Why focus on the breath?
“To master our breath is to be in control of our bodies and minds.” - Thich Nhat Hanh, Meditation Master
Beyond the physiological impact of breathing, the primary reason for its importance in meditation is that it serves as the gateway to conscious self-control. While primal parts of your brain keep you breathing automatically throughout the day, your rational neocortex is also capable of taking control of the breath at will. Breathing is both automatic and autonomous, depending on whether you’re paying attention. So conscious breathing becomes a platform for gaining control of your mind-body system through meditation.
There are a few additional reasons that many meditation practices center around the breath:
Breath can help you experience things on a more subtle level, since observing it requires a certain level of awareness.
Focusing on the sensations of breath takes you out of your “narrating mind” and into your physical body. In this way, creating a relationship with the breath tunes you into your inner world.
The breath makes for a great object of focus in meditation because it appears in fixed locations in the body but is also constantly moving.
It can anchor you in the present moment.
The breath can prevent you from falling asleep.
In the later stages of meditation, close observation of the breath can lead to insights about the nature of reality due to its transitory and simultaneously automatic/autonomic quality.
Mastery is in the details, and breath will be the platform on which you build your entire meditation process.