To self-realize includes knowing you have a body, a mind and a breath. Self-realization can be taken on as one of the highest goals to attain, on our life’s “to-do” list as ever evolving beings before we die. Impressed by the first word of the Yoga Sutras, the word atha , which means now – right now, is the only moment to be of concern. We are always in the now. Trite as it may seem, this moment of now prepares us for the potential of latent auspiciousness that the now invites us into that can lead us toward deeper self-realization.
Receive the present moment of now. It is in the now that we can begin anew. Every moment is new and now. Ah.
PAUSE. SOFTEN. LISTEN. RECEIVE.
This time of the year, in particular in the United States, brings along stockpiles of opposing complementary feelings and sensations that often can be counter-intuitive to all the holiday brouhaha, decorations and planning that goes into rituals and celebrations. For instance, there are family gatherings, work-place holiday parties, stressful Christmas parties some feel they must make an appearance at, memories of the loss of those deeply missed and memories of those who have passed away at this very magical time of the year — tragic or expected — can still weigh heavy. Conflicted.
There is an inherent solution that we have been supplied with, part of the sophisticated technological tool kit we were born with: Our Breath. This grand solution is present all the time and is present to assist us as we can employ it’s wisdom to modulate and moderate our experiences, this time of the year or in any situation. The gift of the Breath is the exact life force that keeps us alive, day and night, whether we are aware, conscious, mindful or not. The Breath is an amazing manifestation designed to herald us through time and space- holidays, a negative conversation, or the loss of a job, We can label this breath as a divine intervention available right in our back pocket. It is inside of us. Accessible.
The breath can lead us from misery to miracle, from contraction to expansion, from bound to free, from closed-minded to open-hearted. The breath can change your mind, your perception, your blood pressure, your heart rate, your brain function, your oxygen level and can even be a tool to connect with your beloved in the most intimate of ways. Just witness the innate breath cycle of a newborn sleeping baby, unencumbered by conscious experience, and feel the power of it’s breath entraining yours.
REALITY: Most people do not even take ONE, deep, full and complete breath, on any given day. Never. They take unconscious, shallow, uneven, panic stricken, upper chested contracted breaths without using the fullness of their physiological breathing mechanisms: ribs, intercostal muscles, diaphragm, lungs and brain.
IMAGINE: Just imagine a full breath entering your lungs as an inhale that pours down into the lower lungs, as if you are filling a glass with liquid from bottom to top. Then fill the middle lungs, and with more conscious awareness fill the rest of the breath to the top of the lungs and inhale still more — dragging the breath all the way up to the clavicles, then to the neck and throat — and up higher still, to the face, eyes, ears and brain. That, my friends, is a FULL inhale breath.
Now, to exhale, let the breath come out of the lungs as liquid from a glass — being poured off — from the top to the bottom. Allow the top ribs to contract and release air from the top of the lungs, then the middle ribs/lungs, then the lower ribs. For good measure, pull the belly button toward the spine to empty lungs completely of old air. That is a full exhale.
Let’s begin. Atha. Now.
Now we will begin to create space and time for our breath to do it’s job. Let’s begin with the awareness that the breath has four parts:
The breath has an INHALE. A PAUSE. An EXHALE. And another PAUSE.
————————(part 1)——-(part 2)——(part 3)——————–(part 4)
Now we can play with the breath. The Breath carries the life force, the chi, the prana, the Qi-throughout our body, mind and heart, day and night. No matter the language, The Breath is a healing elixir. As a chronic fatigue patient turned lifestyle yoga educational therapist, I have helped many become intimate with their breath to heal from some of life’s co-morbidities that come along with insufficient use of The Breath. I overcame and understood Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia, simply because of the breath after three months of nursing care. Every day I offer gratitude to my cultivated, self-realized awareness of my breath. All days. All ways.
