Beneath the ground life waits patiently. The snow returned today although doesn’t appear to be staying. It’s damp and cold, but the days are beginning to lengthen once again. In deep winter nature embodies stillness. Moments of purity surge forth, as to witness decaying matter continues to illustrate the constancy of ever changing life. Dead leaves gradually embed themselves into the ground, being drawn deep back into their root from whence they arose.
The atmosphere woke me the other morning before sunrise, as it often does. The sky still dark as sleep cradled heavy bodies waiting to begin a new day. What woke me seemed to be the magnetic shift towards day-light, as the sun’s presence upon our horizon outweighed that of the moon. All seemed to hum in silence as the electromagnetic charge in my brain began to radiate outwards through my body. A simply divine feeling of belonging and oneness with everything around arose within me as the sun’s light gave birth through our atmosphere. The trees electrified the birds who sang themselves in recognition of the unfolding beauty.
This winter has reminded me of the benefits of being at one with nature. To fall into her lull, rather than steer heavily against my design. I did on a few occasions find myself fighting this, only to be reminded that sleep and rest are essential in providing all life with the necessary balance within which it sustains itself. The last couple of years have seen the world in recession. We don’t know how long this will last but have all been learning that to embrace what is with a loving outlook, is our only way of remaining steady in the presence of our awakening as a global family. With the acceleration of technology and communication, each day’s ‘morning chorus’ dawns that whatever takes place beneath the rising sun affects all others bathed by the coolness of the moon, on the other side of the earth. No matter how seemingly indirect, each day we see small proofs that ‘six degrees of separation’ means we are truly the senses, heart and mind of a body of humanity choosing a world of health and peace or separation and isolation.
Winter allows us to see in the darkness. It provides us with the space to review our status quo. The economic decline is an outward appearance of the winter of absent love and care within this macrocosmic body. We have receded into our burrows, some have perished while others counted their blessings.
I have seen that I have more than I need and that to appreciate this it to be at one with everything within and around me.
This sinking in to our nest or root is that chance to review all the doing that surrounds us throughout the rest of the year and a large part of our lives. When we practice this not-doing, observing effortlessly, information reveals itself spontaneously. In the midst of the whirlwind we find the still point, in the vastness of the great sky, our eyes fall upon the North Star, the resting point in space, around which our galaxy spirals.
This revelation of knowledge is like growing new skin, an opportunity to see that wisdom arises from within us, so far deep inside that we find ourselves able to penetrate the universe, apparently and eternally ‘out there’. It is no surprise that such inner development subsequently fills us with awe when we watch the world happening by.
Beneath the earth, spring bubbles, anticipating its next awakening as the sun shifts slowly across the horizon. One or two flowers attempt to shoot up while a few rabbits brave out of their burrow for bit of fresh air.
This winter has been a wonderful opportunity for me to be in the joy of stillness, which has grown out of my daily breathing routine.
What is the Breath and what is a ‘breathing practice’?
Breath is life. We know that with breath there is life and without oxygen the brain is harmed, which can lead to death.
The breath therefore sustains all vital functions of the human body. All of our cells rely upon oxygen, which is delivered by the breath. The more efficient the breathing process, the more efficient the delivery and uptake of oxygen supply to the organs, glands, tissues and cells.
A breathing practice is the awareness that you give to your breathing.
When you take a few moments or minutes on a regular basis, this can be termed a breathing practice.
“How can I practice breathing? How can I practice something which is totally natural and which I can’t survive without, even if I tried?”
Well this is absolutely true. Your practice is to observe a process which is always occurring in you and do so on a regular basis.
The breath is the one bodily function which is under the control of the conscious and unconscious mind.
Conscious Mind is above water.
Unconscious is below!
The breath is the medium to allow the conscious mind to tap into the unconscious mind. This integration allows for the reprogramming of the mind and its patterns, to achieve a more refined and desired state of being and thinking.
Highly advanced practitioners are able to lower the pulse dramatically; the most advanced can stop their heart, remaining in deep trance for hours or days. This is not necessarily something that we are aspiring to yet, can be inspired by. I use this classic example to demonstrate that access to the unconscious mind, gives access to the involuntary nervous system as well as to limitless amounts of information, which are stored in what is termed the ‘collective unconsciousness’.
Let’s pause for a moment.
When we take this pause, quite spontaneously it is usually followed by a nice deep inhale.
It may be that you were exhaling or began exhaling also.
This is all stating the obvious isn’t it?
Well yes it is.
It is so obvious but that’s not the same thing as being conscious.
If you are conscious of HOW YOU BREATHE then you are in the right place to review whether you would like to change or improve anything about it.
When you feel happy, relaxed, calm and free, how is your breathing?
When you are hyped up, how is your breathing?
When you make life changing decisions how is your breathing?
When we want to do something well, we usually look to others who are already successful in the same field. The one thing that they all have in common is that they are calm and relaxed. The world’s greatest long distance runner may be tired when she/he finishes an event, but if you observe runners, you’ll see that the very best ones seem to look the least tired, the most relaxed. This is harmony or the LAW OF LEAST EFFORT in effect. These runners are performing their practice, their WAY. They do what they ARE and they feel freedom because of this. They are in tune with their inner purpose and so they are doing what comes to them naturally.
The good news here is that the breath comes to us all naturally.
Even those who have breathing difficulties (I was an asthmatic), experience the process of breathing as a natural phenomenon.
By the process of nature, the lungs expel or draw in air. Whether there are restrictions or conflicts with this process, the truth is that ‘gaseous exchange’ between the lungs (including artificial ones) and the outside world, is a process of nature.
The difficulty that I used to face as an asthmatic was that I couldn’t breathe without struggle. There was a physical limitation and restriction.
In hindsight, I see the reason why I ‘suffered’ for so long was that I always ‘tried’ to breathe from inside my box.
