Tag Archives: breath

… breath – elements – purification – relaxation …

We’re first forced to catch our breath when the umbilical cord is cut. In that instant the lungs must exchange liquid for air. Some wise midwives promote, when appropriate, not to cut the cord immediately, but allow time to soften the transition for the infant and enable a gentle new bonding with mother.

Once separated, we’re alone, but if welcome and made to feel safe we hardly pay attention to our breath unless its rhythm is upset, usually through physical strain, excess tension, anxiety, or unresolved anger and resentment.

I wrote shortly about breath before, in the context of bio-rhythms. If this interests, here’s the link.

With this post I’ll share a practice I’m presently in need of myself,  a conscious breathing ritual with a focus on the elements of earth, water, fire, air – and the subtle element of ether. The easy-to-learn sequence, aided by concentration and imagination, bestows relaxation and renewed energy. Parallels to this practice can be found in ancient spiritual traditions. The Sufi version below is thought to derive from Greek mystery schools. Unlike some forced breathing techniques, it is safe to use alone.

A purifying practice of breathing through the elements. Repeat the breath for each element five times  and  allow the colour to suffuse your cells …

EARTH … imagine the colour yellow (like desert dunes, or wheat fields)

Breathe in through the nose – count four

Pause one count

Exhale through nose – count six – imagine a horizontal spreading movement.

WATER … imagine a blue-green colour (like a lagoon or a river)

Breathe in through the nose –count four

Pause one count

Exhale through mouth – count eight – imagine a downward flowing movement

FIRE … imagine a golden red colour (like a sunset, or a flame)

Breathe in through the mouth – count four

Pause one count

Exhale through nose – count ten – imagine an upwards rising movement

AIR … imagine a transparent blue colour (like a pale sky)

Breathe in through the mouth – count four

Pause one count

Exhale through mouth – count eight – imagine a dispersing movement

ETHER (optional)

Image a transparent mauve colour

Breathe in through nose – count four

Pause one count

Exhale through nose – count twelve

To ground your energy, return once more to the earth-breath. You may want to ignore the counting for the out-breaths, to begin with. The basic idea is to allow more time for breathing out, until the body naturally draws in a new breath.

*    *    *   To expand the imagination, here some more notes in relation to the elements:

The Earth Element
The early Christian hermits, living alone in the desert, used to concentrate on the earth’s magnetism as a way of restoring their vitality during long vigils. Native American elders have said that the loss of a sense of relationship and communion with the earth is the main cause of psychological and physical imbalances. Standing or sitting, feel like a tree with roots extending firmly and deeply into the earth. Feel the strength and magnetism of the earth. Breathe in through the nose and out through the nose, not forcing the breath.

Imagine drawing healing power through the soles of your feet (if standing) or the bottom of your spine (if sitting). You may have felt the healing power of the earth in your feet while walking barefoot outdoors or in your hands when working in a garden. Try to sense a subtle reality, a crystalline lattice-like structure, behind the denser aspects of the physical plane. The earth is not a singular organism, but is part of its solar system and part of a galaxy …

As you exhale, release your tiredness, disharmony and agitation. Now concentrate on the magnetic field of your body, similar to that of a magnet. Feel as though you are aligning your own field to the magnetic field of the earth, the way that iron filings align around a magnet. When magnetic power is weak, the iron filings are in disarray. When the power is strong, the filings align in symmetric, harmonic patterns.

The Water Element
The breath of the water element brings a sense of flow, of vitality and purity, and helps unleash creativity. It is also useful in breaking free from habitual thinking patterns, and flowing around obstacles rather than hitting them head on. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. You might imagine yourself immersed in a mountain stream. Feel the drops of water penetrating your cells, dripping off of your fingertips. Feel water reaching your chest and heart, helping to loosen any tightness and obstruction there. Feel energized and renewed, again focussing on those parts of the body that are in need of healing, and those that lack life energy and vibrancy. Concentrate on the purity of a crystal clear lake or stream, high up in the mountains. Let yourself become the water, and let the qualities of purity, life energy and power flow into your immediate environment.

The Fire Element                                                                                                                                               The breath of the fire element is a quickening. It sparks inspiration and is useful when you feel drowsy and dull. Breath in through the mouth, hold the breath for a moment and then breathe out through the nose. On the inhalation, imagine fanning a fire in your solar plexus. Purse your lips and draw in a thin stream of air. As you draw in, visualize the embers of the fire glowing. Then hold the breath momentarily and bring your attention to a few inches above the solar plexus. Exhale through the heart, imagining that you are radiating golden sunlight.

