I suffer from asthma. How practical is it for me to focus on the breath during meditation?
Anyone with asthma has a love/hate relationship with the process of breathing. These are people who truly and completely appreciate the absolute importance and preciousness of each breath. Those who have had a fundamental aspect of life jeopardized often appreciate it the most.
The challenge for meditators with a history of asthma, COPD, or other breathing problems is that the seemingly simple process of breathing is entangled with fear, anxiety, and other difficult emotions. The very act of breathing is inextricably bound to memories of episodes of shortness of breath, respiratory emergencies of various sorts, and threat of death. Seen from this perspective, mindfulness is the ideal practice for people who face this so that they can begin to sort through the reality of breathing by practicing full presence with it.
The challenge for meditators with a history of asthma, COPD, or other breathing problems is that the seemingly simple process of breathing is entangled with fear, anxiety, and other difficult emotions.
When we can sit and gently draw our attention to the present moment, which includes a continuous process of breathing (however labored, shallow, or limited it may be in a given moment), and simply observe the unfolding of the physiological process of breathing, we can simultaneously watch the arising of thoughts (about the breath, our disease, memories) and emotions (anxiety, fear, resistance, sadness) and see how these phenomena are simply fleeting, have no enduring substance, and come and go like clouds on the horizon or leaves on a stream.
This isn’t to say that the substance of these thoughts or feelings isn’t “legitimate,” but simply that we can choose to engage with or resist them if we like, or simply allow them to come and go. And in the end, we still need to breathe on a regular basis, and our choice is whether or not we might like to be present for that breath (and our lives) or not.