What are people told to do if they are having a panic attack, going into labour or simply attending a yoga or meditation class?
They are told to breathe.
Why are they told this?
Because deep breathing calms us down.
It sends our body the signal that we are safe and don’t need to go into high-alert mode.
But perhaps you’ve noticed that not everyone likes to be told to breathe when they’re upset. A 13-year-old girl recently told me a very funny story that happened to her. She was getting upset in the schoolyard and her teacher came over and told her to breathe.
She yelled back at the teacher, “Of course I’m breathing, if I wasn’t I’d be dead.”
And that is the crux of it, isn’t it? If we weren’t breathing we’d be dead.
So it isn’t exactly that we need to breathe, if we’re alive we already are breathing. It’s that we need to pay attention to our breath because it’s there, all the time, supporting us, keeping us alive and most of the time, if not all the time we completely forget about it.
However, this can be easily remedied by the simple activity of noticing the breath every time we need the reminder.
Remembering to notice the breath is a very worthwhile choice because there are so many things the breath can teach us.
Here are a few:
Nothing stays the same. This is the bane of our human existence, at times. Hooray—just as we don’t like something it changes. Boohoo—just as we like something it changes. And the more we understand this, the easier life can be. Noticing the breath shows us this teaching. One moment the breath is long and deep and the next it’s shallow and short. Just as we notice an inhale it becomes an exhale. Everything changes.
With every breath we stay alive. This life giving force is with us for better or for worse. We would be nothing without it and we are everything with it. Every moment we breathe and therefore every moment there’s a chance to say thank you. I am here. I am breathing. Thank you.
Because the breath is always with us it’s perfect for using during our meditation practice. The instructions are simple, the practice isn’t. Sit still in one place and bring your attention to the breath at the nostrils. When you find your attention has wandered do it again. Repeat as many times as necessary.
Imagine if you had to remember to breathe. How many seconds would it take before you were dead? 10, 18, 32? Not many. But somehow without any effort on our parts the inhalations and exhalations continue, all through the day and all through the night. Let’s be inspired by the breath and bring the effortlessness of breathing to our entire lives.
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Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Andrea Castelletti/Flickr