Several things happened recently to remind me how we forget to breathe.
In yoga class, our instructor emphasized the importance of the exhale. She said that in order to breathe deeply, we have to exhale first. That our lungs contain a lot of stale air (as much as 7 years worth!) and exhaling fully helps us get rid of the old stuff and take in the new.
At breakfast with my goddaughter, we got to talking about her college life, friends, and studies. She and her friends are studious high achievers, and I was surprised and disheartened to learn that stress and busyness are badges of honor among her mates. As in:
- Student #1: I have 3 papers due this week. I'm totally stressed!
- Student #2: I have 4 papers and 2 exams, and I haven't even started to prepare.
- Student #3: I've got all that. AND, my parents are breathing down my neck about grad school.
Just hearing about their stress had me holding my breath.
And last week in a workshop conversation about how we react under the pressure of conflict, one student commented:
I realized today that I often take a deep breath, but then I hold onto it. I don't exhale.
Of course, she will have to exhale at some point, but I know what she means. We stop breathing under pressure.
Waiting to Exhale
I was reminded of the movie title "Waiting to Exhale" and got to thinking about what the waiting is about. Are we so uncomfortable or unaccustomed to downtime that we can't exhale and relax? Or are we waiting for the other shoe to drop--expecting or fearing what might be around the corner?
Sometimes I think we'd rather reach for the phone or tablet than take a moment to sit and reflect. And I know being busy, stressed, and in demand makes me feel indispensable and important.
And yet... everyone I know--students, family, friends, colleagues--also unanimously love and seek the joy and gift of presence, of letting go of past and future and appreciating what Eckhart Tolle calls the power of now. How can we "be here now" more frequently and more intentionally?
A Centering Break
It does start with the breath. And it does help to exhale first. Get that old air out, then...
Breathe in. Slowly.
Then exhale again. Fully.
Be present with each complete exhalation, so much so that you can feel when the next inhalation begins.
- Where does the breath start?
- What part of the body moves first?
- How do you know?
Breathe in, breathe out. How many breaths can you count before you begin thinking about what you have to do next?
Tolle writes that we are always rushing through this moment to get to the next. If this is true, then we are never truly living, because we can't live in the future or the past--only in the present.
Make this moment a ki moment. Connect with your breath, your ki, your energy, your self. Discover the joy of being unimportant, dispensable, and unnecessary for just a little while.
Take a centering break.