Mindful Breathing vs Yogic Breathing as Meditation

Withdrawing the mind from physical senses or ‘pratyahara’, can be seen as not reacting to external senses. In Yoga we meditate on the breath using Pranayama – altering the way we breathe, Mantra – repeating a word or phrase, Mudra – hand gestures on which to focus the attention in combination with breathing or Trataka – single pointed focus such as candle gazing. These practices give the mind a focus so that external senses are extinguished.

Mindfulness teaches us not to alter the breath in any way. The breath should be natural so as not to enforce will or desire upon it. The focus is on the felt sensation of breathing – the sensation of air in the nostrils, or the delicate rise and fall of the belly.

“Learn to withdraw the mind
From physical senses
Freed from it’s ties
To outer objects
The mind can arrive
At its own real nature.”.

Since the purpose is to be present, the breath is the perfect focus for meditation. We cannot inhale from the past or exhale in the future. Breathing is an involuntary present moment phenomenon that changes according to your thoughts and emotions; an opportunity to exercise curiosity rather than will. You probably stay alert for a while, then dullness creeps in – your attention wanders without any realisation. You compassionately guide the attention back to the breath, again and again.

Both Yogic breathing and Mindful breathing focus on the present moment. One is enforcing will upon the breath, the other curiosity. Both are beneficial for the brain but mindful breathing can teach you more about yourself and assist in recognising and changing unhelpful behaviours.

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