July 14, 2013

The Key to a Centered, Compassionate Life.

The most important thing, in yoga and life, is breath.

Breathing is a basic function of existence on this planet. Breath awareness is the foundation of all meditation and mindfulness practices.

Conscious breathing is both powerful and subtle—at once a personal, sacred, secret, silent practice that can be performed anywhere, anytime and a shared experience of all sentient beings.

As you breathe in this moment, recall that this life-giving flow of air has been with you since the moment of your birth and will remain your loyal companion for every minute until your final exhale and release of this one wild and precious life. Best of all, this breath helps us connect with our calm, compassionate, kind, centered selves anytime we tune in and breathe mindfully.

Be Centered

Feeling the inhale going in and witnessing the exhale’s exit is the simplest, best way to anchor ourselves in the present moment. In whatever activity in which you are engaged (yoga class, driving, eating, sex, conversation, etc.), it is ideal to be centered and paying attention to your present experience, rather than dwelling on the past or projecting endlessly into the future.

Bringing our awareness back to the breath, over and over, all the time, is what we aim to do in formal yoga practice. Eventually, it happens off the mat too, more and more frequently in daily life. Stress still arises, pain of all sorts is still inevitable, but as long as we breathe in and out and know we are lucky to be breathing in and out, whatever problems or sorrows arise are manageable.

Be Compassionate

The other really cool thing about breathing is that we all do it. No matter our differences in skin color, nose size, political ideology, spiritual beliefs, age, weight or sexual orientation… everybody breathes.

Everybody wants to be safe, happy, healthy and free from suffering, even though we often get tangled up seeking bliss in our addictions, storylines and dogmas.

Conscious breath can connect us to our compassionate core. The Tibetan Buddhist practice of Tonglen meditation is one formal way to build a bridge between our breath and our genuine compassion for others.  The foundation of all compassion is the fact that we are all, ultimately, the same. We all have beating hearts and firing neurons and lungs, magical lungs that fill and empty and fill and empty.

The next time you find yourself looking down upon someone with pity or disgust, or putting someone on a pedestal of perceived perfection, take a few deep breaths and consciously send compassion to yourself and to the other person, because she is you, and you are him, and we are all trying our best.

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.

Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

As my in-breath grows deep,

My out breath grows slow.

With the in-breath, I smile,

With the out-breath I release.

Dwelling in the present moment,

I know this is a wonderful moment.

Feelings come and go,

like clouds in a windy sky

Conscious breathing is my anchor.

~Thich Nhat Hanh

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Ed: Sara Crolick

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