Breath Awareness is a technique of turning off your internal dialog while paying attention to your breath, as you breathe naturally. It’s usually easiest to feel your breathing at your nostrils, in your lungs as they inflate and deflate, or at your diaphragm as it raises and falls. Any time you notice yourself thinking about something, you’re supposed to just let that train of thought go for now, and refocus on your breathing.
Yes, that is all there is to it, but don’t let the simplicity of the instructions fool you. It may take a while to settle in. A normal practice period is somewhere between 15 to 30 minutes.
The roots of Breath Awareness go back some 2500+ years in Nepal. Many people know this technique as Mindfulness due to some sloppy translations.
The word “mindfulness” itslef just refers to remembering what you are supposed to be doing, and then doing it. For instance, a child being told to be mindful of their chores is really being told to do their chores on their own without being constantly reminded. Mindfulness doesn’t really have anything to do with breath awareness, other than to remember what you are supposed to be doing when you’re practicing.
What many people are now calling “mindfulness” is really just using their awareness, one of the six basic mental functions which make up the human experience.
So why is it so often called “mindfulness”? Although the term “awareness” was also used, the term “mindfulness” was favored by most early translators who translated ancient Pali and Sanskrit language texts into English. The reason the term “mindfulness” was favored was, in part, because the practice consists of being mindful of what you are supposed to be doing, and returning to re-focus on the task at hand when your mind wanders.
An important thing to mention here is the people who translated these texts didn’t necessarily do so from an enlightened point of view. In fact, some interpreters were merely scholars with little, or no, awareness meditation experience at all. Add in the extreme difficulty of trying to understand the meaning behind something presented a couple of thousand years in the past, and we’re fortunate if any of these translations are anywhere in the neighborhood when attempting to capture the meaning and spirit of the original.
Compounding the mistake of using the term “mindfulness” in place of “awareness”, the mental function known as “awareness” was often interpreted as “consciousness” in other texts. These misinterpretations made it extremely difficult to make the all-important connection between awareness the mental function, and the practice of using our awareness (mindfulness). All in all, the practice is pretty much the same no matter what we call it, but when that all important connection is made, it’s easy to understand that practicing mindfulness is really learning to use a specific mental function called “awareness”.