I remember thinking all this talk about aliveness and freshness was pretty dull when I first heard about it. I remember quietly distrusting this talk of freedom through the breath, thinking “yes, I’d like to feel free etc etc, but what I really want is to be thin and permanently relaxed.” I seriously thought that the size of my body was dictating the state of my emotions and that if I could just control my body I would naturally be emotionally stable, vibrant, relaxed and happy. Even after starving myself until I was dangerously thin and finding that I was miserable, I still thought, years later, that slimness would ‘fix’ me. Yes, a healthy functional body contributes to our overall state of happiness, but only when it is accompanied by a freedom of the heart, and a relaxed attitude to social time and solitude in which we feel safe to stay with ourselves without bolting into dieting or bingeing.
When we begin to practice it gradually becomes clear that the deep yearning for a safe place to rest, for a part of us that simply says ‘its ok, you can stop trying so hard to be fixed or to ‘get there’ so you can just enjoy life” is available to us every moment…..we come to understand that we can give ourselves this freedom by becoming aware of the breath, and through this practice, our essential aliveness. It is this freedom that makes the breath gradually take on a quality that is not only interesting but absolutely fascinating. The breath becomes an anchor for reality, and (thankfully!) the more we practice, the more we come to understand that reality is not what we think it is. Nor are we the old stories of brokenness and disorder we have been taking ourselves to be. Phew.
Compulsion and fear around our bodies and food create a world of endless drama. How refreshing to find that life beneath the drama is not only sweeter than brownies, or a thin body, but it is inherently beautiful amidst its rough edges and imperfections. We cannot really touch into this knowing until we arrive where we are. With the breath.
The breath is our anchor to life. it guides us from the first gasp of birth to the last gentle exhale as we depart this world. When we are distressed, we hold the breath or inhale rapidly. When we feel worried or depressed we unconsciously sigh and exhale more strongly. When we weep our breath weeps with us, not only our eyes. As we laugh, the stomach pumps breath in and out of our body, bringing fresh oxygen to the brain. When we are tired, the breath guides us to yawn as a cue to take rest. Becoming curious about the breath, and practising presence with its rhythms acts as a guide back from our dramas in the mind, to the freshness of what is actually here. Right now. The mind thinking away in the background (as it always does). Wind rustling. The sound of footsteps on stairs. Clothes touching skin. An itch. Simple, vibrant presence.
…If you still think that the idea of the breath as a pathway to freedom sounds absurd and boring, try exhaling deeply and holding your breath out for as long as you can. When you absolutely can’t hold your breath another moment, feel the refreshing burst of energy as oxygen rushes back into your lungs. Then consider how interesting you find the simple, poetic act of breathing, of being here right now, alive.