Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Power of the breath

The breath is something that for the most part we ignore yet it is the key to unlocking so much within our bodies. It can calm us down, energize us, shift our state of consciousness, relax our bodies and so much more. Breath-work is a major part of my work and so I’m able to witness the effects it can have all the time, in others and in myself. We can go days without food and water but we can only go a very few minutes without breathing.

The Yogis teach that in the physical realm, we have three components: the body, the breath and the mind. They are often referred to as three interlocking rings. Pull any one of them and the other two will follow. When the body is exercising for example, the mind is churning through thoughts and the breath speed increases. When we’re frightened, the body tenses, the breath shortens and speed increases and the mind races. When we’re relaxed and at peace, the body is calm, the breath is slower and smooth and the mind is quieter. The easiest one for us to gain conscious control over is the breath. If we want to relax the body or quiet the mind, controlling the breath is the way to do that because of their interconnectivity. This is why breath-work is used as preliminary step leading to meditation.

Most people have never had any type of formal training in using the breath and as such they never really become aware of its power. They simply use it to keep the body alive and as such it’s used at a very unconscious level. Take a moment and without shifting your breathing pattern at all, just notice your breath right now. Notice how it feels as you read these words. Notice how it almost begins to shift just from holding your awareness on it. Just make a mental note of its speed, movement into (or not into) the lungs and abdomen and the quality of the breath (smoothly, shaky, broken, shallow, deep, slow, rapid, etc). Notice also how your body feels, again without shifting it, just simply observe what is. Does it feel tense, relaxed in different areas? Finally notice the quality of your mind and the thoughts (busy, quiet, scattered, focused, etc). Just simply observe these three things without trying to change any of them and you can begin to see their connection.

Just like all of life, our breath moves in a cycle. There are four pieces to each cycle. There is the inhale and the exhale which we’re all familiar with but there is also the top of the inhale and the bottom of the exhale. At the top of the inhale the breathing movement shifts from inhaling to begin exhaling and the bottom of the exhale is simply the opposite of that. Again, without shifting it consciously, take a moment now to notice each of those components in your own breathing cycle right now and just make a mental note of it.

To understand the full power of the breath we need to examine each component of a full breathing cycle. The first part is the inhalation. This is the energizing aspect of the cycle. As the breath moves into our bodies, we bring in a fresh supply of oxygen into the lungs. At top of the inhale, the breathing actually stops for a moment while the body shifts to prepare for the exhalation process. All of the breath which was just pulled in is released into the lungs to be transformed for use within the body. The exhalation is the relaxing, or calming, portion of the breathing cycle. As we exhale, we release the carbon dioxide which our bodies produce as waste. The final part of the breathing cycle is the bottom of the exhale where the body shifts again to begin the inhalation once more. If you focus on a few breathing cycles, you can actually feel the shift happen at the top and bottom of each breath.

Now that you’ve gotten a feel for how your breath is flowing, let’s try a simple exercise to see its power. Position yourself so that you’re sitting fully upright and able to breathe more deeply. Using a consistent count for each section of the breathing cycle like “1, 1000, 2, 1000, 3, 1000, 4, 1000…” let’s explore shifting the ratios. Inhale and then exhale fully and slowly inhale for a count of 4, hold at the top for a count of 2, exhale for a count of 4 and hold at the bottom for a count of 2. This count is known as a 4:2:4:2 ratio. Repeat that cycle for 30 seconds or so. Then relax your breath to your normal breathing and just notice how your body feels and how your mind (thoughts) is in comparison to how it was before. After taking time to simply observe those things, now shift the ratio to 6:2:3:2 (inhale 6, hold 2, exhale 3, hold 2). Repeat that cycle for 30 seconds, then relax and observe. Now shift the ratio one last time to be 3:2:6:2 (inhale 3, hold 2, exhale 6, hold 2). Repeat for 30 seconds and observe the body and breath once more. This easy little exercise should show you how easy it is for you to consciously relax the body and quiet the mind that quickly or energize it if need be.

