Monday, September 17, 2007

Free Your Breath to Unclutter Your Mind

Recently I wrote a post about 87 year old yoga master Tao Porchon-Lynch. In the interview part of the article, she said something that has stayed with me, and that I am finding to be exceptionally helpful in clearing my mind and relaxing my body when I begin to feel overwhelmed.

The interviewer says: You seem so peaceful and serene. Is it the yoga? To which she replies: (emphasis mine)

I do believe that you can if you work with the breath, you can relax and feel that power within you. I work with my breath. People have problems when they keep their noisy thoughts in their throats. When you learn to breathe properly, you can get rid of those noisy thoughts and relax. If I can bring people into a quiet place and get rid of their noisy thoughts, you'd be surprised how they calm down.
The first time I read this, I did find it strange that she made reference to noisy thoughts being in the throat. I had always thought that a racing mind originated in the head, in the space behind the eyes. I didn't think much of it until the next time I felt myself under stress, and I recognized that my throat was tight and constricted, and breath was barely squeaking through that airway.

That's when Porchon-Lynch's words came back to me, and I tried opening my throat to breath. Like rinsing a clogged screen with water, I felt my head clear. Focus and clarity returned to my mind, and I felt better physically. I didn't feel as sick to my stomach, as confused by the shrapnel of thoughts bombarding my brain in damaging and broken shards.

While I now know that Porchon-Lynch is right in the quote above, I'm still not quite sure why. My theory is that our thoughts are usually formulated into words, which our minds/bodies recognize as potential speech. Maybe our throats get full of potential words, and we experience the sensation of tightness and constriction as a kind of blockage of all the potential things we could say aloud. I don't really know.

What I do know is that this seemingly small statement is having a profound effect on the way I maintain calm and focus. And it's such a small thing. Which got me to thinking about the tiny, cumulative things you can do to get somewhere big.

If you're like me, sometimes the prospect of making big changes seems burdensome and sometimes downright impossible. I don't like people who advise you to change your life in one day. That's why I like this one: open your throat to breath. I like it because I know I can do it!

I also like that it's tied to a fundamental physical process. I don't like advice that tells you you need to buy something in order to change. I guess sometimes you might, but this one is free, and more importantly, it seems logical to me that if you can get your breath in order, you might have a better foundation for more ambitious tasks.

Since you can't live without breathing, what if each breath were more free, more cleansing, more calming? What if you could train yourself to breathe calmly and use your breath to bring calm when you weren't feeling it? This is ancient wisdom, I know, but sometimes it feels like such a revelation in our world--so much of this kind of wisdom has been lost to us or outside our culture.

You breathe thousands of breaths every day--doesn't it follow that making a small change in this foundational behavior could have a profound effect when practiced over and over again each day? I certainly think it can, and like I said, I'm already more aware when 'noisy thoughts' threaten to hinder my progress, and am more able to fend them off, too.

So hey, free that breath already! This one I know you can do!

Possibly related posts:
Gimme Bliss: Birthday Edition
Look Up.
What is Beyond Your Perception, but Exists Nonetheless?
Find Your Self. Then Trust It.


Unknown said...

I see what you mean. When I have significant stress in my life, I often wake with my jaw clenched and my breath shallow. One of the first things I have learned to do each morning is yawn - the bodies natural way of drawing a gigantic whopper of a breath and stretching all facial muscles into fantastic contortions. Yoga for the face.

Great article Tiffany

Tiffany Hamburger said...

Thanks, Shane. I'll have to try the big yawn, since I too, often have the clenched jaw. What a strange ailment, isn't it? I wonder if it's a modern problem, or if our prehistoric ancestors had the same response to stress.

Bruce Black said...

Thanks for your insights into breathing. I posted a link to your blog on Wordswimmer this morning.

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