Breath as a Journey towards Present Moment
‘Being aware of your breath forces you into the present moment – the key to all inner transformation. Whenever you are conscious of the breath, you are absolutely present. You may also notice that you cannot think and be aware of your breathing. Conscious breathing stops your mind’
~ Eckhart Tolle
Most of our lives and most of our days we are absorbed in Doing: getting the things done, moving fast from one thing to the next, or multitasking – attempting to juggle a whole bunch of different things at the same time. We are measured, compared, encouraged to achieve, to do, to compete, to never stop, never just ‘be’. However, like anything in life, just Doing without the balance of Being, of taking a moment to breathe, to check-in, to rest, brings anxiety, stress, depression, burnout, suffering and many others ailments caused by an overactive and never stopping mind.
Our lives become so driven and busy that we are moving through our present moment to get to better ones sometimes in the future. We check things of our never-ending to-do list (some people have an actual list or Excel document, some others are carrying this list in their mind all the time), feeling anxious and exhausted at the end of the day, then trying to sleep and to shut off our stream of thoughts reminding us how many things we still have to complete, we finally fall asleep and then jump up the next morning to start all over again.
This way of living, if you can call it living, is comprised by all the ways in which our lives are now driven by the higher and higher expectations we place on ourselves, or other people place on us and we place on them. If we are not careful, it is all too easy to fall into becoming more of a human doing than a human being.
The state of being present, aware and accepting of what happens in this moment – reminds us that it is possible to shift from a doing mode to a being mode through coming back to the Now, to the present moment. The state of being fully aware and conscious – can be defined in many ways – one of them is ‘mindfulness’ – you may have heard this word more than once or never.
Mindfulness is the ability to be aware of your thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and actions – in the present moment – without judging or criticizing yourself, others, or your experience.
Breathing is the fastest portal or journey or technique towards being present and aware in the now, in this particular moment. Our mind becomes integrated with our body, our emotions.
But this is not always an easy task – because at any moment in time we are thinking, feeling, sensing and doing many different things.
For example – let’s talk about what may be happening to you right now: you are probably sitting somewhere, reading this article. At the same time you are reading this, you are also breathing, you are also listening to the sounds around you, noticing the weight of your body resting in the chair (if you are sitting) and maybe you are also thinking about something else or keeping an eye on the phone or emails. You may also be aware of how you feel – if you are happy or sad, or tired, bored or excited. Other thoughts may pop up reminding you of the many things waiting for you to do, how you should not waist time, etc. You may also be doing something that you are not aware of – like shaking your leg, humming, playing with a pen, resting your head in your hand…This is a lot to be aware of – while you are just reading, isn’t it?
To be honest, no one can be a hundred percent mindful or present all the time. If we could, the world we live in would be so different – a world ready to heal, a world of peace, kindness, higher consciousness, bliss.
You are breathing in and out right this moment. If you can close your eyes for a moment, do so. This will help you pay attention to your breath, to what is happening within you. Your body is doing so many things right now – your heart is beating, your lungs are inhaling and exhaling air, your blood is travelling through your veins – and without any effort on your part, your body is both working or doing and is also relaxed or being. Be aware of the state of your mind, of your thoughts right this moment – do you have your mind full, literally full of thoughts or you can allow your mind to take a moment and slow down the stream of thoughts?
When animals are wounded, they naturally take a moment to rest. They look for a quiet place where they are not disturbed and they stay there without moving for some time. They know what is best for their body to heal. During this time they may not even eat or drink. The wisdom of taking a moment to heal is still very alive in the kingdom of animals, but we human beings have lost this capacity to rest and to appreciate the importance of resting and healing. We lost confidence in our body just knowing what to do. If we have time alone with ourselves, most of us panic and try to fill this time with many things.
Your breathing can help you relearn the art of being, the art of living in the present moment. Your breathing is a stable, solid ground where you can take a pause and rest. No matter what thoughts, emotions and perceptions are going on inside you, your breath is always there, like a dear friend. Breathing can bring your body and your mind together, integrated as they are meant to be.
When you begin practicing breathing exercises – the breathing may not be very peaceful, it may be rushed, uneven, or shallow. Do not give up. This is because you may have tensions in your body and many, many thoughts and preoccupations in your mind – therefore, your breathing is not peaceful. Have patience. If you continue practicing simple exercises – your breathing will become gentle, deeper, and more peaceful and your overwhelming flow of thoughts will slow down.
Now, instead of thinking about breath as a journey towards present moment – how about experiencing it through a simple yet profound breathing exercise?
- Close your eyes if possible and try to find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed for 1-3 minutes.
- Notice any thoughts or other distractions that remove your focus from your breathing. When your mind begins to wander and you catch yourself thinking of something else, return your focus to your breath.
- Try not to criticize yourself if you get distracted by thoughts or emotions. Just keep taking slow, long breaths into your belly, in and out.
- To begin, close your eyes for a minute, and take a deep breath in, then a deep breath out.
- Breathe in and out again – and pay attention to the air entering and coming out of your nostrils.
- Breathe in and out again – imagine filling up your belly with air like a balloon. Feel it rising with each inhalation and falling with each exhalation.
- Breathe in and out again – while being aware of your in and out breath– count the length of your breath (i.e. inhale counting to 4/ exhale counting to 4, or longer if your breath allows).
- Finally breath-in and out – and this time just focus on the breath all the way through. Just observe the breath, allow it to be natural, do not force it or try to control it.
With practice, this exercise will help you take slower, longer breaths, which will help you relax your mind. It has many benefits and it can be practiced daily, in moments of anxiety, before stressful activities, before sleep, or just an internal check-in.
It is a simple, yet powerful skill of becoming centered, calmer, aware and present in your physical body – ready to experience life.