In our daily lives, many of us are disconnected from ourselves and our surroundings. As Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh writes in the book How to Sit, “our body is in one place, our breath is ignored, and our mind is wandering.”
However, when we simply breathe, these three once disparate elements come together. This only takes a few seconds. That’s it. That’s the beauty of our breath. Our breath is that powerful.
This is one reason why cultivating a meditation practice is so important. (Here are other benefits.)
Maybe you already know the benefits of meditation, and you’d like to start practicing, but you don’t know where to start. Or you’d like to change up your practice.
Below, I’m sharing three of my favorite guided meditations from the book, which you can practice anywhere and at any time. According to Nhat Hanh, guided meditation has been used for over 2,500 years.
He notes that “a guided meditation is an opportunity to look deeply into the mind, to sow wholesome seeds there, and to strengthen and cultivate those seeds so that they may become the means for transforming suffering in us.”
A guided meditation also helps us face the suffering we’ve been avoiding, to understand its causes and to “be free of its bondage,” Nhat Hanh writes.
Under the Bodhi Tree
Sit comfortably, and bring your attention to your breath. Below is a “gatha.” Nhat Hanh defines this term as “a traditional short verse that you can recite during your meditation.”
is like sitting under the bodhi tree.
My body is mindfulness itself,
entirely free from distraction.
We Are A Stream
Though we sit alone when we meditate, we’re really sitting with our ancestors. According to Nhat Hanh, “your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, whether you knew them or not, are there inside of you.”
He suggests acknowledging our ancestors and inviting them to breathe with us. For instance, “Dear father, these are my lungs. I know that you are in every cell in my body.” You might breathe in and say: “Father, I invite you to breathe in and out with me.”
We are not separate selves. Rather, we are a stream, a current, a continuation, writes Nhat Hanh.
Your Own Meditation
This is another gatha. First, you read the entire sentence to yourself. Then the second time you can read just the words: saying one word as you inhale and saying the other as you exhale.
Here’s an example:
Breathing in, I know I am
breathing in. (inhale)
Breathing out, I know I am
breathing out. (exhale)
In (inhale)/Out (exhale)
When creating your own verse, Nhat Hanh suggests selecting one element you’d like to bring into your life and one element you’d like to let go.
Here is another example:
Breathing in, I am aware of tension
in my body.
Breathing out, I let go of the
tension in my body.
Aware of tension/Letting go of tension.
And one more example:
Breathing in, I’m in touch
with the cool autumn air.
Breathing out, I smile to the
cool autumn air.
Meditation is noticing our breathing. It is noticing that as we breathe in, we are breathing in. It is noticing that as we breathe out, we are breathing out. This helps to anchor us into the present moment. This is a powerful thing, because, as Nhat Hanh, writes, “The present moment contains the whole of life.”