coordination, synchronization, and more.

It helps to be grateful, to cultivate gratitude. If we truly appreciate breath, something wonderful is added. If we spy on ourselves, on how we breathe, and make ourselves
uncomfortable by being critical—which is, unfortunately, easy to do—then something is taken away: the feeling of freedom, of breathing easily. So let’s approach this business of being breath-conscious in a positive way. After all, an intimate relationship should be enjoyable, even if what that means exactly is unique to you.

To start, if we were together I would ask you to tell me about breath. I believe there is little need for teachers to tell people things if they know what questions to ask. If someone came to me and said, “Lorin, tell me about breath,” I would ask, “What makes you think there is such a thing? How do you know, by direct experience, that there is a process called breathing?”

This is not a trick. You have your own way of being intimate with breath, which is different from anyone who has ever lived. It is shaped by your favorite sensations and by your ability to love. It is limited by your fears, which are based on negative experiences in the past. We can safely assume that you are breathing as you read this, but how do you actually know? What informs you?

Become Intimate with Breath

Take a minute to entertain this question: How do I know I am breathing right now? Just wonder within yourself. You might want to rest your eyes on this page somewhere, or look at the horizon, or close your eyes completely. You can do this standing, sitting, or lying down. Just don’t do it while driving or operating heavy machinery.

After pondering this question for five breaths or so, check how you feel. Do you want to continue? If so, close your eyes and pay attention for 10 to 15 additional breaths.
When you finally open your eyes or focus again, think about what you experienced. If you say to yourself, I could feel myself breathing, exactly what did you feel? What kinds of details did you discern?

  • I could feel the air touching the inside of my nostrils as it flowed in.
    • I sensed the motion of my ribcage as it moved with the breath.
    • As I breathed in, my body expanded, and as I breathed out, I contracted.
    • I was conscious of the air sliding down the back of my throat.
    • The flow of breath is very soothing; I felt waves of calmness spreading through my body.
    • When I breathe out, I feel a great relief— I feel the fatigue washing away.

After considering this list of intimate experiences that others have had with breath, become aware once again of your own breath for another 10 inhalations.

Your experience will be different each time you do this exercise, even if you do it every day for the rest of your life. I always discover something new and surprising about breath. Part of this is because I am an explorer, and part of it is because my senses are so open to the world that I am able to perceive differences. What used to seem the “same” to me is now perceptibly different because I have more data.