If I’m plugged in… that’s sitting. And then comes breathing. Breathing just means finding the natural breath pattern for your metabolism. That is to say, extend your out breath until it feels complete, but not forced. Breathe in and out slowly and evenly. Allow your inhalation to be as slow and as even as your exhalation.
Put some effort into nurturing a slow and even breath pattern. Find a pace that feels natural to you for your metabolism in this moment. Extend your breath out, letting it go all the way out, without feeling forced. When every breath is gentle and slow with every exhalation and inhalation, that’s breathing.
It’s amazing how much we tend to breath in a way that’s anything but slow and gentle. So it does take some practice. We have to put some effort into it… slow gentle breathing… it’s a kind of a mantra, it doesn’t happen all by itself… you have to put some attention on it. You can say silently to yourself … “Slow, gentle, breath,” extending the out breath until it’s complete but not forced. Practice this during each zazen period.
By the way, you have to let your diaphragm move, which means, if you have a gut, you have to let it hangout. We’re all taught to “Suck it in… Don’t show your gut,” but here, we can all be natural, and let our gut hangout. I have a bit of a belly… it’s okay… let it hangout, so that your abdomen is very relaxed and comfortable… no tension… relax so that the diaphragm has room to move.
If we don’t have the diaphragm moving gently up and down, a little bit in and up on the outward exhalation, down and out on the inhalation we’re not dancing… we’re not breathing freely… we’re doing some stilted staccato breath which is not conducive to dancing… So breathe in a way that is gentle, slow, and relaxed.
I will say one other thing about breathing. Over the course of a sit, over the course of a day, or over the course of sitting or a week of sesshin, you should notice, with just a teeny bit of prodding, that your cycle of breath becomes longer. In other words, today or at the beginning of your sit, your breath goes in and out like this [mimicking a short breath] and towards the end of the sit your breath is going a little bit slower [demonstrating deeper breathing] and at the very end of the sit [demonstrating ever gentler breathing] it’s going really nice and slow. The slowing down of the breath is completely natural, but if you don’t pay a little bit of attention to it, you may unconsciously miss out on the opportunity to observe and benefit from the natural positive effect of a slower breath pattern.
It doesn’t have to be as slow as my demonstration. I’ve been doing this for 40 years… My breath can go really slow and I can take perhaps only two to four breaths a minute. Most everyone will naturally take more breaths than that. And that’s fine. But from the beginning of where your sitting is, to the end of the sit, watch it slow down. If it’s not slowing down, you’re not really in samadhi yet.