Breath - Sensing The Body
by Luis S. R. Vas
The apparently simple act of sensing the body releases its healing potential in a powerful way and has been adopted by numerous therapists in their work.
Usually this sensing is accomplished in two stages. The first stage is sensing the breath. The second is scanning the whole body under certain conditions.
As we breathe in we take in impressions via the senses, as we breathe out we let go of what we took in. The process happens with each in-breath and with each out–breath; the process of birth and dying.
Yet, as we breathe in we receive impressions and simultaneously we discriminate, we assess certain impressions as favourable and others as not favourable. In this act of in–breath we practise “becoming”, we shape our reality, our sense of self; we identify with our likes and dislikes. We create our personality.
The out-breath is essentially an act of emptying, of letting go, a freeing of identity in order to receive the next in-breath in an unconditioned way, free from past fears or future anxieties. This is the potential of breathing.
Breathing is more than the process of air passing in and out of the body, breathing is also the consciousness, the level of awareness of each person.
In some therapies, for example, working with one’s breath is a central tool to diagnose and to evaluate the level of one’s awareness. By working with the breath one is exercising and awakening one’s awareness, and therefore stimulating our own healing potentiality. Practitioners are often surprised that by working with the breath they become involved in their own healing process in a most direct and immediate way and at that moment strengthen their healing potential.
Letting-go of the breath, letting-go of becoming, letting go of the emotional weight necessary to keep our personality going, is a first act of healing, then taking in is free from conditions, free from holding on to a sense of “self”. Thus the healing potential of each individual returns to its natural rhythm.
As practitioners discover their own potentiality through the mindful practice of breathing they become more attuned to their breathing.
Furthermore through their own practice practitioners will have experienced that there is a gap between the end of the outbreath and the start of the next in-breath. This gap is not the same as holding one’s breath. Naturally as the outbreath ends there is a sense of “no–need to become, no need to be reborn” and the awareness rests in that gap or space; this is where practitioners can meet their own awareness and potentiality, this is where healing takes place.
To cultivate the awareness of the “space” between out-breath and in-breath is vital in the assessing and exercising of the healing potential. If at that point practitioners can rest their attention in that “space” a true healing is experienced. This is the beginning of healing the human condition from its incessant grasping at the next in-breath in order to re-affirm its “personality”.
Basically where attention is, breath is; where attention is, energy flows. Breathing goes on all the time, for all of us regardless of the activity, place or time. It is therefore a most suitable tool to exercise awareness, and to stimulate healing. It is a true barometer of where we are at any given moment.
Every thought, emotion, opinion, or idea we have, is acc-ompanied by a change in breathing! Many times we are not aware of this but it occurs all the same. By changing one’s breathing, by placing the attention on the softness of the out-breath, one can change the energy of a room; one can turn an argument into a dialogue. Therefore the practitioners can help change their condition simply by practising awareness of the breath, especially at first the awareness of the out-breath in their own belly.
Now we come to the second stage of body sensing.
The method is first of all to develop the skill of observing the body in the four basic postures, standing, walking, sitting, lying down, and to link this awareness of the body to all life activities.
The sensing starts with the awareness of the body as it is slower and denser than mind and so can be more easily observed. Through the repeated and consistent observation of the body and its activities, the practitioner will not fail to become more aware of the mental states that accompany the bodily activities.
From the observation of the body and mind one goes on to the training or taming of the body and mind. This means, for example, that if you perform a certain activity like answering the phone or opening a door, your att-ention(mind) is with the body movement, not ahead of it or behind it. How often while one is doing a simple daily activity like switching on the kettle, the attention is on what has just taken place or on what is about to happen. Training the body and mind means teaching the attention to come back to what is happening at that moment, here in this body, now in this moment, no matter how many times one needs to call the attention back.
It is a simple, not always easy, but simple method. Again this is practised in the four basic postures and in all daily life activities.
The next part of the training is liberating, freeing mind. The practitioner will by now have realised or at least touched on the experience that suffering or dissatisfaction in one’s life is totally linked to the sense of self-identity, me and mine, my views and my needs, “wanting what I do not get, and getting what I do not want”.
The sensing practice will help us release our grip, our hold onto “this is me, this is mine” condition. With patience and kindness to this “me”, we will gradually become less dominated in our response to the world by the acquisitive, the averse or the confused characteristic which normally dominates us.
Over time with lots of dedicated practice and lots of good-will the four sublime abodes, Loving Kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity, will become our true refuge in self-healing.
Thus body sensing is a form of training available to all, it is not a gift nor the privilege of the few. All that is required is an honest intention to look into the mirror of body awareness again and again with a sense of humour and kindness.
Basic body sensing exercise
• Sit with an alert and relaxed body posture so that you feel relatively comfortable without moving. (You can sit either in a straight-back chair with your feet flat on the floor, or on a thick, firm cushion three to six inches off the floor.)
• Keep your back, neck and head vertically aligned, relax your shoulders and find a comfortable place for your hands (usually on your knees).
• Bring your attention to your breathing. Observe the breath as it flows in and out. Give full attention to the feeling of the breath as it comes in, and goes out. Whenever you find that your attention has moved elsewhere, just note it, and let go and gently escort your attention back to the breath, to the rising and falling of your own belly.
• When you can maintain some continuity of attention on the breath, try expanding the field of your awareness “around” your belly to include a sense of your body as a whole.
• Maintain this awareness of the body sitting and breathing, and, when the mind wanders, bring it back to sitting and breathing.
• After your have gained enough practice proceed to do steps 4 and 5 with the other three basic body postures, standing, walking, and lying down, and to link this awareness of the body to all life activities.
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