9 January, 2018
One of my greatest joys growing up by the beach was swimming underwater. I could twist and turn in three dimensions, roll and writhe, or drift down to the bottom. Holding my breath extended this period of blissful play, so I became aware of how to prolong this each time a little more.
It is also the awareness of being in another element. The water world is both enticing and at the same time incongruous. The watery cells in our body sing in harmony with their silky surrounds when we are totally immersed, especially in salt water. Yet our need for air forces us to focus, even while reveling in the luscious liquid swelling around us.
We can go for weeks without food, days without water, but only minutes without air. Breathing is the very essence of our life. According to yogic philosophy we are alive because the cosmic energy from the universe flows through our body in our breath. This is the Life Energy Force, or Prana . We know that the vital ingredient is oxygen.
With conscious breathing we will breathe better. We will breathe deeper and longer. Why is this good? Well, with the stresses of modern life our breathing becomes irregular and shallow. It has even been shown that while watching screens people effectively stop breathing, it is so shallow! The secret to breathing deeper is to exhale longer than you inhale. This ensures that you get out the carbon dioxide. Laughter yoga does exactlythis, in the most effective, efficient and fun way possible. Besides the benefit of the feel-good chemicals, the extra intake of oxygen is like jet fuel for the brain.
As a young man I even found the act of breathing sensuous. Breathing in and breathing out is connecting your inner being with the outer world, and there is nothing more intimate. We take in whatever is there, filtered by nothing more than some nose hairs.
Paradoxically, when we bring our selves into our body by focusing on our breath, we are present in our mind as well. Just as the breath begins and ends life, for me it is the starting point for any form of introspection, the most important basis. I m too busy, you say? Life is so full; who in their right mind stops doing everything to do nothing but breathe? Well, there is a saying: If you have little time to meditate, at least do twenty minutes. If you have no time, do an hour.
Many poets, meditation and medical experts speak eloquently on how important breathing is. I particularly like Alexander Lowen s take on it in The_Voice_of_the_Body where he states that the work of breathing is done by the whole body. Here are a few others: Breathing involves a continual oscillation between exhaling and inhaling, offering ourselves to the world at one moment and drawing the world into ourselves at the next... David Abram, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology. We too should make ourselves empty, that the great soul of the universe may fill us with its breath. Laurence Binyon. When I begin to sit with the dawn in solitude, I begin to really live. It makes me treasure every single moment of life. Gloria Vanderbilt, 1924. The most valuable thing we can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, not to be or do anything whatever. May Sarton, 1912 -1951.
And what does this have to do
with love, except
everything? Now the fire rises
and offers a dozen, singing, deep-red
roses of flame. Then it settles
to quietude, or maybe gratitude, as it feeds
as we all do, as we must, upon the invisible gift:
our purest, sweet necessity: the air. Mary Oliver, Thirst