The first time I tried the complete 10 breaths practice, I was out in my garden on a crisp February evening. I was walking along a path when I looked up and saw the crescent moon framed by the bare branches of our buckeye tree. I stopped to take in this lovely scene, and I decided to take 10 conscious breaths while looking at the moon in the branches. During those 10 breaths, I noticed that somewhere in my chest I felt nourished in a way that was new. It was a small, pleasant feeling. Then I continued on my way.
The following night, I went outside on an errand to the garage. I happened to look up and there was that crescent moon again, a little higher now, in the open sky. I stopped for just a moment—I don’t know why—and as I did, I felt a rush of feeling, as if I were greeting a dear old friend, and these words bubbled up from deep inside: “Oh, yeah. You and me, we go way back.”
That surprised me, because I had never felt such a familiar connection with the moon. Then I remembered my experience of the night before.
The 10 breaths practice is a simple way to use conscious, rhythmic breathing to help us savor life and live more fully. It is quite simple. When something good and wonderful touches us—be it a sight, a sound, or a feeling—we stop and offer it our full presence for the length of 10 breaths, so that we can really taste the experience of the moment.
If we pay close attention, we can see that opportunities for happiness, for touching life’s magnificence, present themselves many times each day. Something catches our eye; something touches our heart. Good feelings arise.
Gradually, I have trained myself to stop and experience more and more of these moments while breathing in and out 10 times. Trees, birds, flowers, even my own body have all become good friends. I have rediscovered feelings of love and wonder that had been dormant in me since childhood. I have learned ways to deepen my connections with other people. My reverence for life has grown immeasurably, and so has my gratitude.
By happiness, I am speaking of the deep, abiding happiness of contentment, connection, and fulfillment, of dwelling happily in the present moment. This is the experience of opening to the goodness and wonders of life, enjoying life deeply, and feeling viscerally connected to others, the whole of creation, and the spiritual dimension.
Many people I talk with share a deep fear that they are somehow missing life, that they are alive but are not fully experiencing life. They feel that they are getting only glimpses of life’s promise. I know that feeling as well, and with me it has been deeply rooted.
Practicing 10 breaths has shown me how to stop, open my heart, and savor what I love in the world—to let in the good. My life has blossomed in ways I would never have thought possible.
The 10 Breaths Practice
Stop whatever you are doing.
Close your eyes, put your dominant hand on your belly, and begin to pay attention to your breathing. Notice the rise and fall of your hand on your belly as you breathe. Take three deep breaths to settle and clear your mind.
When you feel more present, open your eyes and look at the object of your concentration. Take a deep, slow breath in and out. That is “one.” Continue counting each breath: “two,” “three,” “four.” Let your encounter unfold naturally. Just behold the object of your concentration and observe it without mental commentary or judgment as you count. Notice its color, shape, sound, or smell.
While counting, become aware of your body and any sensations or emotions that may arise. Allow every cell of your body to open up to the encounter. Allow the experience to be as full as possible. Don’t hold back.
When you have reached “10,” rest in the feeling of the moment. Then, if you’d like, take 10 more breaths in the same way.
The 10 breaths practice is very simple in concept but can sometimes be challenging in practice. It takes getting used to and requires focus and courage. Often, it is hard simply to stop what we’re doing and make space to enjoy life more fully.
One way I learned to stop was by setting a goal of doing 10 breaths at least once a day. At first, I chafed a bit at this, but now it’s second nature. I look forward to each day’s new encounter. It’s so much fun. What will call me, what will touch my heart, what will be my treat for the day? The important thing in practicing 10 breaths is to get started and set your intention to keep on counting with your breath all the way to “10.” When you do this, you create new neural pathways that help anchor your habit of happiness.
The 10 breaths practice engages the teacher within. What catches your attention is entirely, uniquely up to you. How you behold your experience and how it unfolds is completely yours. You can practice this anywhere, anytime. When something speaks to you, give it your full respect and the time it deserves. You will be richly rewarded.
Excerpted from Ten Breaths to Happiness: Touching Life in Its Fullness, by Glen Schneider.