On the inhalation, evoke your aspirations; your desire to be authentic; to make your life meaningful and worthwhile; to stand up for what you believe in. On the exhalation, radiate light as if from a miniature sun in your heart. Subject your self-doubt, cynicism, addictive patterns or resentments to the fire. Avoid making pledges you won’t keep. Simply clarify your intention and allow the purification process, instead of using will power to change things.

The Air Element
Breathe in through the mouth and out through the mouth. The breath of the air element relates to freedom, ecstasy and transcendence. Imagine yourself like an eagle perched high on a mountain. Feel the wind ruffling your feathers, blowing through all your pores. Feel the coolness and freshness of the air. Soar upwards on the currents of air. On the inhalation, feel yourself buoyant and free, like a zephyr crossing a lake and lifting upwards. On the exhalation, allow yourself to reach out beyond the boundaries of the body. Let your being disperse with the wind, and let your consciousness reach out into the cosmos. Enjoy a sense of vastness and, if it helps, visualize vast landscapes, such as a mountain, canyon, or the starry night sky.

*    *    *   After you completed the purification breaths, reflect upon the effect of the elements taken together. Separately each of the breaths emphasizes different forces and qualities in our being, together they bring about a sense of wholeness. According to your own affinities, you may feel the need to place more emphasis on one or another element in order to attain greater balance.

For me this is the WATER breath.

Also – I admit I frequently fall asleep to this … consciousness is wherever consciousness is placed, and what travels on our breath travels either mindlessly or with intention.

 ‘Thoughts are beings that generate … One thought of kindness gathers a thousand beings of love and kindness around one.’  – Hazrat Inayat Khan

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… a ginger cat dreams of company in breath …

The woman used to sit in the deckchair with her sleek black friend on her lap, eyes closed, breathing in unison. She calls it meditation. I was jealous, what else.

I’m old and grumpy, a familiar sight. Small chance she wonders where I hang out when not visiting. Today she spotted me – a fluffy ginger ball dozing on a brick wall sheltered by ivy – not my regular spot. I prefer having my daily nap on a bench at the top. From that royal view downhill I keep half an eye on creature traffic, neighbour cats that shamelessly kill fledglings or lame birds, the stray dog or sly fox that slips through the hedge, reckless rodents … but it’s been drizzling all night and my favourite bench is soaking wet this morning.

I get no food here. However, she daily cleans and refills the ceramic bowl near the house with fresh water, just for me to slurp. In such moments we exchange glances, and she nods. What she doesn’t like is when I get too close to her little stone Buddha. Then she shakes her head or steps from the backdoor to clap her hands. I’ve seen her turn the water hose on cats with bad manners. She should know better, I’m not one of them, I have principles.

I bet she misses her companion, glossy and black as a moonless sky. She was gentle and tolerant of me, which is why I used to protect her from a nasty tom. Some years ago the woman dug a deep hole for her friend, near the compost heap. Not the most romantic spot to have one’s bones rest, but due ceremony was observed, which must count for love.

I wouldn’t impose myself. I wonder what attracts me to this human and her world. I’d love being invited in her house, as companion. Nowadays she often sits near the window, staring at some rectangular device like it’s the most fascinating sight in the world, the opening to a mystery, like a warren.

She keeps her distance, wary of attachments. I get it, of course; she doesn’t want her freedom restricted by caring for another cat. Her neighbours used to look after her pet during her absences. Now their health is fragile and can’t be relied upon. She objects to Kennels, rightly. I was put in one, long ago, confined in a cage, horrible.

I doubt she cares where I camp at night. Doesn’t know I endure the stoned torpor of Mr X, lost in a dark place. It’s not a home, the vibes upset me. But each morning I vocally rouse X from his hangovers to alert him to my dry meal. This must be my purpose – my insistence on my existence is how he tracks time, like noticing a new day. Alas, the filthy water bowl is only rarely topped, which is why I’m thankful that the woman got the message …  I’m always thirsty.

The image keeps returning, of her sitting in the garden with her black friend on her lap, eyes closed, breathing in unison. My thirst lives on. It may be complex and beyond measure, or awesomely simple, I don’t know, but company in breath seems the one simple thing of beauty most worth dreaming of.

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… letting go of letting go & duende …

An apple doesn’t drop by itself before it’s ripe. And unless fate delivers us a hard blow natural ripeness applies equally to experience. Experts are quick to tell us, or we tell ourselves, to let go of whatever – an attachment, a fear, a grievance, an addiction, a desire, melancholy, sadness, the ego, and so on, while we are enmeshed with our life and its phenomena. The best chance of ripening towards a possible potential lies in keeping one’s balance on the tightrope of contradictions, that is, the fine line between the particle state and the wave state – as in Blake’s ‘Kiss the joy while flies.’

