When you think of activities that make you happy, breathing probably doesn’t spring to mind. It’s an automatic function that takes a backseat as we’re navigating our days. It’s what our body simply does behind the scenes.
But we can actually use breathing to enjoy the everyday. We can use breathing to bask in life’s beauty and enhance our experiences.
We can do this with the “Ten Breaths” practice. According to meditation teacher Glen Schneider in his book Ten Breaths To Happiness: Touching Life In Its Fullness, this is a “simple way to use conscious, rhythmic breathing to help us savor life and live more fully.”
The next time you see, smell, hear or feel something wonderful, stop and give it your full attention. Use your breath to deepen the experience so you can truly “taste” it.
How does it work?
According to Schneider, these are the steps of the Ten Breaths practice:
- Stop what you’re doing.
- Close your eyes.
- Put your dominant hand on your belly, and focus on your breathing.
- Take three deep breaths. (This helps to clear your mind.)
- “When you feel more present, open your eyes and look at the object of your concentration.” Slowly, take a deep breath in and then out. Count this as your first breath.
- Continue with your second, third and fourth breaths. As you’re counting, observe the object. “Notice its color, shape, sound, or smell.”
- As you’re counting, also become aware of your body and any emotions or sensations that arise. “Allow every cell of your body to open up to the encounter.”
- When you’ve counted to 10, “rest in the feeling of the moment.” If you’d like to continue, take 10 more breaths.
Because our breath is always with us, because it’s always available to us, we can use this technique at any time, any place and with any experience. As Schneider writes, “Please don’t limit yourself.”
Use it for everything from eating chocolate to watching a sunset to walking along the beach to playing with your pet. “When something wonderful calls you, let the happiness suffuse your entire being.” Schneider makes it his goal to do this practice at least once a day.
The Ten Breaths practice not only helps you be more present in the moment. It also helps you discover things you’ve probably never noticed before. Schneider shares an experience he had while coming upon California bee plant stems at the base of an oak.
My eyes feasted on the rich, shiny purple of the new stems, the slanting sunlight catching the leaves, their zigzag margins, and how they trembled in the puff of a breeze. These were all things I’d never noticed about this plant before, and it was thrilling to discover so much new and beautiful in the world.
This practice also helps you create positive pathways in your brain. As Schneider writes, the neurons in our brains “connect together chemically and electrically in clusters called neural pathways. Our sense impressions, memories, abilities, and emotional patterns are all encoded this way in the physiology of the brain. Mental traffic tends to follow existing routes, regardless of whether the neural pathway is appropriate, accurate, or actually beneficial.”
In other words, the more we repeat a particular pattern, starting in our childhoods, the more habitual it becomes.
Thanks to neuroscience research, we also know that it takes about 30 seconds to root a new neural pathway. If we’re taking 10 breaths while savoring a positive experience on a regular basis, we’re slowly rewiring our brains. This way, “patterns of happiness become habitual and deeply nourishing.”
So the next time you’d like to savor an experience, you don’t have to do anything dramatic, time-consuming or overwhelming. Simply focus on your breath, from one to 10.