One of my favourite topics to read and talk about is breathing.
So simple, so automatic, something we mostly take for granted, so it seems almost farcical to point out how important our breath is.
Obviously, if we didn’t breathe we wouldn’t be able to keep ourselves alive, but how often do you stop to think about each single breath? Or even one single breath, and be thankful that you were able to take that breath? Each time you inhale it is as important as all the other times you have taken a breath in. By breathing you are sustaining life, providing yourself with a new opportunity to use your life meaningfully or to change something about your behavior that is currently not serving you well. Each time you inhale this opportunity is renewed.
Learning to use the breath for meditation is a powerful way to develop mindfulness. Your breath is constant (mostly) and always with you. You don’t need to get it ready or remember to take it with you, you never have to pay for it and assuming it is a normal day for you, you aren’t going to run out of it. This all makes the breath a perfect tool for making positive changes in your life. By learning meditation techniques that teach you to attach sankalpa (affirmation) to your breath you will have a steady and ever present reminder of what you are working on, be it equanimity, non-attachment, weight loss or TTC.
As well, the breath keeps us present in the moment we are living. Once you stop and are able to let go of everything but the breath you begin to realize that there actually is nothing else to have, nothing else to want or desire. If you are breathing everything else can be dealt with, taken care of or fixed. Actually, if you are breathing, what else truly matters? And in that case, if you no longer have breath the things that seemed important in the last breath also lose their meaning…so, you see, the only important thing in life is the breath.
Without breath there is nothing else.
On a physical level, it has been quite amazing to learn about habits of breathing. Most of us only use about 2/3 of our lung capacity, or less! However, it is the lower 1/3 of our lungs that are the most absorbent. That is, we are able to absorb much more oxygen from each breath that we take if we learn to breathe all the way down into our lungs rather than the shallow, habitual chest breathing that most of us do. Have you ever thought about whether you know how to breathe well?? How bizarre that you would take time out to learn how to do something that you have done many many times every day since the day you were born.
What is more amazing are the reported, researched and well documented benefits to our health and wellbeing that learning to breathe well offers. Internal systems such as the endocrine and nervous system can be brought into balance, stress (physical and mental) is reduced, we discover more energy, better concentration, better endurance and stamina, an increase in vitality and overall wellbeing. Then, add to the simple act of learning to breathe more fully, using the whole of your lungs, by learning about pranayama, yogic breathing techniques that further enhance the benefits already listed and help you to focus on techniques that will be most beneficial to your specific needs.
With your mind so full and busy with all of these new techniques there is little capacity remaining for worrying about getting the car serviced or how to avoid your boss at work tomorrow. Instead, you are beginning to find that your mind feels clearer, calmer, you are smiling more, more helpful…happier! Just by breathing.
Spending some time with your breath will also help you to develop compassion for yourself, seeing how vulnerable we are, that all it takes is to stop the breath, can help us to understand just how much love we need to survive. It also helps us to overcome our egos. Thinking about breathing, about something that we all have in common regardless of any and all other differences can help us to develop equanimity, an equal sense of respect for all other lives, without judgement or prejudice.
My next blog entry should probably be about sleep, but I will need to go and get some experience in that area before I am qualified to write about it…
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