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Breath And Presence
Breath is synonymous with life. It is the first thing we do at birth and the last thing we do when our spirit and body separate. Our life is one long continuation of inhales and exhales. Breathing is something we do involuntarily, and because of this, we often do not pay attention to it. On the other hand, throughout history, many people have given breath their deepest attention, recognizing it as a vehicle to detoxify the body, expand consciousness, relax both mind and body and improve overall health (mentally and physically).
Breath continues to capture humanity’s attention even up to today. By now, the work of Wim Hoff has swept the globe. Pranayama videos are abundant on YouTube, and breath workshops are everywhere to be found. Books on breath are all over the internet and easily found in bookstores. I am not encouraging anyone to go out and enroll in a workshop or buy a book.
The Power Of Simplicity
The other day I was speaking to a friend about essential oils. She said she has a collection of them that she never uses because she gets discouraged by the complexity. She is right, the world of essential oils is as vast as the library of Alexandria, and I can see how it can easily overwhelm someone. I offered her the suggestion of just getting to know one essential oil first and taking it from there. Early in life, I learned the term “spiritual materialism. “ I can even say I swam in it. I have been an endless seeker. I have traveled to Nepal to seek teachings from Tibetan Lamas, taken workshops of all kinds, and immersed myself in numerology and astrology. I have dabbled in Human Design and the Enneagram. I studied Chinese Medicine and became an acupuncturist. I delved into the practices of Qi Gong and Yoga. I devoted a decade to studying a modality called Source Point Therapy. The list doesn’t stop there.
Now at the age of fifty-five, after a lifetime of seeking, I find what really attracts me is simplicity. Two of the most simple things we can do in life that do not cost a thing are to breathe and to be present. Breath and presence are both great teachers in and of themselves. I think it’s exciting to realize that we have two built-in teachers that are with us our entire life. Neither of them costs money, the only thing we have to pay is attention.
Connecting To Your Breath
Becoming aware of your breath is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. In my first blog article, I touched on polarization, and in my second blog, I addressed softening. In my practice of observing the breath, I have noticed that in times of polarization and /or stress, I tend to hold my breath. When I notice I am holding my breath, I relax my abdomen and breathe. I might also relax my facial muscles and let go of any tension I am holding in my body. As I do this, I notice I move out of a state of being contracted. In a more expanded state, my mind softens. Over time I have also observed that often it is not what I am facing that is the challenge, but my attitude towards it. In other words, where my mind contracts, my body follows, and it becomes a cycle of tension like a dog chasing its own tail.
The mind informs the body, and the body informs the breath. The breath connects the two - body and mind. The next time you are in a state of tension or stress, check to see if your abdomen is tight. If it is, relax your abdomen and resume normal breathing. It is helpful to do this as many times a day as you can remember. Being in touch with the breath is a lifelong practice. As your relationship with your breath develops, you will learn a lot about yourself. A relationship with your breath is possibly the most intimate relationship you will ever have, should you choose to cultivate it. Within you is a vital life essence, and your breath is a key component of that essence.
The science of breath is vast and complex. There are infinite breathing techniques, each serving a different purpose. Some techniques lower heart rate and reduce stress and anxiety (much needed in these current times). There are techniques for cleansing the subtle body channels (nadis in Hindi), techniques for balancing the right and left hemispheres of the brain, and techniques for regulating and calming the central nervous system, etc.
In my blogs, I do not attempt to reinvent the wheel. I also make it a point to speak to an audience who may not have been introduced to some of the subjects I write about. What is important to me is to pique your curiosity and, of course, to inspire. Even for those reading this who already have a deep connection to breath, I bring it back to basics. We do not have to know all the intricate techniques and have a handle on all the terminology around them. We can bring it back to simplicity by merely cultivating a steady and continuous relationship with our breath.
Not everyone has access, time and money to take yoga classes, do workshops and go on retreats. The beauty of the modern age is that so much can be done for free online. The downside of that is the high volume of misinformation. For that, we can consult someone we know who is more knowledgeable than us in our area of interest. If we can’t do that, we can align our hearts through prayer or clear intention to bring forth the information we seek. I would be remiss not to say that the knowledge you seek is often already within.
