One of the basic, most natural things our amazing bodies do is breathe We breathe in, we breathe out, however we pay very little attention to it.
In The Mindful Child by Susan Kaiser Greenland, she suggests that a child’s breath is like a swinging door between their inner and outer worlds. I think this is the same for us as adults.
Our breath can be calm and measured if our surroundings are also calm. If things get a bit challenging it is our heart and our breath that will sense this before our minds compute what is happening.
If we are rushing our breath supports our body to hurry, if we are ill our breath may be laboured, if we are sleeping hopefully our breath will be slow and peaceful.
I remember as a twelve-year-old child standing in the doorway of a room where my grandmother lay in bed dying. My grandmother made it very difficult to form a close relationship with her, however my mother had been called interstate to help her siblings as their mother completed her final days and I had gone along with her.
I remember standing in that doorway, physical distance between us, but breathing every breath she breathed. Breath in, breath out. I felt that it was my breath keeping her alive. Breath in, breath out. For that time there was no thought, no fear, just breath. Breath in……………breath out……………….breath in………………………breath out. It was probably the closest I actually felt toward her in my young twelve years. It was a time I have never forgotten.
I now know that everyone breathes and everyone dies. I now know that the person I speak to today, it may be the last time I see them. I now know that I need to hold this sacred space between myself and the other person as I don’t know what will happen. I also know that knowing this changes the way I speak with people.
Jan Chozen Bays writes: Becoming aware of death opens our awareness to this single, vivid moment of life.
People can find these understandings quite depressing and try to believe that we are all going to live forever. But we aren’t. Imagine if you listened to someone like you knew it was your last conversation, how would this change your level of attention? How would it change your connection with that person, your level of impatience or anger perhaps?
An awareness of impermanence encourages us to bring our best to each and every moment. To give each moment quiet attentiveness, to become aware of its awe, its beauty purely because we are here to experience it.
Kaiser Greenland encourages us to slow down and tune into other people’s breathing to gain insights into their worlds that we might otherwise miss. In doing so we can also gain insights into our own inner world.
Breathing is at the heart of mindfulness and meditation. In fact Jon Kabat-Zinn says that the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction program has greater success with the living than the dead! This leads him to believe that no matter what is wrong with you, if you are breathing there is more right with you than wrong with you.
Breathing is often the anchor which is used to train attention. We can choose to focus on the breath at any moment as it anchors us in the present, after all, the breath can only be here in this present moment and so by noticing it, we too, are being present.
For this week, notice your breath. Know when you are breathing in and know when you are breathing out.
Tune in to others’ breathing, especially if you are around children or the elderly. Be with them in their breath cycle for just a few moments and watch your connection with them change.
Try sighing. We often sigh without knowing this is usually because we are breathing from our chest not breathing deeply enough into our diaphragm and belly, and our bodies need that extra breath. For this week, consciously sigh, even out loud.
Sighing can break tension in the body. Take a big breath in, open the chest muscles, then let it all go out. Let go of control. Let the body drop with the breath. Then notice the pause at the end before the next breath comes in. Do two or three deep sighs in a row.
You could try to use the exhalation of the breath to let go of tension. With your eyes closed notice the out breath and focus on the body. Start at the top of the head, on the out breath notice the tension you may be holding around your temples. On the next out breath notice the tension you may be holding in the jaw. Each new breath notice on the out breath another part of the body. The temples, jaw, neck, shoulders, chest, back, arms, belly, buttocks, legs, feet. It doesn’t matter if you were or weren’t holding tension in any of these areas, just by noticing them, by tuning into them on the out breath your body will naturally relax.
You might also like to try a mantra on the out breath such as “relax” or “release”. Mantras are words or short phrases in our minds repeated on the out breath. Again the breath and the mind working together in the present creates a sense of calm and stillness.
Of course you may just like to follow the breath as it moves through the in/out cycle. Follow it without judgment on how it ‘should’ be, follow it without expectation of what you will feel later or at the time. Follow it as it brings new oxygen into your system, feeding your organs, your muscles, your brain. Follow it as it leaves your system and connects you to plants and the rest of the world.
Breathe gently and awaken to this amazing gift.