Graham Higgins Illustration - Literate Graffiti Dept.

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February 21, 2010

21-2-10 Breathwork

A couple of enquiries about the breathing-exercise I mentioned using in my post-op haze.

Very simply: breathe out/ breathe in. Apart from the emphasis on ‘out’ that’s the entire zen simplicity – no counting, no mantras, minimal metaphysics. Well, maybe a little mysticism if you substitute the instruction I was given to visualise my body absorbing prana (sort of ‘life force’) rather than oxygen. As I’m not a medic or a chemist, both words are equally magical notions.

As it happens, quite recently while my systems were being monitored in hospital I was encouraged to use in-through-the-nose, out-through-the-mouth (‘slowly enough to disturb the flame but not blow out a candle’) as the best practice for absorbing oxygen, so that’s the exercise translated for the mystically-challenged.

There are a few conceptual extensions to this. Briefly, the focus on the out-breath is because that’s chucking out toxins; I think of my singing as harnessing the exhaust-system to decorative effect.

You visualise the in-out not like a linear piston-action but as an elongated ellipse from air-vents in the head down to the solar plexus and you don’t so much direct the cycle as observe it working as it does while you sleep without ‘your’ help, thanx very much. Likewise, how do you ‘know’ you’re thirsty? When you drink, how do you ‘know’ you’ve had enough?

Anyway, breathe out, or empty out as far as you can without pushing. Pause and relax for a moment to sense that still emptiness but don’t try to make it a feat. Like lightly touching the floor of the pool when you dive, this marks the bottom of the elliptical breath-path.

Don’t decide to breathe in – through the nose, with its built-in filter system – but note that this happens quite naturally in its own time, so let it. At a certain point you’ve taken in an adequate slug of air; as you relax into the rhythm of it there’s a tendency for the cycle to become slower and deeper anyway. Don’t be greedy; you can’t hoard air, so don’t suck.

Again, as you sense the top of the cycle, pause to visualise all that wholesome nourishing prana distributing itself into your body, but don’t hold your breath.

I was told to note the cool incoming breath and the ‘burnt-off’ warmth off the exhaust.

Just as the simplest buddhist meditation is ‘simply to observe the thoughts which arise’, i.e. note that a lot of what flickers through your mind is brain-chatter, this breath exercise is about letting go, putting ego and will in their place. That controlling You isn’t as indispensible as it would like to think.

A final topspin came from the observation that our very first breath is In and our last will be Out, so every breath represents a little Life.

Anyway, when I spent long hours stunned with meds and too bruised to be bothered to move very much, this exercise was extremely calming and gave me a stick I could toss for my mind to go and fetch to stop it whimpering and running in small circles.

Note to self: Never again the Boots Sport! Men!! spray deodorant. It turns to white powder on contact with air, like a small foam fire extinguisher. Any not caught in the armpit speckles all southward clothing and the carpet. The only sport-like exercise is running around with the hoover.

Quid-shop generic chemical fragrance from now on.

  1. “A stick I could toss for the mind to fetch” – I like this. A few months back, I learnt much the same exercise for insomnia and for stilling the middle-of-the-night hamstering. It works. To think only the word ‘in’ while breathing in, and ‘out’ while breathing out, while letting the breathing find its own gentle rhythm. It swiftly stops the squeaky mental wheels and lets nature take over.

    Comment by Sue Jones — February 21, 2010 @ 7:16 pm
  2. I actually like the poetic associations of a lot of religious imagery and I’m quite happy to enter into its aesthetic. A hynotherapist friend uses creative visualisation in her practice to provoke psychosomatic experiences of positive states for the chronically depressed. You can lose the habit and even the sensation of being happy… good reason to keep in practice.
    However, the beauty of this simple breath-exercise is that it just works, and thank you, Sue, as a quietly implacable skeptic, for confirming this.

    Comment by admin — February 22, 2010 @ 7:22 pm
  3. This and the equally wonderful, simple, panic-busting, paper-bag-trick should be part of everyone’s education. It seems as if you get a slap on the back at the start and are then left to breathe without further advice. If you are lucky, you might eventually meet someone or read something and learn these simple, safe and effective helps. By which time you’ve probably been through a lot of unnecessary distress.

    Comment by Sue Jones — February 22, 2010 @ 8:24 pm
  4. Enquiring minds unfamiliar with The Paper Bag Trick can go and pester Sue for a lengthier, probably clearer description. I know its reputation but don’t panic much so I’ve never used it. It’s also recommended for hiccups, so it’s a remedy for both physical and psychic spasm.

    Comment by admin — February 23, 2010 @ 8:39 am

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