1. Breath as Life
Mystic yogis believe that we are all marked. Each of us are allotted only a certain number of breathes in this lifetime. We then parish when we take the our last breath - when our breath, like a candle, literally runs out.
Some believe this is one reason why yogis engage in the art and practice of breath-control known as pranayama (prawn - na - ya - ma).
Derived from the eastern Indian tradition, Pranayama in Sanskrit comprises of two words: prana, which means life force, or breath; and ayama, which means to extend or draw out.
Together, pranayama is a practice of drawing out or extending one’s life force (breath).
2. Breath as Blue Print
Whether you buy into this auspicious belief or not, I earnestly think that the act of breathing: inhalation and exhalation, is a blueprint for life.
Coded within our DNA is the innate ability to breathe. From the day we take our first breath, to the day we take our last, we are defined as being alive. More so than automatons, we are living, breathing, sentient, intelligent organisms that walk the earth.
When we are open and receptive to receive good in our life, we allow the complex process of breathing to teach us how to maintain balance and bring in good.
When we breath deeply, taking long, slow, intentional deep breathes, we stand to reap more than respiration, we experience vitality in body, mind and spirit.
3. Breath IS Life
Most associate breath with life. We gauge whether a person is alive based on whether or not they are breathing.
There are many physiological benefits to slowing down and our breath is no exception.
Deep breathing affects our brain, our heart, our digestive and immune systems. It is our bodies way of maintaining equilibrium, helping us go when need be (kicks in the sympathetic nervous system) and relax otherwise (initiating the parasympathetic nervous system).
If you can’t seem to quite relax when there is nothing really going on, friends, you may be a bit out of balance. If you feel anxious and tend to go easily into high stress mode, breathing deeply will help immensely to activate your relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system).
Unlike other systems in our body, such as cell production or blood circulation that are 100% autonomous, breathing is both a voluntary and an involuntary act.
As breathing is something within our control, we have a golden opportunity to allow our breath to deepen our awareness of life.
Beneath the seemingly ordinary and autonomous function of breathing: inhale and exhale, lies the secret to living awake.
Through deep, slow deliberate breathing, we can awaken from patterns and habits that do not serve us.
Awakened living is deliberate living. No longer do we do things out of obligation. Rather, we do so with decision, with intention and with great purpose.
4. Breath as Teacher
When we allow deep breathing to teach us what we need to know, we will realize that each breath we take is vital.
Through the practice of slowing down the breath, we value each breath and honor it as life.
Moment to moment, breath to breath: each breath we receive delivers much needed oxygen. Without breath, we cease to be alive.
The process of deep breathing: receiving a slow, deep and intentional breath through inhalation creates space for an acute awareness. Slowing down the breath allows us to feel the expansion in our lungs. We feel our shoulders rise, our rib cage expands. We sense the beating of our heart and the electricity (and life!) that courses through our veins.
On exhalation, we release it all. If we allow ourselves to practice surrender: to slow down even more to the exhale, we can find eternity in the breath. We can actually feel the chemical exchange in the body through the physiological process.
Each time we breath, we stand before the miracle of life that exists and is experienced through us, as us.
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Deepening the Life that Breathes Us
Many of us don’t stop to acknowledge the autonomous function of breathing. And because no thought goes into it, breathing becomes rote.
To deepened our awareness of life, we must consider the breath. Similarly, to deepen the experience of life, we breath deep
Just as you are right now, bring awareness to your normal breath (yup, even as you read this sentence). Don’t do anything special but to simply let your awareness be with your breath for a few moments ... and notice.
Simply notice the length of your breath. No one is watching you right now, and no one even knows you are doing this so don’t be worried about being watched or judged.
Simply notice the way you breath and how you breath. Allow yourself to become aware of how your belly rises and falls, and how your lungs expand and contact with your normal breathing. Notice your rhythmic breathing for the next 30 seconds.
Do your shoulders move? Are your arms, legs, hands or feet affected? How does your normal breathing affect your posture? And while we are at it, are you practicing good posture, or is your back hunched over?
Now, notice that there is nothing you need to do to breath. Life breathes you!
This time, with awareness, allow your spine to be straight as you read this so you are either sitting comfortably (or lying down comfortably). Exhale all the air from your body. With intention, at a comfortable pace for you, inhale by counting to four. Hold for 7 counts. The pace should be the same as the inhale. And then, exhale for a count of 8. Take a couple normal breathes. Begin again and repeat 5 times.
Go ahead and give it a go. Keep your eyes open for breathes 1 and 2, close your eyes on breaths 3-5. Allow yourself to feel the breath work in the body, as you give and receive.
Even in the short practice of the 4-7-8 breath, you may feel the physiological processes and chemical exchanges within your body.
Deep Breathes Increases Oxygen. Some experience this as lightheadedness. This is due to the increased oxygen in your blood stream which greatly benefits the rest of your body. Over time, as your body assimilates the oxygen level in your blood, your brain function increases.
5. Breath as Blue Print
This awareness of deepening your breath is the beginning of a larger awareness of self that is a blue print to what makes you tick.
It is a window to better understand what drives you, what might be behind your actions and may also hold the key as to why you have chosen to be who you are.
The more conscious we are with our breathing, the greater our awareness of the life that courses through us, literally and metaphorically.
Life is Consciousness
Life meets us at our level of conscious awareness. That is, what we are present to is what we see, experience and know.
If we only see fear and danger, fear and danger will be plentiful. If we are partial and present to drama, stress and conflict, it is what we are always going to get!
When we train ourselves to see possibility, harmony and solutions, these so-called miracles leap forth to greet us!
Anything we believe in, whether we choose to be narrow minded or open minded, is the faith to which we live our reality.
6. Breath as Resource
Using our breath as a resource to become aware and to deepen our awareness of life, of who we are, and how we choose to live can radically change the trajectory of our life in a way that aligns with and serves the soul.
Deepening your breath, and mindfully slowing it down creates space for you to be present in your body.
You may notice from time to time that you are a shallow breather, perhaps barely even breathing. Maybe you might take note of it, either mentally or in a breathing awareness journal.
Unless we are conserving oxygen to extend the life of an oxygen tank, shallow breathing will not serve you.
Chronic shallow breathing might be holding you back. Rather than opening up to receiving big and deep, rather than breathing in BIG, we accept the meager autonomous portion of oxygen that barely keeps us alive, much less aware.
7. Breath as a Cycle
Life is a cycle. With the inhale, there must be exhale. One is not better than the other, both are equally vital for life. Like the breath, emotions, relationships, and life circumstances are dynamic - they rise and fall, going from one end the another. This polarity is necessary and completes a natural as we live one experience at a time.
8. Breath as Integration
To be mindful of our breath is to give attention to it. When we are present, we are front, center and attentive to our experience of life.
We will realize that our lives are not segmented, but integrated, deeply intwined and interdependent. Good and bad become labels we place on our emotions and experiences, and we can learn to simply allow life to be. Perhaps we may even deepen our awareness and embrace the precious life we have.
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Presence is an awareness to life itself. With breathing, as in life, when we avail ourself to living fully and deeply, we can experience more of it.
In addition to extending our breath by slowing down and noticing, we extend our awareness of life, allowing each precious moment to be truly lived.