Every Breath We Take...
To paraphrase the song “every breath we take” is probably the most important part of our practice as well as our daily living. The application of breath modification and adaptation is seemingly endless. But the truth is most folks think, “well I know how to breathe I’ve been doing it all my life”. And that is true. The first breath we take is when we enter the world and the last is when we exit. What we don’t realize is that of all the autonomic systems in the body we actually have some control over the breath. We can’t make ourselves digest faster but we can change things with the breath!
The first thing we have to do is decide what our focus will be, energetic or structural. If it is energetic we can think about calming or invigorating the nervous system. Do we need more focus or clarity? If so we can choose techniques that support and change us. If we are working toward structural changes or pain relief then we take a different approach.
Lets look at a simple practice for calming the nervous system. Everything we read today or hear from our health care professionals tell us we need to meditate, reduce stress or calm down. That’s great, but how? First, you don’t need special equipment or fancy clothing or even to join a class. What you do need is a bit of quiet and a comfortable place to sit.
Once you have established a comfortable seat, either on the floor with props or in a chair, make sure you can sit upright for an extended period of time without extreme discomfort. Then, close your eyes and take a breath in, then let it out. Congratulations you now have a meditation practice! Now do this for 5 minutes. Try to keep the mind focused on the flow of the breath. Not so easy is it? Well keep at it. It’s more important to be consistent than to try to increase the length time you practice. That will come. What you do want to notice is how you feel when you start and then when you finish. Do you feel more calm? Does your heart rate seem slower? Did your fatigue go away? Those are all the benefits of a simple breath practice. If things are going well, try to count the length of each part of the breath (inhale and exhale) and see if you can make them equal. We call this a samana or equal breath.
Then you can begin to add a bit of space in between. This is retention and suspension. Think of them as a pause. If you were in the ocean and jump to ride up on a wave there is a moment you are floating at the top before coming back down and then there is a moment at the bottom where you pause before the next wave. A bit of hang time, if you will.
A dear friend and fellow yoga teacher says that the space between the breath is the most important part and she is absolutely right. That is when the quiet arises. The thoughts still and you sit momentarily in the infinite. This is the place where things change. The expansion out from this is endless. There are techniques to slow the breathing, counting practices that manipulate the breath and its results on our nervous system and intentions or thoughts that help us change patterns or habits of behavior.
So as the song says, “every breath you take, every move you make. I’ll be watching you”. Well, I won’t be watching but maybe you will be and what you observe may be that with each breath you see more and more and can then choose what you need to change. And that, my friend, is the most important step on the journey to transformation.