Natural letting go happens every second. We breathe, well, we are breathed, though we mainly notice when the rhythm of our breath is disrupted – through pain, exhaustion, anger, anxiety, anger or sheer exasperation, when anyone uttering, ‘Calm down,’ deserves a punch.

(Thanks Joe Linker for the great doodle)

Emotional balance wavers from day to day, but when self-blame knots up our muscles it makes sense to focus on the body. There are plenty of ways to relax: exercise, sex, music, singing, mantras, doodling, magnesium, weed, pills, wine … or to imagine brilliant light circling through the breath, like the basic drone of a reed harmonium or a tanpura holding up multiple sounds. Everything in nature has an essential frequency, which tends to flush out what obstructs its flow, even if it takes earthquakes, storms and floods. To right imbalances of the planet is beyond individuals, we can however bring a clear intention towards balancing our body’s frequency. Try this:

Inhale through your nose – draw brilliant light from head the chest – counting to 7   

Exhale through your mouth – let the light flow to your feet and out – counting to 11

Imagine the out breath taking along the tensions held in your muscles. A few rounds of this ritual should calm the heartbeat for a while. Being in resonance with your body draws the shy soul closer, bringing a sense of oneness – satiating our thirst for belonging. And it makes us aware that beauty is not in things, but in the soul of things, even the tiniest thing has soul.

Enjoy the circular sound by the wonderful mantra singer Hein Braat.

However, a constant sense of oneness is not what evolution is about. In a time and space structured cosmos we cannot cage harmony. Reality is the result of contradiction.

Our struggle for balance can be intense. But each of us has the chance to live with zest, inspired by the earth spirit and its dark power for spontaneous creation born of sadness and pain. Garcia Frederico-Lorca talked about art being inspired in three ways: by muses of the past, angelic visons of the future, and by duende – inspiration of the present. Duende springs from the core of one’s being in direct confrontation with death. You can read Lorca’s remarkable speech here: ‘Theory and Play of the Duende.’  

… You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves …  from – Mary Oliver, ‘Wild Geese’

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… thoughts on dark matter …

Breath shuttles across nature’s warp and weft – to breed – bloom – yearn – form thoughts – his – hers – mine – our thoughts – woven yarns flung into the unknown like a slow spread – to be unpicked

two waters meet

two waters meet

breathe in – breathe out longer – meet the other at their edge – to merge – converse – or – should you prod – witness spume lift from the wave – fire split the wire – earth shake – heaven open – dreams unravel …

In the night – specks of light appear – the rest is hidden in curved time – yet present – spirit abiding in inverse spheres – as above so below – weak neutrinos permeate all – unobserved but heard as cosmic noise from dark realms – until atoms splash towards the crack of dawn – we call it birth …

Two clusters of galaxies in collision. The ordinary matter, gas and stars from both clusters shown in red, is slowed down in the collision. The DARK matter, shown in blue, sails through and keeps on going because it does not interact. Both colours are false –the red is an image of x-ray emission, and the blue is an image of the gravitational effect on the light from more distant galaxies. Source: NASA/ESO

Two galaxies in collision. Ordinary matter, gas and stars from both clusters – in red – is slowed down in the collision. The DARK matter, shown in blue, sails through and keeps on going. Both colours are false –the red is an image of x-ray emission, and the blue is an image of the gravitational effect on the light from more distant galaxies.
Source: NASA/ESO

The background to this poem: I was feeling depressed about the superficial and withholding communication with a distrustful relative. Fed up with allusions and secrecy, I plucked up the courage to prod a straight question. The answer was as a torrent of toxic and defensive anger. After the assault over the telephone I was dumbstruck. I laid the incident to rest, and instead edited a big chunk of my present manuscript.

Before going to bed, I read in a novel, ‘Eventide’ by Kent Haruf  (a wonderful discovery – more about this author another time) and came upon a graphic scene that encapsulated my battered state – as if a bull had pounded me into the mud – which happened to a character in the chapter. Literature can deliver fitting words and metaphors for experiences.

I don’t regret my prodding. I discovered the nature of a spell on me. As it happens in families, wounds are handed down generations, and unless someone prods them the poison can’t drain.

Attitudes and projections, powered by feelings, influence us and others deeply – irrespective of distance, or time. Unexpressed messages travel. It happens unconsciously. The process might be better acknowledged if there was evidence of a medium that carries thoughts, faster than light. Mocked-at psychic phenomena could be re-evaluated. My bet is on the untraceable, neutral neutrinos that apparently pass through ordinary matter unimpeded at superluminal velocity.

At the time of writing this poem arrived …

Do Not Love You (Pablo Neruda)

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep

*    *    *

A film by Werner Herzog I want to see: Encounters at the End of the World

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gr5IvOFXuH4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eO9GEL_RzlY

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