Rainbow Abstract3

3. Breathing for Recovery

words written by other authors appear in PURPLE
practical exercises appear in ORANGE

* breathe easier, breathe again vb 3: ‘to feel relief’ as in “now that I know what I’m doing I can breathe easier” or “when I get through the initial panic I’ll be able to breathe again…’

“Breathe.  Let go.  And remind yourself that this very moment is
the only one you know you have for sure.”

~Oprah Winfrey

“When the breath wanders the mind also is unsteady. 
But when the breath is calmed the mind too will be still,
and the yogi achieves long life. 
Therefore, one should learn to control the breath.”

~Svatmarama, Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Over the last several years of working with different people to help develop their skills of creativity I have become increasingly convinced that the success of all the other elements – originality, imagination, collaboration, challenging and questioning, experimenting and taking risks – all of these depend upon our resilience.

Resilience is defined as:

1. The ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune; buoyancy.

2. The property of a material that enables it to resume its original shape or position after being bent, stretched, or compressed; elasticity.
It is dependent upon us being able to both let go of what is unhelpful while still holding on to what is fundamental and at the core of us. And skilled practised breathing is one of the best ways to develop and sustain our resilience.

There are at least
three situations when it is particularly necessary to pause and take time to consciously breathe if we are to have any chance of realising what is really happening, or what we are trying to make happen, or why we are well suited to be doing what we want to do:

* When something has gone badly. We can build our resilience and confidence if we take time to breathe and gently think through and beyond our feelings to consider what actually happened, why we think things happened the way they did, what we might learn from this for next time, and what, if anything, we could do to alleviate the situation as it now is.

* When we are really up against it and panicking that we won’t be able to do everything we are committed to. We need to regain our breath and our clarity about what should be getting our limited attention and time. The hardest challenge is to make ourselves stop. Even if we just remember to stop and consciously breathe it will help us think more clearly and feel more in control. Then, from this calmer state, ask yourself: “How much time do I have to work with now? And if I can only achieve one thing in that time, what does this need to be?” At least then you know that you are doing the best thing you could do, and your mind will be less contaminated by worries about all the other things you cannot do in that same moment.

* When we are feeling anxious or fearful or lacking in confidence about what we have to do. Just like when we are feeling stressed, feelings of fear disrupt our usual easy free breathing and this causes our minds and our bodies to be starved of the oxygen they need to function effectively. Learning to breathe deeply and more slowly can greatly re-balance our equilibrium and reawaken our senses and our sense, along with our interest and ability to truly notice the world and the people around us. And the more we are concentrating on what is outside ourselves, the less capacity we have to fret about how we are feeling inside.

Exercises for Building Resilience and Regaining Balance

Some of the best breathing exercises for building resilience and recovering our sense of balance and composure in times of high stress come from meditation practices.

Connected with most meditation practice is a belief in and hope of creating a more peaceful unified world: the more individuals who are able to calm and release toxic feelings of rage, frustration and fear the more likely we can together make a world that breathes together in harmony.

In a 2009 teaching video Buddhist leader Acharya Arawana Hayashi talks about how meditation practice can help us through the personal and societal issues and uncertainties many of us facing these days.

In
Making Friends with Uncertainty Part One Arawana addresses the challenge of the current economic and social situation, a time when so many people are losing jobs, businesses, and homes.

….We use the breathing to keep us in the body, on the ground. It could be something else, but generally we use the breathing because the breathing is moving out, moving in, the mind likes a little movement, it has a rhythmic peaceful quality.

And little by little we realise that if we could just settle into now it’s full of resources, full of wealth, full of well being, full of being, full of natural knowing in the way it’s full of certainty. No one can say “No, no that’s not your now. Better be doubtful about that now. It’s an unreliable now.” It might not be a pleasant now, it could be full of anxiety and full of certainty. But that is certain. It certainly is a shaky now. And that’s a completely reliable experience. And it doesn’t need a reason to be shaky, or a reason to be sad, a reason to be depressed, or a reason to be energised particularly. It’s much more straightforward than that.

Calm abiding is a sense of being able to accommodate whatever our life is and to rest there.


In Making Friends with Uncertainty Part Two Arawana talks about the need to recognise that we all have great wealth and resources and help and kind words and listening we can offer and actions we can do for other people. She then provides a guided meditation for waking up our feeling quality and rousing up our loving, kindness, compassion …

…In an uncertain time when we ourselves could use a little comfort and a little pat, a little support, can we also continue to just help out in whichever way we can. So including in our meditation practice every day is always a little bit of loving, kindness and compassion…

You can watch both Parts of Arawana’s video here

In his latest book, Beyond Religion – Ethics for a Whole World, the Dalai Lama presents his vision for a more unified whole world of greater harmony and peace, suggesting that this must come from better understanding and tolerance between believers of whatever faith and non-believers. His book is in two parts: the first mapping out his reasons for what he calls ‘a new vision of secular ethics';’ and the second a series of practices aimed at ‘educating the heart through training the mind.’ In this section he includes some helpful guidelines and practices for meditation for those of us who have not yet already developed our own practice.

Here are some of The Dalai Lama’s exercises:

Meditation as Mental Cultivation

Planning Our Practice
The beginning meditator will quickly discover the mind is like a wild horse. Like a wild horse, it takes a long time before it will settle down and obey commands. Similarly, only with gentle persistence over an extended period will the real benefits of meditation become apparent…


Place your hands in a relaxed position, with the back of the right hand resting on the palm of the left. Allow the elbows to rest loosely, pushed out a bit from the body so that there is gap, which the air can pass through. Often it is helpful to sit on a cushion, which is raised slightly at the back. This helps straighten the backbone, which ideally should be kept straight as an arrow, with just the neck bent a little downward. Keeping the tip of the tongue touching the palate helps prevent the thirst which can set in as a result of certain breathing exercises… So far as the eyes are concerned, discover for yourself what works best for you… For most people, half closing the eyes is generally best, but some find it is helpful to close them completely.

Relaxing and Settling the Mind
Once you are settled, the first thing to do is take a few deep breaths. Then, breathing normally again, try to focus on your breath, noticing the air as it enters and leaves through the nostrils. What you are trying to achieve is a mind in a neutral state, neither positive nor negative. Alternatively, you can take one inhalation and one exhalation while silently counting from one to five or seven, and then repeat the process a few times. The advantage of this silent counting is that, in giving our mind a task to perform, it makes it less likely to be swept away by extraneous thoughts. In either case, spending a few moments just observing your breathing is usually a good way to achieve a calmer mental state.

We can liken this process of settling the mind to dyeing a piece of cloth. White cloth can easily be dyed a different colour, but it is difficult to dye a piece of cloth that is already coloured, unless we want to make it black. In the same way, when the mind is agitated, a positive result is hard to come by…

To start with, you may find it impossible to keep your mind focused for more than a few minutes – perhaps even just a few seconds – at a time before distraction sets in. This is quite normal. As soon as you realise you have become distracted, just return gently to whatever you were doing before the distraction arose. There should be no anger or self-reproach when this happens, just a patient recognition of what the mind is doing and a calm redirection of the attention. The important thing is not to become discouraged.

You can email me for a fuller extract from the Dalai Lama’s book,
Beyond Religion – Ethics for a Whole World

……Back to Six Ways of Breathing

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