“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” ― Amit Ray.
As the Summer season begins to wind down, there is sometimes a gentle quality of sadness in the air. We begin to notice the days are getting shorter, the sunsets are starting earlier and the mornings are cooler on some days then they have felt in months. There is this energy of change starting to emerge after the continuity of the lazy, warm months surrounding the Solstice.
For many of us, it is a time of gearing up for the new season in school or work as the wheels of academia, art, culture, politics and media start to spin again. There might be a sense of returning to a different, more rigorous pace. Preparations, expectations, projections, and anticipation abound. The Autumn is on the horizon.
So this is also a time when many will need to gather our energies, to center ourselves, to develop focus and strengthen our intentions in the process of getting ready for the pending climate and cultural shifts. It can be a time when self-care, paying extra attention to the wellness and balance of our hearts and minds and bodies, is particularly essential.
One of the most important aspects of self-care is embracing the role of breathing in our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. It sounds so simple and straightforward, and yet it is something that is so easy to take for granted.
In a given 24 hour period the average adult will take somewhere between 17,000 and 30,000 breaths, depending on age and amount of exercise. It’s something we can easily regard as just a part of the routine of staying alive. It happens automatically, whether we think about it or not. Whether we are asleep or running a marathon; if we are happy and joyful–or sad and lonely; anxious, excited, fearful or bored: No matter what else is going on, if we are alive, we breathe.
We often think of food and water as the necessary ingredients to energizing our minds and bodies but in reality we can go weeks without food and days without water. The essential nourishment for our cells is oxygen, which comes from breathing. Unless we are specially trained, after about 3 minutes without breathing a human will rapidly deteriorate and death is imminent. So the primary source of energy for all of our cells is the breath. It is the ultimate sustenance for being alive and well.
And this brings to mind the reason that so many holistic practices emphasize the importance of breathing and paying attention to our breath. In yoga, meditation, tai chi, pilates, chi gong and many other traditions the breath is the most important element of the practice. Regardless of the particular emphasis of any pose or stretch or meditation technique, the common denominator is about attending to our breathing and being fully aware of the breath in both the mind and body.
The breath has this incredible, unparalleled healing and centering quality. It connects us to the present moment, to what is happening right now. When we take deep breaths we can tame the restless or anxious mind and activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates the natural ability to calm the heart rate and soothe the muscles.
One of the best ways to cultivate a deeper awareness of our breath is to develop a regular meditation practice. The breath in meditation can be an anchor, a place where we can find a “home” to return to in the practice. As our minds wander or our attachments to desires arise, we can invite ourselves to come back home to the breath. We invite ourselves to let go of whatever else our thoughts may be struggling with and gently return to this essential element of life. We let go and begin again, returning home to the sweetness of the gentle rise and fall of the breath.
Even a practice of just a few minutes once or twice a day—or more if it is available to you—can tremendously enhance the relationship with the breath. It can offer so much possibility for renewal and grounding in the busy pace of our daily lives. And it is portable: no matter where you are, or what is going on around you, awareness of your breath can bring you back home to the beauty of being fully and abundantly present.
Written by Gabriel Woodhouse for bodono.
Gabriel Woodhouse is one of the teachers at Three Jewels which offers free meditation classes every weekday morning and on Friday evenings. Three Jewels functions as a Meditation, Yoga, Dharma, and Outreach Center for the community. More info at: threejewels.org