You would be surprised by what you know ( that you were not aware of) if you begin asking questions and creating the space to listen. By doing this, you hone your capacity to trust what you hear and the faith to follow your guidance. Presence and breath are not so much about knowledge as they are about relaxing the mind and letting them lead. Breath and presence alone are deep, insightful practices.
Connecting The Breath And Mind
Take a moment right now and notice your breath. Follow your inhales and exhales. Notice breathing in and notice breathing out. Do nothing but follow your breath for a minute. Did you notice something? When you give your mind something to do, like focus on your breath, it tends not to wander because it is engaged in observing your inhales and exhales. This is a beautiful example of connecting the mind and breath. The mind loves to be engaged, to have something to do. Think, think, think; the mind never stops. If you give the mind something to engage in, you can have a break from its endless chatter.
People often ask, “How do you meditate?“. As with breathing, there are a myriad of meditation techniques. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned meditator, simply following the breath is a wonderful practice. It offers respite from the monkey mind, and it brings us right into the present moment with ease and grace. I enjoy the practice of counting my breath from one to ten. Inhale one, exhale one, inhale two, exhale two, all the way up to ten. Why ten? The mind is always looking for an escape route or a back door, so sticking with ten helps keep the mind focused and on track.
I recommend starting with a minute of this practice every day and adding a minute a week until you have reached the amount of time that works for you. The amount of time you spend with your breath is not static; it will change according to your needs and the cycles of your life. What is important, is to spend some time with it. It is helpful to create a space in your life for it without turning it into a homework assignment. Make a date with it, the way you make time to spend with a friend. Everyone has a different approach. I prefer to connect with my breath organically. Nevertheless, if you prefer more structure or are looking for a place to begin, there are many apps out there pertaining to breathing.
It is not about quantity; it is about quality and consistency. You do not have to limit yourself; you can pull this practice up anywhere at any time. Driving in traffic and getting tense? Practice the 4, 6, 8 methods (more below). Bored in the grocery store line? Count your breaths from one to ten. Just had an intense interaction? Relax your face and abdomen and breathe. You don’t need a class or an instructor. You don’t need any books or tools. You just need your breath and your awareness. Isn’t it lovely how simple it is?
The Art Of Being Present
Staying connected to the breath is the most simple and effective way to remain present because we breathe every moment. The breath is always now, and it is impossible to inhale a breath in the past or the future, which are two of the mind’s favorite places to hang out. Being in the present moment is a subject as vast as breath, and like breath, many people spend a lifetime cultivating their ability to be in the present moment. In truth, we are always in the present moment, for there is nowhere else that we exist aside from this moment.
It is the mind which continually pulls us out of the moment. Perhaps while you are washing dishes, you are making a grocery list in your head. Maybe a friend says something to you, and it triggers something that redirects your mind. When you finally bring your attention back to the conversation, you realize you missed the last few sentences. Your mind especially takes you to the past when an unresolved trauma gets triggered. Fear often propels our minds into the future, and regret causes the mind to redirect our attention to the past.
The mind is relentless in its endless sojourns to the past and the future. If you are willing to observe your thoughts over an extended period of time, you will begin to notice that your mind spends more time in the past and the future than anywhere else. This means that for most of your life your mind is rarely in the present moment. It is possible to spend the majority of your life checked out, somewhere else, not in the present - where your whole life takes place.
Consciousness Vs. Mind
Meditation is a great way to bring your awareness to the present moment. As I mentioned, you can use your breath as a vehicle for connecting the mind to the breath. Focused attention on your breath is a form of meditation. Some people say they can't meditate because they think too much. Meditation does not mean being free from thought. It means being present with your thoughts and noticing them without following the storyline. You watch the thought and you let it float by like a cloud in the sky. Eventually, it dissipates, and another one shows up. With practice, the mind becomes more and more still. You begin to witness your consciousness (the sky) with fewer clouds passing by (your thoughts).
It is your consciousness that observes your thoughts. In truth, you are not your mind. You are the consciousness that observes your mind. If you were to go to a cadaver lab and look at a body, you would see all the internal organs, the muscles, and so forth, but nowhere in the body would you find a mind. The body is animated by our spirit. It is our spirit that carries our consciousness.
