The breath is universally used as a focus for attention in meditation. In all the great traditions there will be a breathing technique or exercise designed to draw ones focus to an in-the-body awareness.
And the breath really is a perfect starting point ~ it is always there with you (whether you are working, sitting or hanging out the washing).. it is immediately available and portable.. and it takes us so completely and perfectly into the present moment.
Our breath is also an amazingly sensitive barometer for registering our reactions to all the events, moods, emotions and life scenarios that constantly whirl around us (internally and externally). There is no denying where we are 'at' when we focus in on our breath!
So the breath plays this crucial role for meditators - it centers and relaxes us (introducing us to the power of stillness); it acts as our 'anchor' (opening us to an understanding of concentration of mind) and finally it leads us gently into a deeper state of meditation.
Sounds easy? have you tried to watch your breath for just one minute with no distrations or stories?... amazingly it requires a lot of patience, persistence and practice!
The Sufis have this wonderful phrase to remind them to watch the breath... they repeat to themselves ... "this breath is the one that counts".
Try just a few moments right now... watching just the breath... settle where you are... take a breath...