“Each breath is transforming me into thine image.” (J. Krishnamurti)
“As for the proper inner breath, it is called the Embryonic breath. Since it is naturally inside you, you do not have to seek outside for it.” (MASTER GREAT NOTHING OF SUNG-SHAN, TAOIST CANON ON BREATHING)
About 8 years ago, a friend of mine (a scientist) said she would like to get me into her lab and “wire me up” to see how I receive such accurate messages. Naturally, that made me shudder; however, I was honoured by her interest in me and my life. She got me thinking (as I hope my pieces get you wondering) and I asked my angels how I was receiving my messages? The angels told me that their messages are “carried upon the molecules of oxygen.” I knew that when I wanted to raise my frequency that I always deepened my breath, instinctively, so, this made great sense to me. I also recalled from my study of Latin as a teenager that the English word spirit comes from the Latin word spiritus – meaning breath. We breathe in spirit, spirit and breath are ONE. When we inspire, we breathe in spirit and are in a state of inspiration or “immediate influence of God or a god.” (on-line dictionary)
Let’s start with a little exercise today where you begin to just be aware of your breathing without trying to alter it in any way or to force it in any way. Just let your breath do what it will. Begin by just resting your attention on your exhalation and just let your awareness travel down the length of your exhalation. Good. Now, do this a number of times and just enjoy the sensation of the breath effortlessly leaving your body. What do you find at the end of your exhalation? Did you feel the momentary pause that follows the end of the exhalation? It may be very brief, a momentary hesitation; however, something very special happens in that pause. Don’t try to make the pause happen or to extend it forcefully. Just relax, and let it happen. As you surrender to the restfulness in the pause you may find that it lengthens of its own accord. Trust that the next breath can arise out of the pause without trying to ‘catch it’. Notice that within the pause there is no thought or movement. Some people experience it as a pregnant silence, resembling the silence we feel when we enter a forest. (My favourite forest is Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island). Every ‘new’ breath arises out of this pause and the ‘new’ moment arises out of this pause. The inhalation is born out of the stillness of the pause and the exhalation dissolves into it. Be aware that this pause is a reservoir. A resource that is always available to you. Know that anytime you feel tired, anxious, rushed, confused or overwhelmed, you can draw from this reservoir for rest and replenishment simply by entering the pause at the end of the exhalation. Without anticipating or projecting the outcome of the next moment, can you wait and see what the next breath brings?
As with everything else we explore on our path of awakening, we explore our breath. To re-awaken we re-awaken the essential breath. This is something I have taught my yoga students for close to 30 years and it was taught to me by my teachers. I taught 3,000 residents of Victoria, over the years, to explore their breath. When I began the path of Hatha Yoga, realizing that respiration is primarily regulated through the CNS (central nervous system) and that our bodies are breathing us automatically day and night, I felt that the breath just ‘happens.’ As a registered nurse I had studied the anatomy and physiology of the respiratory system and was focused, then, on one end of the breathing spectrum – the unconscious, involuntary breath. Of course, during Hatha Yoga training I was introduced to the other end of this spectrum which is breathing that is controlled by the will and regulated by the will. Classic breathing exercises done by the yogis and yoginis. Pranayama. However, unless we have moved through our various ‘blocks’, some of the yogic breathing can act to repress psychological fears and issues that are actually behind poor breathing habits. Hence, until one has strengthened their ‘containers’ and worked on dissolving these blocks, I recommend the gentler breathing practices. And, between the aforementioned extremes, lies the “essential breath” that you did at the beginning of this piece. A conscious flow that arises out of the depth of our being and dissolves effortlessly back into our core, arises from stillness and dissolves back into stillness. To access this “essential breath”, as you are aware – we must first be able to focus on and perceive our own breathing process. In other words, we must make the unconscious conscious.
