WHY (OH WHY) CAN’T
I BREATHE PROPERLY – DAY 2
For the last who-knows-how-many hours, and all the time you were asleep, your body was quite contentedly getting on with its job of collecting oxygen and releasing toxic carbon dioxide. And suddenly ‘big boots’, the mind, gets interested and starts to meddle.
It’s a fairly rare human who can change the rhythm of their gut peristalsis, or the filtration of their kidney function. In contrast, while breathing is also predominantly an automatic function, we are able to influence or change our breathing pattern. Like a new iPhone, suddenly we can do things our evolutionary predecessors couldn’t.
And that’s where the chaos can begin for many of us.
The mind’s wish for us to be calm is totally understandable. Hearing that deep, slow, out-breaths can lower the heart rate and soothe the system will – of course – prompt us to attempt it for our own wellbeing.
But when the underlying older system for operating the breath is not willing to let go of its way of breathing, a fight ensues within the body. The older mechanism just does not hear or understand why calm breaths are useful.
Furthermore, if this automatic breathing (called the autonomic system) has become stuck in a habitually short and shallow pattern, then changing that habit must be done carefully. Using force to ‘break’ a habit can be too violent, and cause a backlash in the very system you are hoping to help.
To defuse the fight between old and new systems, and change the habit, it helps to mindfully notice the two systems in operation. But it takes some practice and patience.
Today’s practice is to set a reminder on your phone for 8 times over the next 24-hour period. Each time the reminder prompts you, notice your breath. Make a small gap between your lips – the shape a drinking straw would fit through. Breathe one slow, long, out-breath through the straw, as if you are blowing out a birthday candle. Notice if your heartbeat gets faster or slower, if you feel panicked or calmer. Notice and don’t judge. As best you can, treat this as a learning experience as part of a programme of learning, and that this one breath is not the final story. We are just gathering information. This exercise will help you ‘feel’ the body response to a slow breath (old system) and hear the mind response (new system).
Come back for Day 3 of the course tomorrow, and the next stage towards helping yourself towards a more relaxed relationship with your breath.
John Welwood: Forget about enlightenment
Forget about enlightenment.
Sit down wherever you are
And listen to the wind singing in your veins.
Feel the love, the longing, the fear in your bones.
Open your heart to who you are, right now,
Not who you would like to be,
Not the saint you are striving to become,
But the being right here before you, inside you, around you.
All of you is holy.
You are already more and less
Than whatever you can know.
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