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John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
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Breathing and Awareness

Your breath is a built-in alarm clock that rings an average of ten to sixteen times every minute, reminding you that you're alive, right now! But as with so many habitual cues in your environment, you become so accustomed to the ringing that you don't hear it any more. Ruminating about the past and anticipating the future, you neglect the right now that is slipping away before you can stop to enjoy it.

Failing to live in the present can be a source of great sadness and dissatisfaction with life. A well-to-do psychiatrist was once asked the secret of his success. His patients praised his methods, and his waiting room was always filled with people. It's easy," he remarked. "I simply tell them to do one thing at a time, and to do it as if it were all they ever had to do in the world." That's part of what is meant by awareness.

The use of breath can help you to achieve an expanded sense of awareness in your everyday life. You start the practice of cueing in to the process of breathing in all different circumstances (waiting for the bus, watching the sunset). The inhalation reminds you to open yourself as fully as possible to what is happening now.What is my body doing? Where are my thoughts taking me? What am I feeling? Who is this person I'm talking with? What does this food feel like in my mouth? Why is my shoulder feeling so tight?

The exhalation allows you to let go of worrying about the past and the future. The inhalation opens you again.

In its purest form, this awareness is the silent appreciation of the way things are - the experience of just being with the flower, the other person, the movement of your body as you dance. This is the stuff of which awestruck moments and peak experiences are made. Coming back from such a high, a normally gray world is seen in full color and words fail to communicate the experience.

It is easy to misinterpret awareness training as a methodology for neglecting rational planning and goal-directed behavior. "Don't think about the future, just chill!" Nothing could be further from the truth of what real awareness is about. Instead of living only for the moment, awareness encourages living fully in the moment. And this moment may be devoted to designing a new strategy for environmental protection, planning for your retirement, or studying for tomorrow's biology exam. The point is that you choose consciously to address yourself to each issue. You immerse yourself in the task at hand with energy and concentration. You attune yourself to all the input - at the rational, emotive, physical, and even psychic levels. You do it with passion - knowing that you are doing it!

Try the simple experiment of eating a piece of fruit with awareness. You take the first bite. The texture excites your mouth. You start chewing, experiencing the exquisite flavor, the sweet juice. Before you can swallow, you realize that you've checked the time, picked up a magazine, looked out the window, decided to call a friend, and wondered if you need to get your videos back by this afternoon. Not such a simple task, this eating with awareness. As you begin to practice it, you are often overwhelmed with how unconscious so much of your life has become. This is when you offer yourself compassion. Then you can relax into the experience and laugh at how much learning you still have to do, without judging yourself harshly for not yet being fully aware.

Various forms of meditation use the breath to aid in relaxing, concentrating, and attuning to the deeper, spiritual, creative self - these will be addressed further in the section, Wellness and Transcending.

Using breath attunement on a regular basis will aid you in maximizing your body's built-in feedback system - those constant messages it offers you are its attempt to regain balance. Responding to those messages will create that state of relaxed awareness that your body most wants to have.

<< Previous Breathing For Healing | Back to Breathing | Next >> Three Breaths
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