Life cannot exist without breath, without the constant exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Our breath is one of the most powerful things in our lives, yet because it’s automatic we pay almost no attention to it. How would our lives be different if we didn’t just take breathing for granted, but paid close attention to it?
“In this very breath that we take now lies the secret that all great teachers
try to tell us… the present moment.”
~ Peter Matthiessen, in The Snow Leopard
Breath is a mystical thing. In yogic practices, the breath is called Prana, and it is considered the most vital life force energy. Yet, not only does prana animate us and bring us vitality, it is the very breath of the Universe. Whoa. The Universe is pulsing with energy; our breath is continuously exchanged with the plants and the trees and the ocean. The breath is what connects us in Oneness with everything. This is why we feel better when we can breathe deeply in nature. This is why, when we focus on our breath and allow it to deepen and lengthen, we can begin to find our center, find the stillness within, shift our focus from doing into being.
There is a proven link between the breath and the states of the body and the mind. The quality of our breath says a lot about how we feel about what’s going on around us. When we are tense or anxious or annoyed, our breath constricts, shortens and becomes shallow; maybe we are resisting the reality of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. If you’re anything like me, you may find yourself yawning a lot at times – like me, you may have been unconsciously holding your breath and probably need to breathe consciously a little bit more. When we are healthy and happy, our breath can flow freely; and the more relaxed we are, the deeply we breathe.
“Rather that allowing our response to an event affect our breathing,
we can learn instead to let our breathing change our relationship to the event.”
~ Cyndi Lee
Where the breath goes, the mind and body will follow. In each moment, we can observe how well our breath is flowing, we can feel it, experience it. We do not have to intellectualize or think about what the breath is doing, we do not have to beat it into submission, only notice as part of our practice of mindfulness. We can moderate our breath gently, which will directly affect our experience of the current moment:
If we increase the length of our inhalation, we can increase our energy or the heat within the body.
If we lengthen our exhalations, we can bring relaxation to the body and quiet to the mind.
… … … … …
~ I have a little story for you ~
This morning, my son and I went through a little dance. Back and forth, back and forth we went, a tug-n-pull between different agendas:
I want him to go to practice. He wants to stay home.
I take some deep breaths as our negotiations begin. Which is the “right thing?” Who can know? Maybe there is no “right thing” except for the outcome of the dance. Neither of us can argue with the reality of that; only find the lesson within, an understanding of the choice to be made.
I remind myself to breathe through the dance. I watch my son looking for clues. I breathe to find my center; to create stillness and to listen for the little voice inside that will tell us what we already know, if we can give the voice the space it needs to speak the truth.
How much dedication and determination is there to practice?
How much resistance and negative self-talk and inertia is drowning out the ability to rally?
He decides to go, but is not happy. I exhale, satisfied that he will do what he’s “supposed” to do.
He starts to cry, doesn’t want to go. I take a deep breath and try and different tack.
He feels guilty, says he’ll go. Then, imperceptibly, he begins to move toward the door. I hold my breath – is he really going to go? He stops. I let out the air I was holding.
We breathe – nay – I re-connect to my breath as I wait for my son to decide to which voice he will listen. What will he do? I know already, but we have to do the dance. I take another deep breath.
He decides that what he really needs is to go back to bed. The dance is over.
I go to yoga, where we spend the next hour breathing in concert with each pose.
The most challenging pose of the day is at home under the covers, sleeping.
… … … … …
The rhythm of our breath is cyclical, as is the rhythm of nature:
There is a rising and a falling.
There is an expansion and a contraction.
There are endless cycles of birth and death.
A constant drawing things in and sending things out.
Like the ocean waves rolling into shore one after another, after another, after another.
Breathing, if nothing else, is the constant reminder that we are alive. That, alone is such a gift.
~ Invitation ~
As you move through your day, Notice how your breath is –
long or short? deep or shallow? relaxed or panting? free-flowing or tight and constricted?
– and Notice how the body feels, how the mind feels.
Join me for a few simple yoga breath practices. Take your time with each and really lengthen out your inhalation and exhalation to a count of four or five… or longer if you can.
~ 1/2 Sun Salutation * ~
Stand tall with hands in a “prayer position” at the heart. (place feet about 8-12″ apart, for stability)
As you inhale, sweep the arms wide, then over head.
As you exhale, sweep the arms wide and fold forward at the hips, bring your fingertips to the floor
(or, hands to the sides of your shins, if you can’t reach the floor)
As you inhale again, lengthen the spine to parallel with the floor,
(bring your hands to your knees if you need to), then,
as you exhale fold forward at the hips again.
On the third inhale, sweep the arms wide as you unfold into standing with the arms overhead.
On the exhale, bring the hands back to heart center, in “prayer position.”
Repeat 3 or, if you wish, more times.
~ Breathing while lying down ~
Lie down on your back on the floor (or on your bed). Close your eyes.
Place you Left hand at your heart. Place your Right hand on your belly.
Breathe deeply, feeling the rise and fall of your chest and belly; feel breath moving through you.
* If you’ve never done 1/2 Sun Salutations before, please read all instructions first. If you have health issues or are prone to trouble with balance, please check with your physician before trying this practice. It is possible to do this practice while sitting in a chair, if needed, just lay the belly on the thighs instead of doing a standing forward fold, and lengthen the spine to a 45degree angle instead of parallel to the floor. I am not responsible for you. Know your own body. Be gentle with yourself.
I am a wife and a mom, a yogi, an artist, and a writer… but not always in that order! I tend to think in collage and have trouble starting my day without coffee (black). I am a contemplative and a seeker on this wonderful, odd trip that is this human life. I love to have adventures and detest fences of any kind. Dedicated to my journal, I blog part-time at www.vignettesfrommylife.blogspot.com