Allergy season is in full swing and some of us are experiencing trouble with the normally reliable and seemingly automatic function of breathing. So for this week’s post, it seemed appropriate to spend a some time reflecting on our breath. It’s both mysterious and really quite miraculous. And yet we seem to take it for granted until such time as something restricts or impedes it.
I’ve gathered here some thoughts on breathing that particularly resonated with me. Perhaps they will for you also. .
The first comes from an interview with Cynthia Bourgeault, an author, teacher and Episcopal priest, on soundstrue.com.:
I think that you don’t have to look any further than your own breathing. You draw in a breath, and you draw out a breath. And where does it come from? . . . Someone whacks us and we draw in a first breath, and then there’s this final out-breath at our death, and another breath is not drawn in.
. . . It doesn’t take advanced mystical practice to really see that you are constantly being breathed through. And that some life, from some form and some place that is not of your biological making, is constantly in your being, and connecting you on all levels. We are very aware of energetic reality.
But where does my breath come from? We are always in our life drawing our subsistence, our sustenance, and giving back the stuff of our life. From very, very physical and tangible and mechanical, to much more nonlocalized.
In another interview from Sounds True (you may notice a recurring theme, here . . .), this one with Dennis Lewis, who teaches natural breathing, qigong, and meditation, comes the following excerpt. He is the author of The Tao of Natural Breathing and Free Your Breath, Free Your Life.
In the simplest terms, when we inhale we bring in fresh energy. In various traditions, they talk about prana and qi and things like that. And when we exhale we let go of what’s no longer needed—we let go of the waste. If you think about your life, it’s very much like that too.
We are constantly taking in new impressions . . . new ideas, new feelings perhaps, new ways of orienting ourselves to the world, and at a certain point, we have to be able to exhale with those. We have to be able to release [what] may no longer be [reflective of who] we really are. So we may have thoughts about ourselves that have to be let go. In the same way that I have to exhale unnecessary carbon dioxide, I have to exhale unnecessary thoughts or unnecessary emotions.
People are, in general, more oriented toward the inhaling part—both with breathing and with life—with taking in stuff than they are with the exhaling part, which is the letting go part.
So breathing is not only an essential element of life, but it can also be a metaphor for the way we live our lives.
One more from Sounds True – this with Neil Douglas-Klotz, PhD, a world-renowned scholar in religious studies, spirituality, and psychology. Living in Edinburgh, Scotland, he directs the Edinburgh Institute for Advanced Learning. This quote from his interview with Tami Simon:
Breath, my breath, the breath that we share, that we’re sharing in this interview over these many miles, connects with . . . the wind, the air that is all over the planet, and this itself returns to a larger breath. This [is the] larger breath, this breath of the whole universe.
In that sense, we can think of ourselves as connecting with all those from the past, present and future through the breath. That’s a pretty monumental thought. Take a moment to reflect on that.
Dr. Douglas-Klotz, who is also an expert on ancient languages, went on to describe a different vision of the concepts “past, present and future” than we might not be used to. He said:
The ancient Semites tended to look at time really not as a separate past, present, and future, but more as what I sometimes now call, “caravan time.” That is that the past is pulsing ahead of us. The present is here now with us in a community with which we’re traveling. And the future is coming along behind us.
[So instead of ] heading toward the future [with] the past behind us, never [to] affect us again, we’re falling in the footsteps of our ancestors, and then those who come along behind us or after us, those are our children and our children’s children.
Take a moment to digest that one. The breath not only gives us life, but connects us to every other living thing – past, present and future.
So if you want to find a way to quiet your mind and take a “time-out” from your busy life or prepare for the day ahead, perhaps you can start by simply breathing and thinking about your breath. So simple, yet so profound – on so many levels.
One last thought from an article by Tracey Rich, a yoga teacher and director of the White Lotus Foundation inSanta Barbara, on beginning a personal yoga practice:
. . . begin by breathing. It is the first breath that bridges our practice . . . The mind even becomes curious when it hears the sound of the breath and often falls into tandem with the breath’s rhythm, becoming clear and calm. You have just begun your personal yoga practice! It’s that easy. Breathe, with no greater ambition than that. The breath is where your curiosity lies. It is the link to everything about you. It begins to tell you how you are feeling today, what your body is truly asking for. . . Even if the clock only gives you ten or fifteen minutes on this particular day, you have spent the kind of time with yourself that no class or teacher can give you.
If you are breathing well today, take the time to appreciate it!