I think it was Rudolph Steiner who said, “we live with our soul in the breath.” That bit of insight and wisdom is worth meditating on!
Our breathing is controlled by physiological or biological needs—chemical and mechanical processes. And it is also controlled by psychological and emotional needs—conscious and unconscious processes.
Breathing is affected by posture, movement and physical forces. It is also affected by changing moods, attitudes and the force of will. In other words, the breath’s life-giving power serves both our instinctive animal nature as well as our conscious spiritual nature. It serves body, mind and soul.
This brings up the difference between breathing and respiration. Respiration is automatic, instinctive, or reflexive. It is driven by chemistry and biology. Breathing on the other hand is a behavior. And like all behaviors it can be unconsciously inherited and modeled, or consciously learned and deliberately practiced.
Since the breath serves us in so many ways and on so many levels, different parts of us can often end up competing for control over the breath. Our emotional patterns and psychological tendencies can steal the breath away from serving our physiological functions and biological process.
Biological needs generally tend to win out over conscious control. But many extreme athletes, yogis, and world record breath-holders show just how far we can push the envelope when it comes to so-called “physical” limits.
When we observe or monitor unconscious breathing, we see that it displays all kinds of machinations—speeding up or slowing down, stopping or starting, intensifying, quieting, etc. It’s alive, constantly acting and reacting, adjusting itself moment to moment to changing biochemical as well as psychospiritual activities and needs.
I have been using the metaphor of an expensive car with a state-of-the-art suspension system. It can travel over very rough bumpy rocky roads, yet the passengers enjoy a smooth quiet ride because the suspension underneath is absorbing and neutralizing all those bumps and ruts and rocks and holes.
The body uses breathing to maintain a smooth, steady and balanced metabolic state. However, emotions and thoughts along with changing moods and attitudes—in other words our minds—can wrestle control of the breath away from the body’s biochemical needs.
We can also use our breath—speeding it up, slowing it down, pausing it, intensifying it, making it subtle, etc., in order to create or sustain a certain smooth psychological or emotional state.
When we are communicating passionately, our breathing performs what Dr. Litchfield calls calisthenics. We see it abruptly speeding up, slowing down, stopping and starting, etc. When the breath is serving our communication in this way, it may not be properly optimizing our chemical or biological functions.
Beyond this constant competition or battle between the body and mind, between physiology and psychology, beyond biology and emotions, we find the wild card in life—and that is consciousness.
In and around or below and beyond the body-mind system is the miracle of spirit and consciousness.
Our conscious creative spirit give us power over the breath so that we can transform or transcend the body-mind system. We can use our breath to move toward higher consciousness, spiritual awakening, or ultimate potential. We can use the breath to accelerate our evolution, and to awaken and transform others and the world
When we do this kind of spiritual work, we can expect that the body-mind system will complain and resist. It will fight to regain control over the breathing in order to tend to its ancient biological needs.
When people practice spiritual breathing, I like to remind them that a temporary physiological or chemical imbalance is a small price to pay for permanent psychological and emotional benefits. And any temporary emotional and psychological difficulties are a small price to pay for a lifetime of spiritual benefits!
Breathwork helps us to evolve beyond our ancient, low level, negative and rough emotional and psychological habits and tendencies, so that higher, lighter, more positive and loving psycho-emotional and spiritual states can become the new natural, the new normal.
We are all learning to navigate the process of transformation, transcendence, and personal evolution. And many of us have been practicing long enough and have gone far enough on this journey to realize that conscious awareness, conscious relaxation, and conscious breathing are the three main skills or practices that we need to master.
I invite you learn Spiritual Breathing to unify body, mind, heart and soul, and to end the battle over the breath, by awakening to and connecting with the power and wisdom of spirit.
Turn the battle into a dance… the dance of life, of love, joy and peace!