Remember Einstein – “A problem can never be solved by using the same thinking processes that caused it”.
I didn’t need to stop the physical disability; I needed to stop my inner conflict with it. I needed to allow myself the space to be myself. This is the starting point for a fulfilling practice. I needed to acknowledge that I was angry and impatient. I believed that God and the World ‘owed me’.
I needed to be at one with my disability.
A funny thing was that a short time after I first told people without shame or guilt “I’m an asthmatic”, my asthma went away. I had finally owned it. To be more precise, I had accepted responsibility for myself. I stopped blaming and shaming and became one with the actual reality. I began to work with thoughts like “Okay so, maybe this is it. I’ll always be like this”. This acceptance brought inner peace. As these thoughts embedded into my cells, my cellular memory began to change.
When you breathe, your thoughts either change or stop.
This is how you get of out of the ‘thinking mind that caused the problem’.
Exercise 1. Breathe out for longer periods of time.
In other words, lengthen the out breath. Notice the effect upon your mind as you do this. You will find it very calming and grounding, assuming that you take it easy and empty your lungs to a comfortable degree.
Notice the movement of the abdomen as you lengthen this out breath. In most cases, it will move backwards to the spine as your lungs empty and the pelvic and abdominal diaphragms move upward.
(We’ll look at the anatomical structures in future articles).
One of my mantras is
‘breathe out to breathe in............
breathe in to breathe out.’
In Tai Chi we say ‘go up to go down, down to go up, left for right, right for left.’
Have a go now by saying “HAAAAAAAAAAAAAA” as you breathe out through the mouth or nose.
As you open your mouth and release the breath, watch how when your jaw drops to your chest, your belly starts to move backwards.
If you notice that when you breathe out your belly expands forwards and when you inhale your belly moves backwards to your spine then the NEWS is that you are termed a ‘REVERSE BREATHER’. This is absolutely fine, nothing to worry about at all.
You are now going to learn how to be a NATURAL BREATHER too, so that you can do both and choose which you prefer.
Natural breathing is softer, reverse breathing harder. You will find that as your breathing patterns change so will you. No doubt this is why you are reading this magazine.
It’s the main reason why I am writing it.
We are all seeking growth and positive change.
What you will inevitably see is that as your exhale increases, so does the pause after it (exhale pause) and, with the inhale the same.
Exercise 2. Lengthen the Exhale Pause.
This exercise grows out of the previous one. After the exhale notice the pause.
Exhale through the mouth “Haaaaaaaaaaaa” to a comfortable degree.
Then close the mouth when you have finished and experience this exhale pause. This is naturally followed by the impulse to breathe in again. Breathe in through your nose.
(If your nose is congested and you just can’t breathe in this way, breathe in through your mouth. For years I ‘suffered’ nasal congestion too. Perhaps the most painful thing was that doctors, teachers, books, in fact the whole world told me that I had to breathe through my nose. After intense mental and emotional distress, I finally embraced the reality that I couldn’t; I just let go again! I breathed through my mouth. Slowly I began to be able to breathe out through my nose and after a while, in as well. I combined eastern and western medicines with eastern philosophy and breath-work until my nose opened). I have realised that the most important thing in my life is to remain relaxed).
To breathe in just allow the air to flow inwards quite naturally into the empty space within. We are not concerned with how much we breathe out or in.
Continue this exercise again in the same cycle; exhale through the mouth, pause and allow this pause to lengthen by becoming more aware of the rest of your body moving downwards. It is as though you are still saying ‘haaaaa’ with your mind in the pause. Allow your mind to move through your lower belly, down to the pelvic floor, through your legs and down to the ‘Bubbling Spring’ point in the soles of your feet. Then move deep down into the ground beneath you deepening your ‘Earth Root’. Finally, with awareness of this root, be aware of the top of your head too.
Bubbling Spring Point
This point is a main conduit of energy between the ground, your body and sky.
Practice this for a few rounds gently. You will see that it is a fine balance. If you overdue it, there is a sense of strain, discomfort, even light headedness or weakening. If you gauge it correctly then you will feel good. You will feel calmer and also energised by the following inhale flowing in.
The lengthening of the exhale pause is the open road to total surrender and therefore change.
We know that the last thing we do in this life is breathe out.
So the more that we practice this awareness, the more open we are to the unknown that awaits us each moment.
If you think that what is about to happen, could be one of an infinite number of possibilities, this is pretty exciting. It could also be pretty scary too!!
As you continue to practice with your out breath, you are consciously working with this ‘unknown’. The parts of your own being that you have forgotten, or are not even aware of yet.
This welcoming of the unknown is a moment by moment opportunity for you to be open to change and when eventually it arrives, death.
Death is the greatest opportunity for change and growth.
The end of a relationship; one with yourself or a friend, relative or lover.
The fantastic thing is that nothing ever dies. It only appears to.
When spring rises shortly, once again we see this to be true.
Einstein taught us that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can however be transformed.
Allow your ‘story’ or outdated concepts to ‘go’ with the exhale.
For more information about Pranayam (breath and energy practices) the ‘How To Breathe’ course book and DVD series, please visit our shop page.
Matt Gluck embodied Pranasana Yoga as a way to enjoy and share life with others of like minded heart. Matt is a British Wheel of Yoga and Life Centre qualified teacher and mentor, helping yoga teachers in training. He has been teaching Chinese martial arts, (including Tai Chi, Qi Gong & Nei Gong) since 1989 and Hatha Yoga since 1996.
From 2021 Matt now teaches in classes online and mentors privately in Hertfordshire and London. He runs workshops and retreats every few months. Most of his free time is given to sharing and discovering the yogic way with friends, day by day and moment by moment.
Please email Matt with any questions [email protected]