As the first entry on this blog, we are republishing a popular article from our newsletter, which was originally in our Winter 2013 edition.  It has inspired many to incorporate this simple practice in their daily life.

The Ten Breath Practice is a simple, concrete way to nourish our seeds of happiness and joy. It involves allowing ourselves to be “caught” by something wonderful during the course of our day: a sight, a sound, a feeling. When this happens, we stop and offer it our full presence. Something shows up for us, so we show up for it. You can practice it anywhere, anytime. It can change you and your relationship with the Universe.

This practice is based in recent neuroscience, where three important discoveries have been made about nourishing happiness and joy:

  1. Our brain is organized in clusters of neurons known as “neural pathways.” Mental traffic tends to follow existing, readily available routes, regardless of whether the neural pathway is appropriate, accurate, or actually beneficial. The more we use a route, the more available it becomes. “What fires together, wires together.”
  2. The human organism is preferentially wired, overwhelmingly, to recognize dangers and threats. Survival is the priority. Happiness and joy are optional behaviors.
  3. Neuroscientists have estimated that it takes about thirty seconds to firmly root a new neural pathway. So with awareness and practice, we can develop our beneficial pathways. New neural networks become more firmly rooted with the length of time something is held in awareness and with the intensity of the emotional stimulation. As new connections are created and used repeatedly, footpaths eventually become freeways. With practice we can re-wire our brains so that patterns of happiness become habitual, authentic, and deeply nourishing.

As Zen meditators, we are used to following our breath, so we can use ten breaths as the measure of time needed to set a new pathway. Thus, we simply present ourselves to the flower, without judgment, commentary, or analysis. We behold, through awareness of our breathing – bringing mind and body together – and we count each breath cycle: “one, two, three” … all the way to ten. While breathing, please bring into awareness your emotions and body sensations. Let the experience be as intense as possible. See if you can open up every cell of your body to the experience.

Distractions or doubts may arise. “I’ve got other things to do,” or “This isn’t working, this is boring,” or “This really isn’t such a great flower after all.” You might feel foolish or you might break out in tears. The important thing is to find a way to ten, to really set and anchor the new neural pathway. And when you come to ten, why not twelve, or twenty? The sky’s the limit.

This Ten Breath Practice engages the teacher within. What catches your attention is entirely, uniquely up to you. How you behold this experience and allow it to penetrate you, that is totally up you. Out of your own sustained awareness, you will create and strengthen new neural pathways. Your mind will grow, and the next time you encounter a flower, your experience of it will be easier, more familiar, and deeper. Good luck!!

Glen Schneider – August 2011

Image Source: Regina Hartley / CC BY