We take everything for granted. The impossible miracle and mystery of our existence is too much to bear. And so, as a means of survival, we intentionally forget to notice that which is actually essential to our life: our breath.
Right now, notice the subtlest resistance to the seemingly inconsequential suggestion of “deepen your breath.” That resistance is our deeply wired commitment to who we think we are at this moment. One of the sanskrit words to describe this phenomenon is abhinivesh, or “the desire to continue what is”, sometimes translated as “fear of death.” And as Patanjali has shared, "it overwhelms even the wise.” (YS 2.9)
The yogis have long suggested the practice of paying attention to the breath, and if it was easy, they might not have to keep repeating themselves for thousands of years. But what are they actually trying to get us to pay attention to?
Most modern people know what it feels like to be slave to our minds. Thoughts run wild into the past and future with regrets, hopes, plans, delusion, and fantasy. We are powering these thoughts. So on a basic level, drawing the attention towards the breath removes the fuel which is spinning our internal hamster wheels. As we turn our gaze towards something simpler, we might also find a calmer state of being.
Simultaneously, the breath responds to our gaze and usually slows downs and deepens. The slower, deeper rhythm stimulates a feeling of ease in the nervous system which in turn allows us to slip into a more relaxed state.
You might try this simple breath awareness exercise or drop into Shamata Meditation with Erin Yee.
However, compared to the cinematic landscape in our minds, the breath can feel super boring, and instead of paying attention, we drop the project or simply fall asleep after a handful of rounds (which might be your goal and that’s okay).
The physiological experience of the inhale and exhale of the breath allow it to be a powerful guide deep into and beyond the body where the breath does not actually go. The yogis refer to these subtler levels of the breath as prana, or life force.
By allowing the breath to be our initial guide, we can commune with the flow of prana deeper within our beings. This connection can allow for healing inside the body and a sense of expansion way beyond the boundary of our skin and usual minds.
Try this practice with Robert Svoboda or this active meditation with Ravi Ravindra to explore your circulation of prana.
With regular proper attention to our breath, our gratitude for the miracle of our life will grow stronger and larger than our petty irritations and daily life struggles. Especially as we grow older, the temporary nature of our relationship with our breath becomes more apparent, and the preciousness more obvious. This reverence will lead us towards a more intimate investigation of who or what animates our breath. The realization that we are not actually responsible for our breath can lead to a mind blowing sense of interconnection and Trust, which heals the root of all our pain.
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