Monday, April 13, 2009

MPOW #12 - Metronome Breathing

Stop. Take a deep breath. Count to 10.

This is common advice for us to control our anger. It is very well known that breathing can control how we feel and our state of mind. When our busy lives heat up, remembering to breath deeply can be the exact right defusing technique that we need to regain our cool. In this mindfulness practice of the week (MPOW) we take a break from mantras, and switch to a recent favorite of mine: metronome breathing.
Breathing is one of the most profound and direct ways we have of changing or tuning our chemical and biological state to affect our neurology. Within breath is contained life-force (energy, ki. chi, prana, etc.). The assimilation and direction of life-force can be further increased through awareness. (Breathing)
Along with being a simple technique to relax, practice mindfulness, and control our minds, this is also a chance to improve the physical health of the body through greater oxygenation. And if you're a swimmer or diver, this can help strengthen and expand your lungs to stay under water longer. Let's get started.

What you need

Locate a metronome, a ticking clock, or something else that makes a regular, countable noise, not too fast, not too slow. I even found a nifty site with metronome mp3 files for use with an mp3 player--and you can even do this during your commute.

The Mindfulness Practice of the Week: Metronome Breathing

Choose a comfortable place to meditate, start the metronome, then get in a meditative position. Begin by breathing normally, then eventually let your breath align to the steady clicks of the metronome. Once you are there and relaxing, supported by in the unwavering beats, it is time to move on to the breathing practice.

On a click, start a long, slow, deep inhalation, counting the clicks of the metronome as you inhale. How many did you get? Note that number, and on the exhalation, see how many clicks long you can breath out. Many people find that they can usually exhale for a little longer than their inhalation. For instance, if you can inhale for 6 clicks, maybe you can exhale for 8 clicks.

Get into a regular pattern of what works for you, maybe that's 6 in, 8 out, 6 in, 8 out, .... After a while, you may notice that you find this pretty easy, increase the count, perhaps by 2. 8 in, 10 out, 8 in, 10 out. Gradually expand to a level that you can sustain without laboring.

... please try this meditation for yourself before reading about my experience.

At first, I have a hard time aligning to the metronome and timing to the clicks, I overcome frustration by patiently acclimatizing to the clicking. As I do the breathing, I find that it's actually a little easier for me to inhale. My yoga, taiji, qi gong, and swimming practices have really helped me to control my breathing. With this, and my current metronome setting, I can usually inhale for 30 clicks, though controlling the exhale to 30 clicks can be challenging. I often separate difficult breaths with 1 in, 1 out breaths before returning to 30 in, 30 out patterns.

Sometimes I feel panic as my lungs are emptying and no fresh air is coming in. During the inhale, it is often so smooth and easy that I find myself switching to a slight exhale through my partly opened mouth--that's not the exercise, so I correct it--that stirs me into being more mindful.

It takes a while for me to learn to smoothly manage the exhalation to be nice and even throughout. I can do 30 if I pace myself and really squeeze. Sometimes I need to constrict the back of my throat, producing an audible hum or rasp. This helps to slow it down, and also prepares my for a common yogic breathing technique. Eventually, both inhalation and exhalations can be smoothed and balanced, and I find deep relaxation, only to then notice that my mind is wandering, and it is time to again challenge my breathing or focus on my breathing to get back to the blissful state of meditation.

On the whole, though, this tends to really transport me to serenity. It leaves be relaxed and recharged.

This is dedicated to my friend Keri, who took me to a yoga class where they taught different breathing techniques centered around a metronome. I have plenty more in store for later MPOWs.


  1. Thank you! I'm working with metronome breathing at the mo, so it's great to get support. But what about HOLDING the breath between in\ex? I try to do four beats with full lungs, and as many beats as I can after full exhale. That's what pranayama is, working with the HOLD. Any feedback?

  2. You can absolutely do this with holding in breaths and out breaths. Although some people advise against out-breath holding, I find that there is a lot of learn from the edge of discomfort when the lungs are empty.