Contemplative Exercises

Hal Roth (Religious Studies) and Tori Smith (Hispanic Studies) 
Brown Contemplative Studies Initiative

 “Whole Body Breathing” (Classical Buddhism in South Asia)

  1. Begin by sitting upright in your chair; eyes closed; hands on your knees or in the “hand circle” position; head upright; breathing through your nose if possible.
  2. Take 3 deed and relaxing breaths. Gradually settle into your breathing.
  3. Bring your attention to your breathing.
  4. Note the feeling as it comes into your nostrils and goes into your abdomen; then comes back up from your abdomen and out through your nostrils.
  5. Keep following this cycle of breathing but gradually shift your attention to your whole body.
  6. Note if you are taking a long breath or a short breath.
  7. Breathe in with your whole body; breathe out with your whole body.
  8. Repeat until the bell rings.

Practice #1: “Coiling and Uncoiling” (Ancient Chinese Daoism)

  1. Begin by sitting upright in your chair; eyes closed; hands on your knees or in the hand circle position; head upright; breathing through your nose if possible.
  2. Take 3 deep and relaxing breaths. Gradually settle into your breathing.
  3. Bring your attention to your abdomen. Note the Upper Abdominal Breathing Muscles in the Diaphragm area
  4. Note the lower abdominal muscles in the area 3 finger widths below your navel.
  5. Imagine…not just as an idea, but as a real bodily feeling….that connecting these two areas is a coiled spring.
  6. As the spring expands, you inhale; as the spring contracts, you exhale.
  7. Repeat this focusing on the expansion and contraction of your upper and lower abdominals until the bell rings.

Practice #2: “Bamboo Breathing”   (Modern Japanese Zen)

  1. Begin by sitting upright in your chair; eyes closed; hands resting in your lap in the hand circle position; head upright; breathing through your nose if possible.
  2. Take 3 deep and relaxing breaths. Gradually settle into your breathing.
  3. Bring your attention to your abdomen. Note the lower abdominal muscles in the area 3 finger widths below your navel.
  4. Paying careful attention to these muscles, take three normal breaths.
  5. On the fourth breath exhale in stages, like the nodes of a bamboo tree. Your breath will be controlled and released in these stages. You can 3 or 4 of 5 stages, the exact number is not important.
  6. On the last of these stages, breathe out completely and quickly relax and let your lungs fill up again with air.
  7. Repeat this controlled breathing practice until the bell rings.

Practice #3. “Attending to the Breath in the Nostrils”

(Modern Southeast Asian Buddhism)

  1. Begin by sitting upright in your chair; eyes closed; hands on your knees; head upright; breathing through your nose if possible.
  2. Take 3 deep and relaxing breaths. Gradually settle into your breathing.
  3. Bring your attention to your breathing; do not attempt to control it.
  4. Note the feeling as it comes into your nostrils and goes out through your nostrils;
  5. Keep following this cycle of breathing focusing exclusively on the nostrils.
  6. Repeat until the bell rings.

Practice #4:  “Focusing on One Word”

(Mantra: Buddhism, Daoism, Hinduism; Centering Prayer)

  1. Begin by sitting upright in your chair; eyes closed; hands on your knees; head upright; breathing through your nose if possible.
  2. Take 3 deep and relaxing breaths. Gradually settle into your breathing.
  3. After setting into your breathing, bring your attention to focus on a single word: In Hinduism, the word chose is often OM; in Daoism it is the word “Dao”; In Centering Prayer, it is the word God; Dao means Way; you may choose one of these words or a one syllable word of your own choosing.
  4.  As you breathe in slowly say that word silently as if it were a kind of internal chant.
    1. As you breathe out, slowly say that word silently.
    2. Repeat until the bell rings.

Practice #5: “Breath Counting- Upper Abdominal Focus”

(All Buddhisms, Ancient and Modern, Asian and Western)

  1. Begin by sitting upright in your chair; eyes closed; hands on your knees or in the “hand circle” position; head upright; breathing through your nose if possible.
  2. Take 3 deep and relaxing breaths. Gradually settle into your breathing.
  3. Bring your attention to your breathing and focus on the upper abdominal breathing muscles in the diaphragm.
  4. As you breathe in, say to yourself the number 1; breathe out.
  5. As you breathe in, say to yourself the number 2; breathe out.
  6. As you breathe in, say to yourself the number 3; breathe out.

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