1. With eyes closed, sit on the edge of a chair, so the spine is erect and ready to receive the incoming bountiful breath. Place your feet right beneath your bent knees and rest the back of your hands on your knees with palms FACE UP, like holding two soft, ripe melons. (Just by inviting the breath into this shape you are open, tall and receptive as the breath actually tickles and awakens the nerve endings on the spine that innervate every organ. Re-oxygenation is the ticket. Left and right brain balance begin here).
2. Imagine breathing a breath through the siphons of your open palms, then INHALE into both hands through your nose, mouth closed. As you breathe in allow the breath to lead the movement of you gently closing both of your hands into soft fists. RETAIN the breath in with a deep spaciousness, we call this, the PAUSE.
3. Then lovingly, EXHALE through your nose, release the breath out slowly –while you gently open your left palm. Ah. SUSTAIN AND PAUSE here.
4. Next, invite the next INHALE into the open LEFT HAND and as you INHALE, gently close the left hand into a soft fist as you visualize the breath moving to the top of the head, RETAIN and PAUSE. (both fists closed now).
5. Now, EXHALE SLOWLY as you open your right palm and release the breath here. INHALE into the RIGHT open hand and gently close it as you are inhaling. When you get to the top of the inhaled breath PAUSE, both fists closed-then EXHALE out of the LEFT HAND, sustaining the breath out. As you INHALE softly close the LEFT FIST, retaining the breath inward, PAUSE, then EXHALE via the RIGHT HAND.
LATHER. RINSE. REPEAT.
TO END BREATHING SESSION: To complete your breathing session, at your discretion, at the point when both fists are closed, at the top of the inhale, PAUSE, then open both palms to release the breath. Then begin to breathe a regular breath, like you would when you are sleeping. No direction, no controlling attention.
HINT: Whichever hand you exhaled out of, is the hand you breathe your next breath into.
Now with all this inhaling, pausing, exhaling and pausing-the 4 PART BREATH CYCLE it causes physiological movements in the body: the rib cage expands on the inhale, while the diaphragm moves down, then upon the exhale the ribs contract and the diaphragm hides behind the ribs and goes up and inside as the cycle continues. The breath expands the lungs, stretches the intercostal muscles and allows for more oxygen to enter the bloodstream. This exchange invites us to be more alert, present and ever more balanced in our mind, body, breath and heart. When we exhale, we release any build up of carbon dioxide as it removes toxins from the body via the breath. The breath is a fantastic alkalizing practice. It restores, replenishes and repairs.
As a calming and balancing agent, simply stated, The Mind is the King of the Senses. The Breath is the King of the Mind. The King of the Breath is the rhythm and vibration of the nervous system. And since our nervous system is 90,000 miles long it holds a huge potential for impact. The rhythm and vibration of the nervous system becomes the King of The Breath which makes the case that a mellowed nervous system is soothing, balancing, anti-inflammatory and as well, improves the efficiency of the immune system, your now reality and the reality of others. It is our responsibility to take the best care of ourselves and this gift of the breath allows us to do so in a cultivated, refined way-this time of year or any time. It is always now, atha.
It is said that each person is born with a certain and particular amount of breaths per lifetime. So in our quest for self-realization we find out how to use our breath in the most discerning ways. Do we spend our lives bickering, arguing, comparing, working, discouraging, hurting, abandoning, controlling, belittling, suppressing, abusing our lives away? Or would we rather spend our lives loving, sharing, caring, embracing, adoring, communicating, supporting, connecting, collaborating, consoling, honoring, valuing, hugging, respecting our lives and those in it? Which way do we choose to live? The distillation of the power of the breath is the awareness that the breath is a change-agent as long as we are alive – living in the present moment of now- and can be the inspiration for a renewed chemical equation that can alchemize our lives for the better, as we aspire to live toward self-realization in the breath of now, Atha.
On last note, Kabir, the 14th century poet wrote, “Student, tell me, what is God? He is the breath inside the breath.” So then I say, lets make space for that essence to grow as we live and elongate our breaths to receive the gift of this long, lovely life, as ourselves, now.
Atha. B R E A T H E * F U L L Y.