Breathing and being breathed

I have been breathing since shortly after I was born, but I never really gave much thought to it until I started doing yoga a few decades ago, and there wasn’t much instruction. In fact, I was a mindless smoker for part of my younger, ignorant, addicted life.

Pranayama (breath work) is the 4th limb of yoga, right after asana (postures). A few of my yoga teachers have included pranayama techniques at the end of asana class. Awareness of where I feel my breath, feeling it down to my pubic bone, feeling it on the sides and back of my rib cage and in my lumbar area and between my shoulder blades, keeping my shoulders down, letting my diaphragm really expand downwards, moving the heart/lungs and liver/gallbladder/pancreas/stomach/spleen on either side of the diaphragm, increasing the movement of detoxifying lymph with each breath, being present with the energizing inhalation and the relaxing exhalation, noticing the pauses, noticing what happens in my chakras and in my whole being…

Some of the yogic breathing techniques that have stuck with me through the years are kapalabhati (breath of fire), a rapid bellows breathing that floods the body with cleansing, nourishing oxygen as well as increases motivation — and also prevents discomfort from my hiatal hernia, and nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing), calming and believed to balance the hemispheres of the brain.

Were you aware that throughout the day, one of your nostrils is more open than the other, and that they periodically switch sides?

Source: https://grimmly2007.blogspot.com/2015/02/krishnamacharyas-own-asana-and.html

I practice these two techniques every day along with a more modern technique, 4-7-8 breathing, that was taught to Dr. Andrew Weil by his mentor, Dr. Robert Fulford, an American cranial osteopath/shaman (Wikipedia describes him as a pioneer in alternative and energetic medicine) who obviously had studied pranayam.

Dr. Weil recommends doing no more than four rounds of 4-7-8 breathing daily for a couple of months to train the nervous system to quickly move into a relaxed state. I notice that the main times I need to use it are when I’m driving and I narrowly avoid hitting something or being hit.

Another practice that’s not a technique (at least that I’ve ever heard of) is something that occurs in meditation. I call it “being breathed”. It occurs after settling the body and calming the mind, paradoxically by using the breath to relax by lengthening exhalations.

As relaxation/parasympathetic dominance increases, a gradual detachment from controlling the breath allows it to shift to operate on its own, automatically — as it does naturally when we’re not paying attention.

When you notice that your breath has become automatic — you aren’t doing anything to it or with it — you’re simply allowing it to do its thing — breathing becomes completely passive, occurring on its own, and observing it doesn’t change it — that’s what I call being breathed.

There’s a kind of awesomeness to this experience. I wonder if this is what Shri Krishnamacharya, founder of modern yoga, may have been referring to when he said pranayama could result in samadhi.

Am I experiencing samadhi? I don’t know. There’s a sense of oneness and a subtle sense of bliss that permeates. Namaste, my friends.

So that’s my current practice, doing three techniques daily that take 5 minutes, plus meditating (10 minutes with Sam Harris’ Waking Up app, and usually a few more in silence, breathing equally through nose and mouth with my tongue on my palate behind my upper teeth, a Kum Nye technique).

Positive and negative emotions and enlightenment

Came across this quote today from Adyashanti.

It is important that we know what awakening is not, so that we no longer chase the by-products of awakening. We must give up the pursuit of positive emotional states through spiritual practice. The path of awakening is not about positive emotions. On the contrary, enlightenment may not be easy or positive at all. ~ Adyashanti, “

Over the last year or so, I have been slowly coming around to this point of view.

The bliss and joy that meditators can experience are seductive. It’s easy to believe that this is what you should feel, that this is the goal of meditation, to feel good, to feel love, joy, and bliss. It’s easy to desire — and become attached to — positive emotional states.

That’s identification.

We can use EFT to tap away negative emotions, believing them undesirable, wanting them to go away. Yet we experience them. They are part of “life as it is.”

Rather than putting so much energy into avoiding them, I am at the point (most of the time) where I am willing to experience and explore them — the feeling component in my body, the mental component of the story I tell myself, and what’s true.

If emotional states only last a couple of minutes at most, I think I can bear that. Avoiding them gives them power. Allowing them to exist just lets them be what they are, transient conditions of being human and having a nervous system, seeking to make meaning out of what we experience.

That’s disidentification.

I notice I am tempted to add that while I am willing to experience negative emotions and explore them, please, I don’t want too many!

I say feel emotional states when they arise, and notice that they too are transitory. Without a story, what happens?

Pema Chodron advises:

When you refrain from habitual thoughts and behavior, the uncomfortable feelings will still be there. They don’t magically disappear. Over the years, I’ve come to call resting with the discomfort “the detox period,” because when you don’t act on your habitual patterns, it’s like giving up an addiction. You’re left with the feelings you were trying to escape. The practice is to make a wholehearted relationship with that.

Bliss, discomfort, part of the path of accepting what is. 

Another reader shares his experience with the trauma releasing exercises

Several readers have shared their experiences of doing the trauma releasing exercises of David Berceli here on this blog. Here’s a new report. David writes:

I ordered the video and it arrived yesterday. I tried the exercises for a second time today. I did the preparatory stretches and then did the wall position. Leaning against the wall I just tried to get deeper into my breathing, but for the longest time very little happened. I was having little tremors, but they still felt half-way forced.

Then gradually, after about seven minutes, some real trembling and shaking started. The more relaxed I became the more pronounced they were. I had no control over them at all. I almost felt like shouting down to my wife to come upstairs and see what was happening, because it was so strange. Just overall, rapid involuntary tremors in my legs, through my pelvis and along my torso. They went on and on for at least ten minutes.

Then I tried the lying position and it was less successful. Still, I’m grateful I tried and I’ll keep doing them.

Thank you, David, for writing.

Doing the exercises can generate the release of muscle tension in the form of shaking and trembling, but it doesn’t happen automatically.

It’s great that David kept at it. Tried the exercises a second time and continued to be willing for the trembling and shaking to start after having little “half-way forced” tremors.

There is a step in inducing tremors for the first time that no one can instruct you how to do. Between doing the exercises and involuntarily shaking and trembling, there’s a step that I think of as surrendering. It is a skill, but it’s a skill of “not doing” rather than doing. You have to be able to let go of your need to control your body.

That can be scary, but it can be done.

For some people, surrendering is easy and natural. For others, especially people who have been traumatized and who are carrying tension in their bodies, it isn’t easy or natural at all.

If you are one of these people, I urge you not to give up. Just keep at it and eventually you will surrender and shake.