Breath Memory: Seamless Access to Inner Power
I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am. I am. I am. -Sylvia Plath
If you ever feel like your meditation practice is dry, too difficult, or you just can’t consistently get started, the power of the breath offers a key to providing a deep, peaceful, and rejuvenating experience. It also gives us access to an aspect of ourselves that may be difficult to remember in our daily life.
A “Loophole” to Peace
Okay, first thing is, I have been meditating for over 14 years and have taught meditation internationally over the last ten years. Thus, according to Malcolm Gladwell, I would be considered having mastery over my trade given my 10,000+ hours of deliberate practice. That does not mean the practice is always easy. Simple? Yes. But easy, not always.
You would think that because I am a monk, I would wake every morning at 4am, take a cold shower and sit for 2-3 hours before starting my day of simple service to humanity. The truth is, I often stay up well past 11pm answering emails, creating curriculum and schedules for upcoming tours of transformational and meditation programs, preparing to meet with clients and parents the next day, researching real estate investment offers, working on my second book, a screenplay, or blog articles like this. Thus, when I reluctantly wake up around 6:30am, I have a lot on my mind.
When I first began meditating, I was struck by the simple peace and stillness. Then exactly one week later, I became annoyed with the busyness of my noisy mind. Sounds irritated me and I became impatient with time. I just wanted to be doing something. I was crawling out of my skin, desperate to get moving.
Now, many of you hard-core meditators out there would probably say, “Well, Jiv, the point of meditation is to cease all doing and allow yourself to be meditated.” And you would be right. I should feel grateful for the newfound awareness that I am clearly addicted to doing. “Observe your mind, Jiv. Be grateful. Practice. Seriously, aren’t you a monk?”
To which I would respond, “Yes, that’s all true. I humbly bow to your inner wisdom. Namaste.” Then, as I walk away, I would shame myself for not being a better monk, a better meditator, and really, a better human.
Here is where I found a wonderful, divine loophole (and I would even say shortcut) to a powerful, fulfilling, and “shame-free” practice: the breath. Shortly after meeting Her Holiness Sai Maa, I learned a remarkable breath practice called khapalabhati pranayama. It translates from the Sanskrit to “shining skull breath control” (cool, right?) It involves regular, strong exhales from the abdomen and out the nose, while the inhale happens naturally. Physical benefits include the clearing of the sinuses, increased metabolism, stimulation of the digestive system, reproductive system, increased blood circulation, and a great ab workout for all of you pursuers of the ultimate six-pack!
What the Remembered Conscious Breath Brings
And when I breathed, my breath was lightning. -Black Elk
When I feel frustrated by a situation, I take a deep breath and lean in. My meditations are stronger. I find by having an activity to focus on that also demands a level of somatic engagement, this helps train the mind in those first, challenging minutes of sitting.
When I first began meditating, I would focus solely on the breath and nothing else—a practice referred to in the Buddhist traditions as Shamatha or “peaceful abiding.” It provided a remarkable touch point for me throughout the day. At any time when triggered, struggling, or pissed off, I returned to the breath and the morning meditation immediately came rushing back into my consciousness.
I still use this practice. A single strong, deep breath at any point in my day provides immediate access to that expanded state I experienced during meditation that morning.
A Little “Extra” Ordinary
All things share the same breath – the beast, the tree, the man… the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports. –Chief Seattle
To summarize, experiment with incorporating conscious breathing into your daily routine. It will provide an indelible touchstone for you to tap into throughout your day. Take deep, full breaths as often as possible, at anytime, to access your peaceful morning meditation mind. Deep breathing throughout the day (especially with an audible exhale) has been found to increase the amount of oxytocin in the brain which is linked to building healthy attachments in relationship and a decrease of stress. Try incorporating an intentional breath practice like khapalbhati pranayama into your daily practice, and the power of the remembered, conscious breath will increase exponentially.
Even though we can’t stop breathing if we wish to live, we can enhance our experience of life by breathing consciously. By adding a little extra to the ordinary, we create something extraordinary. A remembered breath is a creation itself, which brings us one step closer to truly remembering that we are creation itself.