Part of the challenge involved in the uncovering and re-awakening of the essential breath is in learning how we interfere &/or block this natural process. There are a variety of books that can explain the many poor breathing habits that we fall into such as shallow breathing and mouth breathing. However, most of our inadequate respiration comes from “the stresses and strains of the western world & ignorance of the art of relaxation contribute to, as well as derive from, bad breathing habits.” (YOGA BREATHING by Michael Volin & Nancy Phelan) Healthy children under 5 breathe “in the true yoga manner.” However, as we are all aware, after 5 most children and adults are subject to badly-ventilated spaces and public transit and over-heated buildings and offices, air pollution and also a sedentary life that for many of us leads to incorrect and inadequate respiration.
There are too many by-products of poor breathing to list them all. However, as scientific studies show, poor breathing can cost us our physical lives. For example, there have been a number of significant studies showing a correlation between upper chest breathing and heart disease. Changing our breath from upper chest breathing to full diaphragmatic breathing has such a positive effect on us. If you studied the anatomy of the heart then you know that the heart lies right on top of the central tendinous portion of the diaphragm and is attached to the diaphragm by fascia. Therefore, each time we breathe – the heart is massaged. The fascial connection is so widespread that if we breathe in a way that fully and correctly operates our diaphragm (as in yogic breathing or full diaphragmatic breathing) we have a built-in heart massage! Many of us feel that practicing yoga has prevented us from developing heart disease as well as many other ailments.
When I began my yoga instructor training at Sheridan College in the 80s I dis-covered that I was an ‘upper chest’ breather. Childhood traumas had resulted in what one might call a ‘frozen diaphragm.’ New Zealand yoga teacher, Donna Farhi, had a professor who specialized in breathing and he described her as “intrinsically vigilant.” Holding our shoulders together and our arms tight, we began to breathe very shallowly and as Donna recounts and as I have seen in myself and my students over the years – the history of our childhood can be seen in our breathing patterns and in how we hold our bodies today. However, the great news is – we can totally change! I was blessed during that time in the 80s to have Jungian psychotherapy and my Hatha Yoga Instructor training simultaneously and they complemented one another beautifully. My Jungian therapist, while a great believer in yoga and its efficacy, advised me not to practice the advanced “locking in energy” practices until I had finished therapy (which turned out to be 5 years!). If you are going to “lock-in” and circulate energy throughout your body, it is important that you have dealt with your issues and blocks. (see my piece called THE LAW OF PURIFICATION). Otherwise, you are recycling toxins.
“Eric spent many years living as a monk in a Zen monastery. In his first year he underwent a tremendously painful and emotional time. Completely overwhelmed by the intensity of his feelings he sought out the guidance of the head abbot. As he sat before the abbot he explained his dilemma and with great hope waited for the abbot to advise him as to how he might alleviate his suffering. The abbot answered simply “if you can breathe in… you can breathe out.” (oral history)
Although when asked I recommend practicing Hatha Yoga, Qi Gong or Tai Chi – any activity that promotes self-reflective consciousness has the potential to be life-changing for you. Dr. Dychtwald, a pioneer in holistic health and described as “something of a wunderkind in the human potential movement” (SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER) was involved decades ago with an international association that was designed to facilitate the emergence of “positive and healthy images of aging.” Dychtwald experimented with a variety of growth techniques and practices including – relaxation training, electromyography biofeedback, deep breathing, hatha yoga, bodymind awareness exercises, massage, Feldenkrais exercises, individual counseling, meditation, T’ai Chi, music therapy & Gestalt therapy. Interviews a year later with participants to discover which techniques seemed to be most effective for each of them regarding “the restoration of emotional energy, physical well-being, and feelings of interpersonal connectedness,” replied – almost unanimously – deep breathing. Dychtwald says : “My experience with these people has over-whelmingly reconfirmed my belief that the degree to which we allow the flow of life to breathe through our bodymind is the degree to which we are in fact “alive”, regardless of age.” (BODYMIND)
