Breath is the essence of life. We begin our journey in our bodies when we come out of our mother’s womb and take our first breath of air. In this moment, we start a cycle, which defines and guides our existence until we take our last breath, until our death. Throughout our time in our bodies, the breath is a consistent presence, anchoring us to the present moment.
Physiologically, the breath is an involuntary process; it brings needed oxygen and other nutrients to the physical body without needing to think about it or intend to breathe. In eastern traditions and energy medicine, the breath is known to connect us with finer energies such prana or chi; this is our life force energy. Whether we consider the breath from the physical or spiritual perspective, it is occurring continuously and breathing us through our lives.
In many yogic and meditative practices, the breath is seen as a gateway that helps to access our deepest essence. Although the basic physical nature of breath is involuntary, by moving into awareness with the breath, it can become a powerful catalyst for transformation. When we move from an unconscious to a conscious relationship with the breath, we are shifting our whole being from an unconscious state to a conscious one. With just one breath, we have the ability to move from being unconscious to being fully conscious and awake. And if we work with the breath regularly, the potential for change is infinite.
Many of us spend so much time moving through our lives and the world unconsciously. We are disconnected from what is going on around us and what is going on deeply within ourselves. The power of the breath gives us access to the subtler aspects of ourselves and our world. It allows us to connect with our deeper emotions and to embody our authentic selves. It helps us to connect with the unconscious aspects of life and become more fully present in each moment. In each moment that we work with our breath in a conscious way, we are moving into a more conscious life.
There are many ways to work with the breath and it is important to find a practice that resonates with you. But just one breath taken in a conscious way can be a meditation and a way to be more fully present. Several of these a day or some type of daily practice creates a powerful catalyst for transformation.
Here is a basic breath awareness practice to explore:
Find a comfortable position sitting or lying down on your back. If you are sitting on the floor have legs crossed or on a chair with feet flat on the floor. It is good to have your spine straight but not tense, shoulders and stomach relaxed, hands on your knees or lap. Without trying to change or alter your breath, just begin to notice it. Notice the breath as it enters your body and as it leaves your body. Feel the sensation of the breath at the tip of your nose, as it enters the nostrils and moves out through the nostrils. Feel the breath as it moves through your sinus passages and down through your throat and then back out. Feel the rise and fall of your chest with each breath. Feel the breath as it moves into and fills the lungs and as it moves back out. Feel the diaphragm moving up and down with each breath. Remember, there is no need to change the breath, you just notice it. If it changes on its own, just notice that, too. Notice how you feel, as you are present with your breath. Does your energy shift as you become more present with the breath? How does it feel to connect with your own breath in a conscious way?
We are born with our breath and we die with our breath. Throughout our lifetimes, we are given the opportunity to learn and grow. The power of the breath offers us a vehicle for becoming more conscious, awake and alive. In the words of the great yogic master, Vivekananda:
“We are responsible for what we are, and whatever we wish ourselves to be, we have the power to make ourselves. If what we are now has been the result of our own past actions, it certainly follows that whatever we wish to be in the future can be produced by our present actions; so we have to know how to act.”
Take some time this week to explore the power of your breath and how you can work with it to become who you wish to be.