Thich Nhat Hahn is a Vietnamese Zen Bhuddist monk, teacher, author and peace activist who brings a lot of heart to the practice of mindfulness. His words inspire a return to simplicity and a connection to our basic wisdom. He considers the practice of stopping and resting to be the first stage of meditation:
“lf we cannot stop, the course of our destruction will just continue. The world needs healing – individuals, communities and nations need healing.”
When I do massage with people, women especially who carry a lot of tension and stress in their body, I often suggest working with the breath. I get a lot of bewildered respones ‘how do I do that’ or ‘I have tried to but my mind keeps racing’ or they think its sooo not them, never going to happen.
None of us start off feeling comfortable with the practice of mindfulness, it challenges our individual and collective ideal of being a highly functional person. It touches our stress and tension and that’s scary. Breathing bypasses our intellectual acknowledgment of stress and makes the awareness real.
Stress and tension protect us from feeling what my Jungian therapist calls the ‘raw self’. It keeps us in the race. It gives us a good excuse to push messy unresolved parts of ourself down under.
Is it the world outside pushing and pressuring us to keep running or is it our own drive to avoid our raw self? That is what we discover as we begin to touch our hard shell with the breath.
We can’t command our thoughts to settle down, they will never cooperate. Quieting our mind is not the goal of breathwork or meditation, its just a natural progression that follows the choice to stop and rest.
Taking a deep breath is a natural thing, there is no secret instruction, no right or wrong way. You start with one and then another. The simplicity of a breathing practice befuddles our complicated mind. We want to reach a goal, realize our ideal self – so rather than rest, we struggle. Chronic stress is very much like a low-grade, persistent feeling of struggle. Breathing interrupts this fixation. It pulls us into our body which senses and feels – it reminds us that we are a human being, no more, no less.
Breathing is an integral part of us that has always been there, when we stop to notice it, we return home.
We can simply place our attention on the feeling of the breath expanding and contracting, rising and falling, moving in and out – each part flowing seamlessly into the other. Attending to the natural qualities of the breath allows us to touch our tension, like a massage from the inside out.
With a little compassion, the touch of the breath feels like a safe touch, at last we can open up, relax and heal.