Shinzen Young created this breath awareness exercise to develop concentration, sensory clarity, and equanimity. It is also designed to foster the cultivation of an ongoing mindfulness practice by providing both short-term and long-term benefits. You can find a ten-minute audio recording of these instructions on the CD accompanying his book Break Through Pain.
Breathe out and hold your breath for just a few seconds. Notice how discomfort arises as you do this. Then,when you’re ready, breathe in and notice the pleasant sensation that contrasts with that discomfort, the pleasure of the nurturing oxygen filling your lungs. Focus in on that pleasure as you breathe in. Now, on each in breathe, from beginning to end, focus all your attention on that oxygen pleasure. Let any physical discomfort, emotions, and thoughts be in the background, to the best of your ability. Don’t worry about the out breath for now.
Now, take a slow in breath and notice how there’s some effort when you breathe in—the muscles have to work. Then breathe out and notice by way of contrast that the out breath requires no effort at all. It’s passive. It just happens. And therefore, there’s a natural quality of relaxing associated with the out breath. Now, on each out breath, from beginning to end, focus on that relaxation pleasure. Physical discomfort, emotions, and thoughts may clamor for attention, but to the best of your ability, focus on that relaxation pleasure.
Now, on the in breath, focus on the oxygen intake pleasure, and on the out breath, focus on the relaxation pleasure, so that there’s an alternation of two kinds of pleasure. Use the fact that this feels good as a motivation to develop continuous contact with either one or the other of the pleasures, taking you away from any discomfort, away from your thoughts, away from your emotions, and developing a high state of concentration.