©2019 by Applied Jewish Spirituality, powered by Or HaLev. Calendar image by Federico Parolo used with permission of Deuteronomy Press.

    The breath is the favored object of meditation in many traditions as it unites the conscious and unconscious self, and paying attention to it can teach us a tremendous amount about ourselves, and life in general.

     

    Three of the Hebrew words for soul – Nefesh, Ruach and Neshamah – also mean or imply the breath.

     

    In the Torah, Kabbalah and Meditation for Our Daily Lives course, we explore this subject in depth.

     

    Below are some classic Jewish sources which play on this connection, to inspire and direct your practice, followed by some practice instructions.

    Zohar, Raya Mehemna (3:235a)

     

    And he created in him a ladder: “Angels of the Divine ascending and descending in him.” (Gen. 28:12)

    These angels are the breaths that ascend from the body and which descend to the body.

     

    Psalms 150:6

     

    Let every soul praise G!d!

    Hallelujah!

    Midrash Genesis Rabbah 14:9

     

    R' Levi said in the name of R' Chanina:

    For every breath that a person takes, they need to praise their creator!

    What is the basis of this?

    The verse that says, “Let every soul praise G!d” [also teaches us], “Praise G!d for each and every breath.”

     

    Kedushat Levi on Parshat Balak

     

    “[You, Eternal One, do not withhold Your mercies from me;] may Your kindness and Your truth always watch me” (Psalm 40:12).

    For the Holy One, blessed be He, creates a person anew in every moment, as the Talmud teaches:

     

    The verse that says, “Let every soul praise G!d” [also teaches us], “Praise G!d for each and every breath.”

    And if this is so, You [G!d] can make us a new creation and give us a pure heart [with each breath], as mentioned above.

    זוהר – רעיא מהימנא ג:רלה:א

     

    וקנה איהו סלם דביה

    מלאכי אלהים עולים ויורדים בו

     

    דאינון הבלים סלקין ביה מלבא

    ורוחין דאוירא נחתין ביה בלבא

     

    תהלים קנ:ו

     

    כּל הַנשָׁמָה תְּהַלֵּל יה

    הַלְלוּיה

     

    בראשית רבה יד:ט

     

    רבי לוי בשם רבי חנינא אומר

    על כל נשימה ונשימה שאדם נושם

    צריך לקלס לבוראו

    מאי טעמא
    כל הנשמה תהלל יה

    כל הנשימה תהלל יה

    קדושת לוי על פרשת בלק

     

    כי חסדך ואמתך

    תמיד יצרונו

     

    שהקדוש ברוך הוא יוצר את האדם

    בכל עת ורגע

    כפי מאמר הגמרא

    כל הנשמה תהלל יה

    על כל נשימה ונשימה וכולי

     

    ואם כן אתה יכול לעשות אותנו

    בריה חדשה

    וליתן לנו לב טהור כנ"ל

    Practice Instructions for Breathing Meditation

     

    • Decide how long you want to practice for. If you're new to this, try five minutes. When you feel ready, gradually increase the practice time by five minutes at a time. Twenty minutes is a good sit for an intermediate practitioner, whereas more advanced meditators might sit for 45 – 60 minutes.

       

    • Sit quietly in a comfortable position, with the spine upright, and the body balanced between relaxation and alertness. Close your eyes.

       

    • Let out a few yawns or sighs to relax your body.

       

    • Now just sit, not trying to change or do anything, except observe whatever arises in your body and mind – thoughts, feelings, whatever comes.

       

    • After a minute or two, set your intention to bring your attention or awareness to the breath in one place in the body, for example the tip of the nose, back of the throat or the belly.

       

      Try to feel what is happening in that place as closely, as subtly as possible, in each moment.

       

      Try to cultivate an attitude of gentle, kind and also persistent and determined curiosity.

       

    • When physical sensations, feelings, thoughts or other distractions come, don't try to fight them.

       

      Gently let them go and return your curiosity, over and over again, to the breath at your chosen place in your body, with kindness and persistence.

       

    • Keep coming back to the breath at that place in the body, over and over again, letting yourself experience what is happening there in each unique moment.

     

    Optional additional practices

    • Begin as above.

       

    • After a few minutes of practice, introduce the kavanah (intention) of gratitude for the new life entering into you with each inhalation. As you exhale, release anything that does not serve you.

       

    • Alternatively, with each breath, imagine that you are breathing one of the letters of G!d's four-letter name, in and out, in order – י Yud then ה Heh then ו Vav then ה Heh.

       

      When you inhale, imagine the letter coming down into your body from above, and then returning upwards with each exhalation.

       

    • Alternatively, breathe the י Yud in, and the ה Heh out, then the ו Vav in and the ה Heh out.