One hour is enough. It looks like such a small fragment of time, but it is not. When you are trying to be aware, an hour can seem like a millennium, because ordinarily you cannot be aware for more than five or six seconds. Only a very alert person can be aware for even that long. Most of us miss every second. You may start by being aware as the breath is going in, but no sooner has it gone in when you are somewhere else. Suddenly you remember that the breath is going out. It has already gone out, but you were somewhere else.
To be conscious of the breath means that no thoughts can be allowed, because thoughts will distract your attention. Buddha never says, “Stop thinking.” He says, “Breathe consciously.” Automatically, thinking will stop; you cannot both think and breathe consciously. When a thought comes into your mind, your attention is withdrawn from the breathing. A single thought and you have become unconscious of the breathing process.
Buddha used this technique. It is a simple one, but a very vital one. He would say to his bhikkhus, his monks, “Do whatsoever you are doing, but do not forget a simple thing: remember the incoming and the outgoing breath. Move with it, flow with it.”
The more you try to do it, the more you endeavor to do it, the more conscious you will become. It is arduous, it is difficult, but once you can do it, you will have become a different person, a different being in a different world.
This works in another way, too. When you consciously breathe in and out, by and by you come to your center, because your breath touches the very center of your being. Every moment that the breath goes in, it touches the center of your being.
Physiologically you think that breath is just for the purification of the blood, that it is just a bodily function. But if you begin to be aware of your breath, by and by you will go deeper than physiology. Then one day you will begin to feel your center, right near your navel.
This center can be felt only if you move with the breath continuously, because the nearer you reach to the center, the more difficult it will be to remain aware. You can start when the breath is going in. When it is just entering your nose, begin to be aware of it. The more inward it moves, the more difficult awareness will become. A thought will come, or some sound, or something will happen, and you will move away.
If you can go to the very center, for a brief moment breath stops and there is a gap. The breath goes in, the breath goes out: between the two there is a subtle gap. That gap is your center.
Only after practicing breath awareness for a long time – when you are finally able to remain with the breath, to be aware of the breath – will you become aware of the gap when there is no movement of breath; breath is neither coming in nor going out. In the subtle gap between breaths, you are at your center. So breath awareness was used by Buddha as a means of coming nearer and nearer to the center.