First on the list of items in the Buddha’s tool kit is a pair of lungs. You may experience lapses in mindfulness many times during a single period of meditation, but the lungs remain faithful to their appointed task. This is why Buddhist teachers have always advised their students to cultivate awareness of the breath. At moments of stress or uncertainty the breath is always there, rising and falling. These same movements have been the intimate companions of all the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the past. As Soen Nakagawa Roshi used to say, “We are members of one nose-hole society.”
The lungs function naturally. There is no need to do anything special when you breathe. Nevertheless, it may be helpful to begin meditating by clearing the lungs fully, just as you would clear your throat before speaking or wipe the dust from a tabletop before sitting down to work.
Seated on the floor with your legs crossed, exhale audibly through your mouth. Bend from the waist as you do this, until your forehead almost touches the floor. When you have breathed out fully, force out yet a little more (about as much as would fill half a teacup). Next, return slowly to an upright position, breathing in deeply through the nose. Repeat this exercise two or three times before beginning to meditate, and you will find that the lungs function more smoothly, like a tool kept in good condition.
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