The Breath of Life
A meditative and contemplative piece by Paul Bedson
A beginning meditation
(An audio of this guided meditation is available at www.gawler.org/breathing-meditation)
Gently close your eyes and settle into your body.
Sit with an upright and open posture.
In your own way, take a few moments to relax the body. Relaxing, yet awake and alert.
Bring your attention to the space before your closed eyes, it’s like a field of darkness, perhaps there are some muted shapes or colours there, just simply resting your attention there with relaxed eyes and a soft gaze.
Now become aware of your natural, unforced breathing.
Notice the feeling of each breath, as you breathe in, and as you breathe out.
Perhaps you can feel the air moving over your nostrils, feel the slight movement of your chest and your belly rising with the in-breath, sinking with the out-breath.
Just follow each breath.
If you notice your attention wandering or becoming caught up in a stream of thought, simply bring your attention back to the next breath, being aware of the feeling of the breath again,
as you rest your attention in the space in front of the eyes.
Receive the energy of each new in-breath, almost as though you are drinking it in, tasting it, savouring this breath of life.
Feel the release of each out-breath… a softening, a letting go, releasing the old air, letting go of the past.
Just receive and celebrate each breath.
The scientific understanding of respiration misses the extraordinary marvel of breathing. Science is reductionist in its approach: the process of respiration is reduced to a gaseous exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide. This understanding of respiration diminishes the miraculous gift of breath; as a result we can take it for granted or even totally ignore it.
Many people develop a shallow breathing pattern (costal breathing) whereas a slower, deeper, belly breathing pattern (diaphragmatic breathing) activates the parasympathetic nervous system and is associated with relaxation and healing.
Embedded in the roots of our language is a deeper understanding of the word respiration; it comes from the Latin root, spiritus, which means “the breath of god”. Breath and spirit are related to each other.
We have the one word, inspiration (the spirit comes within), for breathing in and also for “uplifting stimulation”. We also have one word, expiration (the spirit leaves), for breathing out and for “death”. Respiration means, therefore, that the spirit returns with each breath.
Thich Nhat Hahn, the renowned Vietnamese monk said, “Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness”.
The Sanskrit word, prana, means lifeforce. Prana enters the body through respiration. The ancient Greek word, pneuma, means breath, vital spirit and soul. The ancient Chinese word, qi or chi, means vital energy and is intimately connected to the breath. The Hebrew word for soul, nephesh, means “an animated, breathing, conscious and living being”. And in the Bible, Genesis 2:7 it says, “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”
Humans can survive for up to three weeks without food, 3-5 days without water, but only 3-5 minutes without the breath. Breath is such an essential, life-sustaining relationship with the atmosphere.
But not only is breath a vital, lifeforce energy, if we respect it, it can also be a great teacher. Respiration can teach us about the rhythms of life. Rhythms like the contraction and relaxation of the heart, the contraction and relaxation of the muscles and also the bowel. These are natural rhythms of taking in and letting go.
From the in-breath we can learn to open, to receive nourishment, to energize. We can also learn to constantly begin again, start afresh.
From the out-breath we can learn to let go, to release the past, to complete. We can learn about forgiveness through breathing out and letting go.
With a shallow breathing pattern we don’t open to receive fully and we don’t let go completely. When the out-breath is shallow, stale air remains in the bottom of the lungs; this is referred to as “the dead zone”; we need to breathe out deeply to make space for fresh air and new life.
From the breath we can also learn about unconditional love and support:
- Breath is freely given to all; all races, colours, cultures, creeds share the same breath of life.
- Saints and sinners share the same breath. Breath does not judge or discriminate.
- Breath, like sunshine, rain and the earth itself, support and sustain us all. It is a blessing, a gift of nature, so allow yourself to receive it fully, deeply!
- And lastly, breath is always only flowing in the present moment. By receiving it fully and savouring it, we can stay more present to the gift of our life.
Throughout each day, remember to breath and enjoy some slow, deep conscious breaths – each breath is the breath of life.
And now a closing contemplation meditation…
(An audio of this closing meditation is available at www.gawler.org/breathing-contemplation)
Again sit with an upright and open posture.
Bring your attention to the space before your closed eyes, and bring your attention to your breathing.
The rising of the in-breath and the sinking of the out-breath.
Allow it to travel right down to the bottom of your lungs and feel your belly expand slightly as you breathe in.
A slow, deep in-breath, slowly absorbing it, drinking it in, and savouring each delicious draught of life-force energy.
As you breathe out, feel the release of the out-breath, the softening, the letting go.
Enjoy 5 slow, deep diaphragmatic breaths.
Perhaps you can even feel a sense of gratitude for the gift of each breath, as you drink it in and savour each slow deep breath.
Senior Therapist, Facilitator
The Gawler Cancer Foundation & Yarra Valley Living Centre
BA, BCouns, BAcup
Paul has been working in the field of mind/body medicine for over 25 years as a counsellor, psychotherapist, meditation instructor and natural therapist. His particular interest is in helping people deal with the range of emotional issues associated with their healing journey. Paul also works with grief and anxiety issues, and relationship problems. He teaches mindfulness-based styles of meditation which develop wisdom and compassion through awareness of body, emotion, mind and spirit as one integrated Self. Paul co-authored the book Meditation an In-Depth Guide with Ian Gawler.