Before we begin our exploration of techniques and approaches to cultivate mindful, conscious, and fully embodied Breathing, we need to establish some context and perspective for this journey. If you haven’t already, please read Part 1 of this Blog to familiarize yourself with the open nature of breathing.
The next step is to establish a fundamental mindset and perspective. No matter which Breathing technique we employ, we must maintain recognition of the following:
- First, we have to understand that which is foundational to the direct experience of breathing. Or said another way, “How do we each KNOW we are breathing?” The answer of course is that we feel it through sensations that are produced by movement. In addition, the movement is occurring within a Field of Stillness — there can be no sensations of movement without Stillness. Both occur simultaneously. We could also say that movement arises and disappears within a Field of Stillness; and full embodiment means to be aware of, or “feel”, both. We cannot be in our heads “thinking about the breath” if we want to know its mysteries — we’ve got to feel it within our Field of Conscious Awareness.
- The wondrous gifts of breathing are revealed when we find ourselves in a relationship of deep openness, intimacy, and vulnerability. When we are completely open and vulnerable, we recognize our Breathing as a miraculous display of our own True Nature; and this will unfold naturally if we relate with Loving and Kind Intention. Much like the interplay between a suitor and a Shy Mysterious Lover, Breathing reveals her secrets when approached gently and lovingly — forming a relationship of complete Trust. A Light, Loving Touch is the best way. By contrast, an aggressive or grasping approach of “trying to get somewhere” will obscure the experience in its most subtle and profound forms of expression.
- There is no separation within our experience. We cannot find a “Body-Mind connection” because Mind and Body have never been disconnected. They are an Inseparable Whole, and Non-dual; e.g., the Breather and the Breath collapse into Breathing. Search for yourself and see if you can find where the Mind ends and the Body begins? Or where the Body ends and the Mind begins? There are no boundaries other than our self-imposed concepts and beliefs. This insight is the catalyst for us to recognize that Breathing is a wondrous and continuous display of our own Minds; and is in fact Boundless. When we Breathe mindfully with full embodiment, we can become aware of the Boundless Interconnected Field of Being.
- Employing imagination or visualization techniques as part of breathing practices are a skillful means to “point out” or illuminate aspects and characteristics of breathing, as well as evoke particular feelings and sensations. However, we must remember that these techniques are also projections of our own minds. We must be vigilant to insure we don’t become dependent on them for a fully embodied and mindful experience of breathing. When various aspects of breathing are stabilized within your direct experience, drop the use of the technique and Simply “Be with”, “Rest Into” or “Allow” the experience to flow freshly, contentedly, and uninterruptedly.
With the above points in mind, here are a few Breathing techniques and practices to explore and develop a loving and deeply intimate relationship with our Mysterious Spiritual Friend and Companion. Each of these can be done with silent breathing, or with smooth soft sound such as produced by the popular Ujjayi breathing technique. They can also be practiced while still (sitting or standing) in meditation practice, or within movement modalities such as Yoga Asana, walking, or running. Give them a try.
A. Heart Breathing:
Imagine that the inhale and exhale are centered in the very middle of your Heart. Inhaling from the center of the heart from all directions, and then exhaling from the center of the heart in all directions for the benefit of all Beings; much like the Sun’s rays shine and radiate in all directions. Continue this way until a feeling of warmth pervades the heart; and allow this warmth to spread throughout your Field of Awareness. As this experience stabilizes, keep visualizing the heart center as a Brilliant, Radiant Sun that resonates and shines with each inhale and exhale.
Now going further, imagine yourself as a beautiful 5-pointed star, and bring your awareness simultaneously to the center of the palms of your hands, the center of the arches of the feet , and the Crown Chakra (you can also utilize the pelvic floor in place of the feet, or in addition to the feet if you are seated in a meditation posture). Inhale and exhale through each of these five simultaneously. Feel the warm prana flowing into the center of the heart and radiating outward through these five points. Pay kind and gentle attention to feelings and sensations of effortless, spiral, flow patterns. Once this is stable, see if you can locate where the sensation of prana (energy) begins or ends within your field of awareness.
If you think you’ve found a boundary line of where sensation begins or ends, look closer…
B. Tips of the Fingers
Spend 5-10 minutes breathing naturally and paying attention to the sensations of breathing occurring throughout the body. Once the body-mind has calmed down and the flow of breathing is effortless and natural, bring your attention to the tips of your fingers; as they are extremely sensitive.
Become Very Interested in finding where the tips of the fingers end within your awareness, and the Space outside the tips of the fingers begins.
Keeping looking so closely with kind and loving attention. Notice how the sensation of the tips of the fingers dances and changes with each breath; and realize the experience of Breathing through your fingers. It will become clear that the “boundary” where the tips of the fingers end and the Outside Space begins is permeable, diffuse, and Full of Subtle Sensation. That subtle sensation is Life Giving Prana.
Once this is stable within your awareness, on the inhale, imagine the warm sensations of the tips of the fingers flowing into the center of the palms, and then up the arms to the center of the armpits, and from the center of the armpits to the center of the heart. On the exhale feel the flow of Prana from the heart, through the center of the armpits, down the arms to the center of the palms, and then out through the tips of the fingers. Recognize that the Earth itself is breathing us and reflect with gratitude on this wondrous gift.
C. Whole Body Breathing
This technique can illuminate the inherent Spaciousness, Lightness, and Joy of the Body-Mind. Begin by taking 5-10 minutes breathing naturally and paying close, loving attention to each breath. Once the Body-Mind has settled into a nice natural rhythm, extend your arms out to your sides with palms open, facing forward or upward, and fingers extended. Now visualize breathing through every pore of your Body. Inhaling through every pore, and exhaling through every pore — wide open, completely vulnerable, and trusting the Love of the Eternal Now. Breathe this way for 10-15 slow, soft, and deep breaths; then rest, settle, and relax into the spacious openness.
D. Belly and Pelvic Bowl Breathing
This is a method to increase our energetic awareness of the belly, strengthen our motivation and will, and illuminate the fullness and depth of our breathing. As before, begin with 5-10 minutes of Natural Breathing to settle and calm the Body-Mind.; then imagine a single point in space located above the pelvic floor at the very center of the belly area. On the inhale softly and slowly draw the breath in and imagine the point in space expanding equally in all directions, like the filling of a balloon.
Keep inhaling slowly and softly until the “balloon is full”, and you can feel the breath simultaneously extending into your lower back and kidney area, the front of the belly, the sides of your waist, and the bottom of the pelvic floor. On the exhale, slowly and gently watch the balloon shrink and collapse back to the single point in space above the pelvic floor at the center of the belly. Take 15-20 slow and full breaths in this manner, and then rest and relax.
Practice these techniques, and your appreciation and and sense of wonder for the openness and miraculous nature of breathing will increase; as well as your recognition of its boundless and loving nature — Always Right Here and ready to Teach Us.
Breathe deeply and mindfully every day and your Life will profoundly change for the better.