Save Your Breath

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”- Thich Nhat Hanh

One of the things that  Dharma Mittra talked about at length last month at the yoga conference was the relationship between knowledge, fear, and the breath.

He said to save your breath by conquering fear through knowledge. It is a lack of knowledge – of who we are and of our purpose – that leads to fear. This fear causes us to breathe inefficiently and to move through life too quickly, always searching, never settled, never calm.

He also said something I hadn’t heard before.  He said that at each rebirth we are granted a finite number of breaths. The faster we breathe due to lack of knowledge and fear, the sooner we leave. So, a lack of knowledge causes fear, which causes inefficient breathing, which causes shorter life.

Whether or not you subscribe to the idea of rebirth and finite breaths, the wisdom contained in his words cannot be denied. When we are anxious or hurried, our breath quickens. When we are calm and relaxed, our breaths are slow and easy. Inversely, if our breaths are shallow and quick we begin to feel anxious, and if we feel anxiety and consciously choose to slow our breathing, we begin to calm ourselves.

What I find interesting is that most people, if asked if they get enough time to just relax, would tell you no. Everybody is busy, busy, busy. There was recently a very interesting opinion piece about The ‘Busy’ Trap in the New York Times. So many people spend their lives working very hard, constantly busy, living for the weekend, or worse, the week or  two of vacation per year that they take.

It’s interesting that in the west we seem to have relegated relaxation to specific periods of time, as if we cannot choose to relax a small part of each day. As if relaxation is only for when we’re on holiday. And then of course we go on holiday and what do we do? Everything we possibly can! We fill our days with lots of “fun” activities, rarely just sitting still and resting. Then we come home and say we need a vacation to get over our vacation.

Another thing that almost every person will agree to is that life is short. We all know this, we all bemoan this, and yet we rush through this very short ride. What if we just stopped? What if we stopped being busy, stopped rushing through each day, and instead began breathing through each day?

According to Dharma Mittra we would extend the length of our lives. But whether or not you agree, surely life would be more enjoyable if we chose to relax and treat every day like a holiday.



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