Breathing on the beach

This week at the dojo we are focusing on breathing. It seems like a silly thing to think about if you haven’t done it before in martial arts, Tai Chi, meditation or other internal work. You may think, I have plenty to worry about already. Now I need to worry about breathing? I’m still alive, so I must be doing something right.

Those of us who have rediscovered the power of breathing beg you to reconsider. The breath is your source of life on multiple levels; it allows you to survive and focusing on it allows you to thrive. When we are focused on the breath we are in the moment. Happiness and life itself only exist in the moment.

I remember the first time I truly felt present. I was in my first meditation class at Sifu Brown’s dojo. I sat with my eyes closed and tried to “watch the breath”. At first my monkey mind was restless. I tried for about 20 minutes to keep my mind on the breath, but as soon as I remembered I was supposed to be meditating, another thought would pop into my head. Frustrated, I gave up trying to control my thoughts. In that moment, I felt my breath come in and go out. My mind sank into the moment, I felt peace and a sense of something beyond myself. Of course, as soon as it happened I got excited. I’m doing it! I lost the breath.

In practicing martial arts, we regulate our breathing to help us get the most out of an intense workout. You may have heard this solid advice regarding meditation: if you think breathing is boring, jump in the ocean, dive beneath the waves and stay there for a while. Pretty soon you’ll find breathing pretty exciting. In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, you’ll find that being choked makes breathing pretty exciting too.

Breathing in Martial Arts

When striking, we use the breath in a way that is foreign to most people. We let out a focused exhale at the point of impact to create power in our punch or kick. This exhale helps us sync our body’s tension at one moment.

In Tai Chi, we sync the fluid movement of our body with deep, diaphragmic breathing. This helps our mind and body relax.

In meditation, we focus our mind on our breathing. This helps us be present. This brings us into the fullness of the moment.

This is the power of the breath. Slowing down your breathing has the effect of calming your mind. The section of your brain called the “stress pacemaker” connects slow, deep breathing with fewer thoughts, a relaxed mind. In this relaxed state, you are able to experience life in a new way. Whether in meditation or practicing a breathing exercise, or even moving about the world during the normal course of your day, going back to the breath allows you to be fully present. You can smell the roses, so to speak. When you practice being aware of your breathing, the synapses in your brain rewire to make it easier.

Connect to the breath

Try connecting to the moment now. Close your eyes and take a deep breath from the belly, in and out through the nose. Feel the sensation of air gently filling your lungs, then emptying.

After one breath, you are in the moment.

After ten breaths, you are at peace.

After 100 breaths, you have begun to connect to something deeper. The small you (ego) is disappearing and you can experience your higher self, the oneness beyond.

The entire universe is contained in an inhale, infinite lifetimes are contained in an exhale.