The Koan of Breathing

Breathing with your whole body is a lesson in letting go

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Breathing through the whole body hints at a condition in which body, breath, and mind--ordinarily so disconnected from one another--can be felt to come together into a single, coterminous phenomenon. While you have to discover for yourself how the integration of these three aspects of experience might occur, the following principles, and the exercises that follow, can help guide you in your efforts.

For starters, the practice is not about making any efforts, but about letting go. You can’t artificially manufacture a breath that breathes through the whole body; nor would you want to. You can only surrender to the impulse to breathe and keep letting go, as best you can, of whatever tension and stillness you encounter in your body as you do. Letting go of whatever binds your body and contracts your mind is meditation’s constant opportunity (as well as its challenge). Exploring the possibility of breathing through your whole body, you have no choice but to keep letting go.

The Buddha tells us that, before we begin focusing on the activity of the breath, we want to make sure that the spine is erect and upright. Don’t, however, do yourself the disservice of believing there’s a goal of some kind of perfected condition of balance and upright alignment that you need to attain and then maintain. Your goal isn’t to mold your body into some idealized shape like pressing dough into a cookie cutter; your goal is simply to play with balance in the body you bring to the cushion, to feel how the sensations and energies in the body keep lightening up as the segments of the body keep lining up, one above the other. Playing with balance in meditation is always about remembering to let go into the next least effortful place.


Tensions in the body always function as a concealing blanket that covers over the felt life of the body’s sensations, so as you begin to relax and let go, dropping the weight of the body through the upright spine, the feeling presence of the body emerges more and more. The more of your body you feel, the more opportunities you have to let go through the breath. Breath can only breathe through a body in touch with itself.

Just as sensation is everywhere, so is movement everywhere. Motions of breath and presence of body are inextricably linked. You can’t have one without the other. A breath that breathes through the whole body will be a breath of constant, tidal motion.

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Related Topics: Breath, Breathe, Breathing, Zen, Buddhism