Shift the exercise a bit now that your body is calm from the last cycle and notice the energy shifts by breath retention at the top and bottom. Exhale and inhale a bit faster than normal and hold the breath at the top for about 6 count. Quickly and easily exhale and then inhale again and hold for 6. Repeat this cycle for about 10 breaths. Then relax the breath again and observe the effects that had on your body. Finally shift the retention to the bottom of the exhale and hold for a 6 count there. Repeat that 10 times and observe the tranquility that spreads over your body and the quietness of the mind. Holding the breath in energizes the body and mind whereas holding the breath out relaxes the body and calms the mind. Please actually try these exercises rather than just reading them because experience is the most powerful teacher that we have.

Now that you have a feel for easy it is to shift your energy, you can use this information to help you achieve the states you desire at will. If you’re having trouble focusing, feeling nervous, tense or scared use a breathing pattern where the emphasis is on elongating the exhale and allowing the breath to rest at the bottom of the exhale. If you’re feeling tired and lethargic and mentally sluggish, focus on lengthening the inhale, holding at the top and then relaxing the exhale and starting the next inhale. These cycles should be repeated for at least a minute or two to feel the full effects on the body and mind. For those who struggle to fall asleep (which is often caused by an over-active mind) a focused breathing pattern with a ratio of 1:2 (inhale to exhale) should help you fall asleep in no time. For this purpose just let the breath move of its own accord at the top and bottom of the cycle without focusing on retention. Remember these are ratios that you can shift. Depending upon your breathing capacity for every 1 second of inhale, allow 2 of exhale. So an inhale of 4 seconds would result in an exhale of 8 seconds. Play with the ratios that work best for you but always let the exhale be longer to relax the body and quiet the mind.

I hope you’ll begin to notice the body-mind-breath connection more fully in the coming days. If you’d like to learn a bit more about the power behind the breath, visit my website at The information I’ve shared with you here is what you might think of as the welcome mat into the world of breath-work or pranayama as the Yogi’s call it. Books have been written on the topic and go into more detail on the many powerful uses of breath-work and the effects it can have on the body and your consciousness.

Breathe in joy, live in peace.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Guiding Principles - Part 2

It’s no secret that we are living in a world in crisis. I’m sure that I could start listing the problems that we are currently facing and the list could go on almost forever. We have countless wars being fought, pandemic disease outbreaks, starvation, environmental disasters and breakdowns of most every system that we depend upon. When you look in depth at any of these issues they seem almost insurmountable and at times hopeless.

On the individual level, I’m a big believer in focusing on the positive because energetically whatever we put our attention on will grow. When you look around you however and you see the results in the breakdowns on a planetary scale, it can be hard to find a positive to focus on, yet it’s always there. This is where the second lesson that history can teach us comes in. According to Barbara Marx Hubbard “Crisis precedes transformation and problems are evolutionary drivers”.

If you examine the life-cycle of anything you see the three phases: creation, maturation and transformation (meaning either destruction or evolution). When a system has been created it slowly begins to build energy and function for the reason it was created. This goes until it outlives its usefulness or the need changes so it either ends or evolves and then something new begins the cycle again. It isn’t until the need for change arises though that action begins to occur. As long as the system is functioning according to need, the energy will stay in the maturation phase of the cycle. Think about examples of this in your life…a work project, a child, and relationships.

Once problems in the system begin to surface then the energy of transformation begins to arise. Depending upon the system, these problems can be simple and often easily fixed or we can reach a crisis state where something must be done or the system will fail. Take a moment to look at some of the issues we are facing as a nation and as a species and you can see this for yourself. One that is impacting us all at the moment is the world’s economic and financial system. Our healthcare systems are failing on almost every front. Wars are being fought and we are killing each other over differences in ideological beliefs. Governments are corrupt and failing those who depend upon them. But most importantly our environment has reached a crisis state. If it goes, none of the rest of the systems will matter because without an environment we can’t continue to exist.

When you look at the smaller systems and the needs that we were placing upon them, when crisis hit and problems arose we took action and transformed the systems into something new and better. It wasn’t until the need for change arose however that anything was done. The problem became an evolutionary driver for manifesting change in the system. Without a need for change, change does not occur. When crisis hits, change must occur.

As I mentioned in the first part of this series, change occurs in two ways. Incremental change is slow, almost constant transformation and growth. Breakthrough change is radical transformation. This type of radical transformation is only possible when we are able to view the problem from a different perspective and find a solution that wasn’t even possible with the previous limitations. As Einstein stated “Our problems can never be solved in the same state of consciousness in which we created them.” We can’t do more of the same and expect different results.

