A pub quiz question at our local a couple of weeks ago: what is it that’s as light as a feather, but even a strong man can’t hold it for more than five minutes?
The answer (no surprise given the title of this post) is…. his breath.
Just as fish live in water, so we live in a ‘pool’ of air, which enables us to live and move and have our being. The lifegiving and essential indrawing and outflowing of breath borders on the miraculous, and yet, on a day to day basis, we are mostly oblivious to it.
Breath is rhythmic and responsive. It becomes shallow during times of stress and we unconsciously hold it when captivated or concentrating. We naturally breathe deeply and slowly when we are relaxed. In this responsiveness, it’s just like other systems of our body. Our hearts speed up when stressed, slow down when we rest. Our stomachs do their best digestive work when we are relaxed, play up when we are not.
Indeed, all of these work their best when we are at ease with life. But when it comes to inducing the peace and calm that is a major intention for meditation, breath and breathing are singled out for contemplation. Why is that?
Mindfulness and breath
The problem with our Western world is that we tend to live from the neck up and it gets really crowded up there. And pandemonium. We need a kinder, gentler way to access the peace, calm, and even loving kindness.
And that way should definitely involve a completely natural resource and be available to all.
Breathing is the one automatic system of the body that we can consciously control – actually, I prefer the word direct. We can direct ourselves to take a deep, slow breath, deep down into our belly for example. And this directing takes our attention out of the racket of our heads.
So you can see why breath and breathing would fit the bill here.
In just sitting comfortably and noticing your breathing for a moment or two, then taking it down to your diaphragm and then maybe after a few moments, taking it down into your belly – feeling your belly rise slightly as you breathe in, and lower as your breathe out – you are creating a gentle circuit with your body, your mind and your self – some would say your soul. Just sit. For a moment. For two minutes.
Because you’re worth it.
This is the start of Mindfulness. Noticing, sensing it, going with it, gently encouraging deeper and calmer rhythms, naturally. And if your thoughts wander – great! It’s a chance to bring your attention back to your breathing. Redirecting, to your breathing. Redirecting is a skill, a Mindfulness skill, and it’s learned this way.
The benefits to your wonderful body and mind are phenomenal. Breathing with awareness is the beginning of it all, and it’s never left behind.