I’ve been using something very basic to my existence, in journeying with myself and with clients.
It’s something that never goes away, regardless of what I’m thinking about or how I’m feeling. It happens when I’m sleeping, or while awake, and when I’m eating. In fact, it happens 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year.
Simply stated, if I’m alive, it’s happening.
It could be any number of things, but maybe you’ve guessed what I have in mind: Breathing.
Yeah, that’s it. It’s no big deal. Except that it is, because inside breath is a mysterious land.
Visiting this land is worth your time, because it can lead to curiosity, wonderment and magic. In going to such places, the world can become that much more playful, and who doesn’t enjoy a little more play?!
There are many ways to connect with curiosity, but I like to use breath as a vehicle. I like putting attention on breath, because in doing so it automatically connects me to my body, which is an even more vast playground.
So, to begin with, bring some attention just to the actual act of breathing. Notice how the body does this movement every day, all day, without being reminded; it’s kind of taken for granted, in many ways. It’s doing it right now! Your body is literally being breathed, as you read these words. Don’t take my word for it, stop reading and check it out!
Breathing is pretty much taken care of, at some very basic level, so give yourself a chance to revel in that, to really take it in.
As you connect with how the body is taken care of in this way, notice how that feels. Are there any signs of playfulness? Any curiosity? Or some lightness in this exploration and consideration?
If not, that’s fine. Not everyone is going to find breathing interesting, or curious. If you can’t find any curiosity in breathing, can you find it anywhere? Do a search of your life—a rainbow? Your child’s smile? The scent of a flower, the feeling of the sun on your skin?
If you can feel even a slight twinge of mystery and curiosity, continue to play with me.
Stay with the curiosity that you noticed, and hold that in your attention. We’re about to do a study on breathing! It’s like we’re in science class to do an experiment, only you are the subject and the observer.
All you need to do is close your eyes, and with that curiosity that you pinpointed earlier, bring your attention to your nostrils.
Then, as breath comes in and out of your nostrils, notice your nose hairs. (Yes, your nose hairs!)
I don’t know when the last time you noticed your nose hairs was, but for me it’s always a great source of entertainment. Maybe it’s just me, but nose hairs evoke a very distinct sensation for me as air passes through the nostrils. Tune right into that with your curiosity. Do a little study on what that is like. You don’t have to stay there too long… stay there as long as you like.
Next, bring attention and curiosity into the throat, for as long as you’d like.
And then bring the study of attention to the chest area.
There is a whole lot of playground surface area in the chest! As the breathing continues to happen, which it always does, bring your attention right to that chest area. You might feel all sorts of sensations, and the mind might want to butt in with commentary and labels and judgments about all sorts of things. No worries. Notice those thoughts, and then bring the attention right back into breathing, noticing as the chest moves with each breath.
For added experimentation, put a hand on the chest, and notice what that sensation is like. Watch and feel as the hand moves, all by itself, with the breathing. Remember that this is for science! So keep your curiosity hat on, as you connect with the hand, the chest and breathing.
You might notice temperatures, constrictions, openings, pleasant feelings, negative feelings, emotions, and so on. All of those things are welcome here. Just like in an unbiased science study, whatever shows up is absolutely perfect! There are no problems in this study, just data to notice and the experience of breathing to pay attention to.
The next part of the study will take place in the belly region. You can keep one hand on the chest and the other on the lower belly, or just have one hand on the lower belly.
As breathing continues to happen (as it always does), feel the hand on the belly move as breathing happens. Continue this experiment, noticing thoughts and different sensations coming in, maybe images too. Letting them all be there as best you can, keep bringing your attention back to the breathing, and back to the hand. Take some time to keep all your focus on the simple movements of breathing and the hand rising and falling. Stick with that for as long as you’re able to.
From here, the options are fully available to you. You can notice how breathing influences other body areas or other sensations: maybe the shoulders, or the hips, the face, the mouth, the legs, your knee caps, and so on. The body is a vast playground, and it is limitless as far as opportunities for play and experimentation of attention.
You can end your experiment here, or you can take it to new levels: Open your eyes, still connecting to the curiosity and playfulness. Look around your room, extending that same curiosity.
If you notice stressful sensations come into the body, and the curiosity fade, feel free to close your eyes to reconnect with the curiosity. Take your time. When you’re curious, open your eyes again, and take another look around. If you’re having situations or thoughts come into your mind, stay connected to the curiosity as best you can, extending it to your thoughts.
Notice the levels of curiosity, knowing that at any moment you can close your eyes, and reconnect with a hand on the chest or belly, as the body breathes.
The body is your playground. Use breath and curiosity to explore and play.
There are no right or wrong ways to do it. Experiment in any way you care to. You can do this any time: the first thing you do when you wake up, before you go to sleep, when you are starting to feel anxious, depressed, or when you’re wanting to engage in a compulsive or addictive activity.
Utilize this play of curiosity and see what you notice.
Please let me know what it’s like for you, and how your study goes, I’d love to hear about your experiences!
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Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Andrea Castelletti/Flickr