Go as a riverThích Nhát Hanh
“Breathe.” It’s so simple, it almost seems stupid. (That’s the best you can do? Tell me to breathe?) We hear this command and translate to someone telling us to get a grip, to pull it together. In truth, breath is the most profound and fundamental tool available to us. To be alive is to have breath. If you’ve had the privilege of witnessing a birth or a death, you’ve watched breath as the precursor, an indication of both the beginning and the end. I’ve seen three beginnings and three endings. And one I don’t remember.
Breathing is the first thing we do after we are born and the final letting go before we die. Expanding on yesterday’s idea of being the observer, I share the following quote from Eckhart Tolle. 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.
When practiced mindfully, any type of meditation you choose allows our bodies 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 and oxygen). Under stress, we see our breathing change. And, just as our stress level can affect our breathing, our breathing can affect our stress. We need to exhale more.
Breath is life-giving. It’s that simple. It is an analogy and a practice in every tradition. Simple, and yet complex. My wisest teachers remind me constantly. I text that one word to my teenagers all the time. “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. (I learned this tool as 8-4-7 breathing. I found this hilarious, as I was digesting the dis-ease of a move back to suburban Chicago, where the area code is “847”. More recently, I’ve learned it is better known as 4-7-8 breathing. Easy to remember, either way.)
Here it is:
Inhale for 4. Hold for 7. Exhale for 8. The key is the ratio of inhale to exhale, which releases trapped carbon dioxide. Like anything, we aim to get rid of the clutter and that which no longer serves us. This is the only way to make room for the new.
Find your own rhythm, but keep proportions the same. Sitting up works best.
And don’t overdo it. For me, it’s a starting point, which sets me up for longer and slower quality breathing.
I recommend watching the below. If you do, notice what Andrew Weil says about the point on the roof of your mouth. I’ve taught this to my kids and found it to be a great calmer (especially for baseball pitchers!). Applying pressure to this point stimulates the production of serotonin. Some speculate that this is why babies soothe themselves by pressing their thumbs there when sucking them. (This is appreciated by a thumb-sucker until fifth grade. “A glutton for comfort,” my brother coined me long ago. ‘Tis true.)