Go As a RiverThích Nhát Hanh
“Breathe.” It’s so simple it seems stupid. When first heard, one thinks, ‘that’s the best you can do? Tell me to breathe?’ At first it can feel like someone is telling you to get a grip, to pull it together. Ironic, it is the most profound but also fundamental tool available to us. To be alive is to have breath. If you’ve had the privilege to be present for a birth or a death, the breath is the precursor, and indicates both the beginning and the end. I’ve seen three beginnings and three endings. Plus one I don’t remember.
Breathing is the first thing we all did after we are born, the last thing we let go of before we die. Expanding on yesterday and the idea of being the observer, I share the following Eckhart Tolle quote. He says,
“If you turn your attention to the one who is reading this, you’ll notice a presence. That presence or awareness is the real you. It is not your body. It is not your mind. It is you. With a regular practice of meditation you can live with more ‘awareness of your awareness,’ and this will cultivate a sense of inner peace and balance in your life.
Whichever type of meditation you choose, when done correctly, allows your body to reach a naturally-occurring state of rest. The way there is through our breath.
Breathing balances our nervous system, and the exchange between that which we no longer need ~ carbon dioxide ~ and that which we do need ~ fresh air; oxygen. Under stress we see our breathing change. Just as our stress level can affect our breathing, likewise, our breathing can affect our stress. We need to exhale more.
Breath is life-giving. It’s that simple. An analogy and a practice in every tradition. SImple, and complex. My wisest teachers say it to me all the time. I text it to my teenagers all the time. One word. “Breathe.”
Holistic health guru Dr. Andrew Weil says, “If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly.”
Below is a favorite technique; an easy starting point. It was taught to me as 8-4-7 breathing which I found hilarious, because I was digesting the dis-ease of a move back into suburban Chicago and “847” is the area code there. Makes it easy to remember.
Since then, I have come to find it is well known as 4-7-8 breathing. Here’s what it is:
Inhale for 4, hold for 7 exhale for 8. The key is the exhale is double the inhale. It releases trapped carbon dioxide. Like anything, get rid of the clutter, and that which no longer serves you. Only way you can make room for the new.
I like to add; find your own rhythm, just keep the proportions the same. Sitting up works best. And don’t overdo it. For me it’s a starting point, that sets me up for long slower quality breathing.
If you watch the below, which I suggest you do, note what Andrew Weil says about the point on the roof of your mouth. I have taught it to my kids. It is a great calmer, especially for baseball pitchers!
Applying pressure to this point is said to stimulate the production of serotonin. It is speculated that this is why babies soothe themselves by pressing their thumbs there when sucking them. Appreciated by someone who sucked her thumb until 5th grade. “A glutton for comfort” my brother coined me a long time ago. ‘Tis true.