Today, I am very much “alive” thanks to deep breathing. I breathe like a baby. You can too! Like everything else in life it is practice. The angels and faeries are always reminding me to practice. There is no substitute for practice, nor is there a substitute for wrestling with our shadows. You can’t bypass the shadow on the path to enlightenment (o.k., maybe if you are like Jesus you can!), because it is the work with your shadow that takes you there. Our deepest strength and our most prized gifts arrive when we breakdown and breakthrough to the Light. It can look messy. But, from the mud arises the lotus flower and the “pearl of great price.” What lurks in our shadow connects us to every other human being on the planet. For most of us, working with our shadow, originally our greatest nightmare, becomes our greatest triumph. How do we get through it? Keep breathing. One breath at a time. One day at a time. We learn to live in the NOW. All healing is a release from the past. We can do it with our breath. We can ‘let go.’ Most of us do the opposite. We ‘hold on’ for dear life. There are times for holding on, but, sometimes we just need to open our palms to the sky and let go. We ask ourselves – who are we without our wounds? Who are we without our victimhood? The answer is “blowing in the wind.” The breath. In our every breath. Nothing outside of us can give us the answer. The Kingdom of Heaven is within. As seekers, eventually, we become finders. We find Home within.
Some of us define ourselves by our suffering. And, some of us do this because we believe that God wishes us to suffer for our “sins.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Or, we believe that we must suffer because those who came before us suffered and in some strange way we honour them by our suffering. Or, we believe that the only path to awakening is through suffering. And some of us carry the suffering of others. Naturally, I have come to know suffering very well, not just through my own experiences but through my family, friends, and clients. One of my clients, long ago, (let’s call him Desmond) was a man of faith and had been raised in the catholic church. Desmond had broken a few “rules of the church.” He was struggling with guilt. We were making some progress toward getting him to the point where he could accept the unconditional love from his Higher Self, God and the angels; however, it was slow and seemed to ‘stall’ frequently. He would not forgive himself and it was one of the most difficult journeys that I have had with a client. That same year, I went to California for a few weeks to cat and house-sit for a close friend who lives near a famous Mission. Every day, like a pilgrim, I walked to the Mission and back, spending time in the chapel praying and channeling as I have done every trip to California since I began going there. Usually I am alone in the chapel. Except for the angels and saints. As I sat in the pews, this particular visit, with my pen and journal, I asked whom might be able to help me to understand what was going on with Desmond and his inability to accept unconditional love. St. Francis of Assisi responded to my request for help. St. Francis told me that Desmond was “addicted to pain.” St. Francis also told me that is was very unlikely that I was going to be able to get Desmond to accept God’s Love. He reminded me about the Law of Free Will. I was devastated hearing this. My bond with Desmond was strong, we had struggled together and I had expected a triumph. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I sat awhile and took it in. Luckily, I was in my favourite chapel and could bow my head and pray that Desmond would accept angelic assistance if it was for his Highest Good. I also ‘let go’ of my need to rescue, surrounded by the angels and saints. This was my gift from Desmond. A difficult lesson for us earth angels. My prayer was that Desmond make the decision to forgive himself and refuse to suffer any longer.
Keep breathing. Sometimes, as the pop song (2010) says, “All that I know is I’m breathing. All I can do is keep breathing. All we can do is keep breathing, NOW.” The courageous keep breathing.
“Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
Until now.” (David Whyte)
We share the Breath of God and it is enough. It is recycled through the centuries of what we call Time. Every time we breathe we take in air that may have been inhaled and exhaled by a dinosaur, Socrates, a lion, William Shakespeare, a mouse, Nelson Mandela, a zebra, Gandhi, a dead grandparent, Cleopatra, a cougar, Patsy Cline, a wolf, Elvis Presley. Or, the Christ. We are ONE in spirit. ONE in breath. Keep exploring the Mystery. Keep breathing. Follow your breath. It will lead you Home.
Love & Light, Monica