The Assignment of a Lifetime: Breathe

December 30, 2015

 

When we are born the very first thing we are asked to do is breathe. Breathing is how we begin. Each of us must initiate that first deep inhale when we arrive in the world outside our mother's womb. We then exhale as we cry out announcing our presence here. Breathing is something we are required to maintain throughout the duration of our sojourn here so I am calling it: The Assignment of a Lifetime.

 

Our assignment is to breathe in oxygen to nourish our brains, nerves and internal organs. The fact is that we can survive without food for some time and without water for days, but without oxygen; we will die within a just a few minutes. Breath is utterly essential.

In my counseling practice where I teach about how to be in your body, how to be more loving and how to be in mindful relationships I find that breath is one of my greatest allies. Intentional breathing is actually the top homework assignment I give my clients.

The assignment might be: Set a timer for three minutes, pause, breathe and feel. Do this 3 times each day. What do you notice?

 

This may sound simple and yet there is much to be gained through mindful breathing especially because most of us are not breathing fully. Breathing is automatic. It is something we do naturally and yet we have a choice as to how we breathe. Intentional breathing grounds us in the body and creates space for whatever arises; in this way it is a key element in self-management and self-love a because it helps us to relax, open and release stress.

Humans have been engaging conscious breathing practices like Prāṇāyāma which according to Wikipedia is a Sanskrit word meaning "extension of the prāṇa or breath" or "extension of the life force". Pranayama is an ancient yogic practice from India which has many benefits including: quieting the mind, increasing vitality, purification and rooting us in the divine.

 

Breathing with intention is not a new idea and yet it is a revolutionary one.

 

The times in which we live call for revolutionary measures which may become remedies for our "device based" reality. Did you know that there is a condition called "email apnea"? This condition has been defined as: " Shallow breathing or breath holding while doing email, or while working or playing in front of a screen." Researchers have proven that the lack of oxygen raises stress levels and decreases our state of well-being. It is clear that we are not going to put our devices into the trash and during this holiday season many of us may have received upgraded phones, tablets and computers.

 

How can we create balance in this modern technologically-oriented life? One option: Breathe.

 

Breathing is simple and it's free though it does take a commitment to actively engage as you inhale and your exhale.

 

How might your life and relationships benefit if you you chose to breathe more fully?

 

One thing I is notice that intentional breathing increases my bandwidth for feeling my emotions. I notice what is arising in my body be it a tightening in my shoulders or a furrowing of my brow in response to a challenging moment with my daughter; or perhaps if I am driving and someone cuts me off triggering a surge of adrenalin I take a deep breath and lo and behold the emotions pass quickly and I am free to respond rather than react. Trust me it works. It really does.

 

Breathing is preventative care for the body and nourishment for the soul. When you are breathing deeply you more readily notice places where you may feel stuck physically or emotionally. It simply isn't possible to hold a grudge (stay stuck emotionally) when you are actively breathing. Breath is a way to transmute and digest feelings so that you are able to communicate with an open heart.

 

How you breathe can mean the difference between staying married to someone you love (who may also trigger you-- it's an intimate relationship after all) and getting divorced.

Breath is deep healing medicine for humanity.

 

On a deeper level the breath invites us to embrace Life and to "apprentice to Death" to borrow a phrase from the inimitable David Whyte. I am proposing that we breathe so fully that we are living to the point of tears-- which at times may feel joyful while at others may be excruciating.

 

What if with each exhale we recognize that eventually the moment will come when we will need to let go of everyone we hold dear? I invite you to consider how your life might change if you were to consciously breathe in the sweetness of being with those you love.

Breath is your ally. You can breathe anywhere with anyone. Breath creates movement. It is a resource that anchors you to the vitality it takes to go for what you want, to have the courage to speak up and say the hard things that get caught in your throat; breath has the capacity to connect you to yourself so that you can risk being seen in your naked humanness and ultimately breath is the pathway into what may be called the sacred now.

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