Smooth water, then in rolls a tsunami. Happiness, curiosity, gratitude, excitement, love, contentment. And, then in washes sadness, anger, loneliness, jealousy, self-criticism, fear, or rejection. Almost as if from a different part of the greater ocean.
Can we sit with that? Like we can sit with the smoother waters?
I’ve found that the journey between these emotions can be as short as a few breaths or as long as we want to make them. The way our breath and the full light of our consciousness can help us through challenging times shows up in our willingness to be with what we feel. It’s less about changing our feelings and more about our willingness to let them be exactly as they are. One of our greatest assets along this journey is our breath.
Paying attention to long, slow, deep breaths, opening our awareness to what is happening in this particular moment, and allowing it to be. Without figuring, analyzing, changing it, or trying to make it something other than exactly what it is. Then, we can move from tsunami back to calm waters: more peace, energy, self-confidence, less stress, relief from depression and anxiety, fewer aches and pains.
Occasionally, friends will tell me that these practices are boring. But is paying attention actually boring? My 6 year old tells me things are “boring” anytime I notice that he is uncomfortable. When things slow down. When things are challenging. This is because we hardly every slow down. How are you? Busy. How are you? Busy.
If you’re willing to try, it helps to link mindfulness to breathing. Mindfulness and breathing go hand in hand, like almond and butter, apple and pie, peas and carrots. And, when we practice mindfulness with the breath, what might have been a dull, boring and mechanical practice suddenly comes alive. It is like putting gas in the tank or the wind beneath the sails: mindfulness becomes an enjoyable experience that unsticks us because it actually flows.
In this great practice of yoga, these mindful breathing practices are called pranayama. Pranayama naturally puts us in touch with more peace, joy, strength—and, dare I say it, great wisdom—which we may never have known we even had. And, if we wish—it naturally leads into a meditation practice, with all the many health and wellbeing benefits that its proven to bring, done anywhere, any time, any place; like flicking on an instant ‘inner peace’, ‘calm waters’ switch.
Maybe the ancient art of watching the breath isn’t the most exciting “pose,” but it’s a welcome break from allowing ourselves to be ruled by the constant spin of our thoughts and emotions. So, pranayama — which may sound more complicated than it is — becomes an opportunity to reconnect with the simplicity of the inhale and the exhale, with this moment. Pranayama, simply put, is the witnessing and directing the movement of prana (life-force) through the body on the breath. In the yoga texts, pranayama is listed as the fourth limb of the eight-limbed path. It deals with both the gross body and the subtle body; just when we think we’ve mastered it, we realize there is another layer to dive into or through.
My prescription for this week is the breath of Sama Pranayama while the body is alert, yet at ease. This is a breath to calm, slow, and balance the waters within. Think equanimity regardless of what you’re doing, feeling, thinking. Physiologically, it oxygenates and balances, and who couldn’t use a bit of balancing? So, instead of heeding the push-pull of our fast-paced modern lifestyle and all the thoughts and feelings alongside, try pausing for a moment to balance yourself.
How to: Sama Pranayama
Find a comfortable seat. Close your eyes. Plan to stay that way for a few moments. Exhale completely. Inhale for an even count of 6. 1-2-3-4-5-6. Exhale for an even count of 6. 1-2-3-4-5-6. Repeat. Inhale for 6. Exhale for 6. Inhale for 6. Exhale for 6. Repeat 6-10 total cycles. Focus on making the breath smooth, equal and even on both the inhale and exhale. Equal and even through both nostrils. Equal and even in sound. Allow an equanimity to overtake the mind and body.
So, we remember to pay attention to our breath at any place and at any time. To smooth it out, to create evenness in it. To be mindful of it. And, possibly, there is a peace and comfort in that—and then take another breath.
Smooth water maybe only a breath away.