To be in the present moment means that we are connected to our breath and our consciousness. When you bring your mind back to the moment over and over, it stabilizes, and with practice, it becomes more and more effortless. Throughout history, people have been drawn to beings that are perceived to have high states of conscious awareness. These beings are often called “ Awakened Beings “ or “ Enlightened Beings.” Enlightened beings make no announcement of their awakeness, they simply live in that state, and people are drawn to their light.
Breath And Presence As Lifelong Teachers
Unfortunately, in today’s world, there are many false prophets and misguided teachers. Whole lives are ruined from having grown up in a cult or following a self-inflated unrealized teacher. With much effort, many recover, some never do. There are whole swaths of history in which people have been prey to paradigms and ideologies that lead humanity not closer to spirit, but away from it, into a distorted view of self and the world. These dualistic, polarized dogmas have been the cause of war, violence, brainwashing, guilt, shame, abuse, and a general contortion of the soul.
It sounds kind of grim, doesn’t it? The beauty of the most pure teachers is that they always leave a trail of light behind them. Their imprints on the collective consciousness sprout from the seeds they plant and ripen in perfect time. Many of those seeds are sprouting now. Across gender, time, and culture, these awakened beings all remind us of a few important things. Firstly, that we can cultivate the same capacity to hold the light that they hold; second, they teach us that love is the core of all the teachings and that as we cultivate our light, we awaken to the fact that we are nothing other than love itself.
Whether you feel your sole purpose in life is to awaken to the truth of who you are or you simply want to have more ease and grace in your life, the practices of presence and breath are the perfect beginning. These practices are lifetime practices and two things that awakened beings and common people alike have in common. The path to awakening will always include these two profound yet simple ingredients. As always, thank you for reading, and my prayers have been answered if you found something here that is of use to you. You may finish here, or if you like the engagement format of the previous blogs feel free to explore the offerings below.
Engaging The Breath
A great place to start is simply to take note of your breath throughout the day. Notice if and when your abdomen becomes tight. Notice when you are holding tension in your face and body. Notice your breath when you are stressed. Begin to note the difference in your breath when you are relaxed and when you are stressed. Check in throughout the day and play around with this practice. If you find it helpful, you can keep it up as a part of your daily life.
If you are new to engaging your breath, the one to ten exercises mentioned above is a great place to start. Count your breath from one to ten and begin again at one. Remember - inhale one, exhale one, and so on, up to ten.
Below is a link to 8 simple yet distinct breathing practices. The article uses the word anxiety in the title, but you do not have to have anxiety to engage in these practices. However, if you do have anxiety, engaging the breath is a powerful and effective tool. Click on the link to see the practices.
Here is a five-minute video that is simple and easy to follow. This technique is called alternate nostril breathing in English. I chose a short and simple straightforward video, but there are literally hundreds to choose from. You will find this technique to be a great way to balance, center, and relax. This is one of many forms of Pranayama (a distinct set of ancient East Indian breathing techniques) and a great place to start. Click here to see the video.
Last but not least is an easy-to-use 4 - 6 - 8 technique. This technique works wonders any time you feel off-kilter or like you are about to go into a tailspin. It can also be used if you simply wish to arrive at a deeper state of relaxation. Breathe in for a count of four, retain the breath for a count of 6, and exhale for a count of eight (4, 6,8). This technique is simple and easy to remember.
For those who wish to learn more about how to be present, I highly recommend a book called The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer.
If you have been using the journal prompts from the past two blogs, feel free to attach these links and notes to any document you may have already created. This way, you will have everything in one place. Remember, you can return to any of the blogs at any time if you need to refresh your memory or engage with the material more deeply.
The blogs are laying the ground for a path you can follow if you so choose. The queries, explorations, contemplations, and exercises offered in each blog are here to serve you in connecting more deeply to yourself, your body, your life, and the world at large.
I would like to express my gratitude for your participation and engagement. Any shift you create in yourself benefits not only you but the world at large, even if you can’t see it. Remember - love yourself, be gentle with and kind to yourself, hug yourself, tell yourself how much you love yourself, and last but not least, BREATHE and be PRESENT. Life is the ultimate precious gift. Treat it like it’s sacred because it is!