Breathing in Thailand

When I told my friend I was traveling to Chiang Mai, Thailand, for two weeks in January 2023, she said one thing she’ll never forget about me is that I’m fearless. Since my trip, I’ve thought a lot about what it means to be brave, and I want to share how breathing meditation helped me to be calm during my trip.

I also studied advanced Thai yoga bodywork. The trip was a combination of training and sightseeing. I was going on the journey in 2020, but I canceled the trip because of the pandemic.

Breathing in Thailand is easy to do. I inhaled the sweet smell of burning incense on the mountain of Doi Suthep, sat in solitude meditating in a wooden Buddhist temple, and did breathing meditation during warm nights to relax my body and mind.

Gina Gafford in Thailand
Photo by Jenn Cook

I also meditated in the Muang Cave. The Muang Cave is a massive underground cave near Chiang Mai. Our group leader, Michael Sitzer, warned us that we would need to descend through a small opening. Also, small steps continued to dive deeper into the cave. Several times, I had to carefully slide my body through a small space, only shoulder width, into another chamber.

It was a little scary going into an unregulated cave. Several of my classmates appeared unsure of the cave. However, with some encouragement, we all safely descended into the damp cathedral-like cave.

The Muang Cave reminded me of the Thailand cave rescue in 2018. The Tham Luang Nang Non cave, in the Chiang Rai Province, is about a five-hour drive from the Muang Cave. The distressing operation rescued 12 boys and their soccer coach from the flooded cave. The rescue took 18 days and dozens of divers.

The coach, Ekkapol Chantawong, trained as a Buddhist monk for ten years at a Mae Sai, Thailand monastery. But he left the monastery to care for his sick grandmother. Then later, he was hired as an assistant coach for a soccer team called Wild Boars.

Ekkapol taught the boys, ages 11 to 16, to meditate in the cave to keep them calm and preserve their energy during the 18 days.

In the movie Thirteen Lives, coach Ekkapol tells the boys, “Fear is created in our minds.” Then he taught the boys how to meditate. First, he instructed the boys to breathe in and breathe out – slowly. Then, he said, “Let your mind be at peace.”

After reading about the Thailand cave rescue, I was impressed and forever grateful for the gift of meditation. Meditation saved the boys and their coach.

In our fast-paced digital world, the rate of anxiety in humans is increasing. I can feel it within myself. So, we need meditation more than ever.

The benefits of breathing meditation include self-awareness, improved concentration, resilience, non-judgment, inner peace, and living in the present moment.

Research has found that people can obtain psychological and physiological benefits from mindfulness meditation in a single introductory session.

“Our results show a clear reduction in anxiety in the first hour after the meditation session, and our preliminary results suggest that anxiety was significantly lower one week after the meditation session,” said John J. Durocher, an assistant professor at Michigan Technological University.

When I meditate, I sit or lay down. The best posture is to sit with legs crossed and a straight back. Then I take three slow deep breaths. I let my belly gently fill with air like a balloon and feel my back ribs expand.

Then I focus on my breath. I pay attention to my abdomen expanding or feel the air in my nostrils as I breathe in and out. If my mind wanders, I bring my attention back to the sensations of the breath as I meditate.

A critical part of breathing meditation is to feel my body relax. For example, I notice that I hold a lot of tension in my muscles. So, I use my exhalation to relax and let go. Also, if my mind is racing with thoughts, I use a mantra or an essential oil like lavender.

At some point, we must face our inner cave, whether fear or anxiety is within us. But, with breathing meditation, we can learn to go beyond the attachment to these states of mind. As my Buddhist teacher, Bhante Sathi, says, we can be stronger than our challenges.

For more information about meditation, visit, and for more details on Thai yoga bodywork, visit


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