Thursday, September 1, 2011

Am I Breathing Yet?

Isn’t it rather insulting to pay to attend a class that teaches you how to breathe? Haven’t you been doing that rather steadily now for a few years?

But that’s the problem: we fall asleep. Breathing is natural and so integral to our life that we no longer notice it. It’s just like our habits in food and relationships: our problems arise when we “fall asleep” and live on auto-pilot. We get overweight or unhealthy because we are not paying attention. We may find ourselves in divorce proceedings because we didn’t pay attention.
The act of breathing signifies we are still alive! It is the beginning (and its cessation, the end) of life in a human body. Yogis put it this way: breath is that which connects our mind to our body. Yogis view “mind” in a much broader way than western culture and language. Mind is, in yoga, synonymous with consciousness and individuality (at least as far as “we” are concerned).

To be more clear, mind is divided into four parts: buddhi, mon, chitta, and ahamkara. Buddhi is described in various ways to include intellect, perception, and intuition. These three are different but share in common the aspect of consciousness that we call “knowing,” or gnosis. We can see a horse and “know” that it is a horse. We can experience the astral light in meditation in the forehead and “know” that it is not our own imagination. We can “know” that a friend is in trouble before we get the phone call.
Mon is that aspect of consciousness that depends upon and works in tandem with the senses: receiving sense stimuli and “re-constructing” those signals in the “mind” in some orderly way. It is pre-cognitive in the sense of one looking out the window and seeing objects in the field of vision prior to labeling those objects. For example: smelling an odor before identifying it. This is a lower function of mind but one necessary to survival in a physical body. It is also dependent upon the healthy functioning of sense organs.

Chitta is our feeling nature. This can range from our emotions and emotional reactions to either sense stimuli or our own thoughts and perceptions, all the way to a deeper level of feeling that is unconditioned by either but at least as powerful (if not more).
Ahamakara is consciousness identified with oneself: one’s body and personality. This is our sense of individuality and separateness from all other objects in our field of vision and perception. This is commonly labeled our ego.

Yogis teach that there is a deep and abiding connection between our breath and our consciousness. Try noticing that moment when you “fall” asleep. It’s while nigh to impossible, but do-able. When we are busy with rapid fire thoughts or actions, we virtually cannot notice our breath (unless we really practice — enhanced by long and deep meditation).
Your awareness therefore of your breath under all conditions (from sleep, to action, to meditation, during emotions and any intense state of being or activity) will bring to you awareness of your own state of mind. (I like to joke that we begin meditation with being mind-full, but seek to go beyond so that we are mind-less: in a state of non-verbal, intense inner awareness)

If while sitting still with eyes closed you observe the flow of breath within you, especially for an extended period of time (no less than ten minutes) with continuous and unbroken awareness, you will find your powers of observation, concentration, and baseline level of deep and enjoyable feeling greatly enhanced.
Why don’t I leave at that, for now?

Breath in joy, exhale peace!