My breathing is “compromised” these days. I can’t get a deep enough breath to finish a sentence. When I sing, I just hit some of the notes while I spend others inhaling. Every other night I use a BiPAP machine. (I wish it were every night, but the mask damages my nostrils too much.) The nerves that control my intercostal muscles no longer bring reliable messages. This is all to say that I appreciate breathing.

Because I am a meditator, I spend time each day paying attention to the sensations of breathing. I feel the cool air as it passes my nostrils and moves down into my lungs, expanding my rib cage and belly. Like an acrobat, the process flips and the warm air passes out of my nostrils. My chest and belly relax. After a short rest, the inhale begins again without any effort on my part. Putting deep attention on breathing is called mindful breathing.

Jon Kabat-Zinn writes “as long as you are breathing, there is more right with you that there is wrong, no matter how ill or how hopeless you may feel.”

Mindful breathing combats hopelessness and has other physiological and psychological benefits. I’ve been learning about how teaching mindful breathing helps kids concentrate and empathize with others. (Check out Breathe Like a Bear for mindful exercises to do with children.) Various studies also link mindfulness with decrease in symptoms of diseases including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

I started meditating because of an instinctive pull towards it. I wanted to be a meditator. While I wasn’t counting on benefits, I have noticed that I can more gracefully handle the ups and downs of life. Like the kids, I find mindful breathing calms my thoughts and emotions.

I frequently use the “breathing in… Breathing out” format I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh.

Breathing in, I realize this very breath is a blessing.

Breathing out, I smile.