Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again. ― Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist Monk and Peace Activist
I spent the last 48 hours reflecting on this miracle and wonder called breath. That which is but that which is taken for granted, until it is no more. An article on Wonderopolis mentions that we take anywhere between 17,000 – 30,000 breaths a day. And if we’re active, that could go up to 50,000! As a student of classical music and a lover of swimming, I know how important this sliver of life is but those numbers are nothing short of staggering.
I began this week spending time with a precious friend who practices meditation and breathing, every day. Diligently. Lovingly. With courage and terrifying commitment. As she helped me re-orient myself to this miracle called mindful breathing, I discovered these lessons again:
Breath as Cleanser
During the course of Pranayama and meditation yesterday, I reoriented myself to my life breath once again. I practiced inhaling and exhaling through alternate nostrils. Using my index and middle finger, I kept my focus on the inner eye or the third eye, or the point between the eyebrows.
I probably spent 5 minutes on this exercise. But when I opened my eyes, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I felt like a new person. Cleansed, refreshed, and rejuvenated. I felt centred and calm. And the truth is that I wasn’t in this state, 5 minutes earlier.
In a day that’s often fraught with hustle, deadlines, busy calendars, and anxiety, how many of our 30,000 breaths are actually mindful? If simply focusing on deep, expansive, and mindful breathing for 5 minutes could make such a dramatic change in my being, what wonders could it create if I did this more often? What would my days look like? And what would this consistent practice do to me, over time? The possibilities and the strength we can draw from this ocean of air is almost unbelievable.
My most favorite part of pranayama is that it’s easier than most other exercises! I have watched my friend, my sister, and countless other experts hold yogic positions for seconds or minutes that seem like eternity. In 100% balance and incredible grace that is awe inspiring. Luckily for me, I was practicing pranayama in sukhasana.
Breath as Love
The miraculous combination of kind attention to breath followed by meditation was so powerful that when I woke up this morning, I was more energetic and loving. I felt alive. I find this kind of mindfulness routine very different from the jarring, angry, and loud music I hear at the gym.
Silvia Mordini writes about how the breath accepts us, unconditionally and gives us a million chances more to have presence in the present moment. If this is not the embodiment of love, I don’t know what is! If all perpetrators and victims of violence and abuse were to practice mindful breathing, the hope for violence-free living can actually be real. Because, the breath continues to give unconditionally, despite our imperfections. Our obligation then is to embrace breath lovingly, in return, even with the tiniest fraction of attention we give everything else in our lives.
I’m always amused that we sometimes see mindful breathing or mindfulness as slightly esoteric, religious, or even woo-woo. On the contrary, it is actually central to our life and consciousness.
The Role of Mind Training in Breathing Meditation
Hailed as one of the happiest people in the world, Matthieu Ricard, has delivered talks at Google, LinkedIn and TED. In this video, he talks extensively about how happiness is rooted in serenity and fulfilment. It comes from the inside. Ricard received a Ph.D in molecular genetics from the Pasteur Institute in France. He then decided to forsake the scientific career and practice Tibetan Buddhism, instead. He has spent 40 years as a meditator. According to the Wikipedia, he has also spent 5 years in solitary meditation in a mountain hut, in the Himalayas.
I’m no expert and I don’t know the specific differences between the different kinds of meditations. This video does not speak specifically to breathing meditation. However, it does address an integral part of basic meditation. At the heart of meditation is the will to train the mind to focus on inhalation and exhalation, purposefully.
Breath as the Centripetal Force
If our life breath is central to our consciousness and our thoughts, I see mindful breathing as a centripetal force to how I choose to live. The centripetal force is described as “center seeking”. The centrifugal force, on the other hand, is directed away from the center. It’s baffling how easily we disregard something so intrinsic to our very being!
Therefore, a key takeaway from my short holiday is to really live, one mindful breath at a time. Duty calls. Our phones demand our attention. Stress takes over. The urgent is recognized. And the most important is so easily forgotten. If this is the first day of the rest of my life, I long to leverage this miracle and wonder called my breath.
How are you practising intentional breathing? What clarity of perspective and wisdom has that brought you? Your comments help me grow even richer, in my own journey. Thank you!
Anitha Aswath is an HR Consultant and Strengths Coach of Leader Success in the Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area at Cisco. She has the unique privilege of meeting Cisco clients from all over the world to serve, teach, and enable the success of their teams.
THIS IS A PERSONAL BLOG AND VIEWS DON’T REPRESENT CISCO’S STRATEGIES OR OPINIONS.