That’s where we are now as a species. We’ve hit a crisis point on many levels. As a species we are still relatively young. Any young species is biologically trying to achieve stability and flourish. To do this, members of the species will compete for food, resources and reproductive success. History has shown that if the species doesn’t learn to cooperate and share resources, often the species will go extinct. As a species we have been incredibly successful in our reproduction process; too successful in fact. We have over populated the planet due to unregulated reproductive habits. We have been so successful that we are draining the resources that we depend upon for food, water and shelter. We are draining resources and in the process destroying our environment.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that millions are dying of starvation each year while food rots in the fields and in storage silos here in America. Millions of people don’t have access to clean drinking water and water supplies are reaching critical low points around the globe. In America alone we have states fighting over water usage rights and aquifers are drying up. Due to an increase in global temperatures the ice caps are melting and this is causing sea levels to rise. Since we can’t un-melt an icecap, soon low lying coastal cities will be under water and the water systems will be contaminated by the inflow of salt water. Disease is out of control across the planet with new epidemics and pandemics showing up constantly. It should be abundantly clear to anyone paying attention that we cannot continue in the competitive state of consciousness in which we are currently existing and expect that things will just fix themselves and it will all magically work out. We are at a crisis point and something must change or we’re done.

Imagine for a moment if we could make one tiny change in our collective consciousness and in our behaviors and we stopped destroying each other and we began to work together as a species. Cooperation rather than competition. Consider what we could achieve if we could harness all of the technological, economic, scientific and intellectual energies from every nation. If we could only just stop fighting each other and cooperate, our achievements could literally transform our world completely. We have the ability and the knowledge to do most anything but as long as we allow ideological beliefs to separate us we will ultimately fail and fade into planetary history like millions of species before us.

Unfortunately it looks like it is going to take a deeper planetary disaster to wake up our full potential. It’s happening now on a small scale but it has to bubble up to our leaders before large scale change can occur. Just look at how we respond to natural disasters. While they are tragic when they occur, look at how we respond as a planetary body. It’s always beautiful to see the level of International response and cooperation to these disasters. It would seem however that only a global disaster of epic proportion is going to be big enough to force us all to stop fighting and work together despite our differences.

We are a planet in crisis and for the most part a species in denial. This crisis however will ultimately become the evolutionary driver which will cause us to evolve our thinking and our consciousness. At this point, evolution is the only viable way out of the situation that our own actions have created for us.

While I work on parts 3 & 4 of this series, I’ll leave you with this question…what positive vision of our future can you imagine if we all began working together? That vision can only become possible once we grasp it and hold our awareness on it.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Guiding Principles - Part 1

A couple of entries ago I mentioned that I’m a follower, fan and student of Barbara Marx Hubbard’s and her amazing work. Like her, I believe that we are a species which is in the process of making a major evolutionary transformation. Evolution is a continual process and one that escapes our conscious mind and eludes our daily vision because it is such a slow moving process. Yet, it is a constant force which by the sheer nature of our existence is affecting each and every one of us.

Given the belief that we are evolving as a species if we look at history as a teacher, what can we learn that might help us understand what is ahead for us as a species? Barbara has done a beautiful job of outlining what she sees as what we have learned. She has four basic beliefs, or principals that can help us make sense of the change we are witnessing every day of our lives across the planet. I want to share those with you and talk about each one as they relate to the messages I’m attempting to bring forth. It’s been said that if you want to understand your present, examine your past. If you want to know your future, examine your present.

In these principals Barbara uses the term “Nature” to represent all of the things of Life, not just meaning the trees and animals. The first guiding principal is “Quantum transformations are Nature’s tradition. The nature of Nature is to transform.

In the mundane world, change occurs in two ways. The first is “incremental”. This is change which happens over a protracted period and is slow and continual. The other type of change is “breakthrough” or “quantum”. This type of change occurs when incremental change hits a wall. Any process, entity or structure can slowly evolve and transform through incremental change for a finite amount of time and then to change any further it transforms into something which noticeably different from its original form. Take architecture for example. If you compare one of our modern skyscrapers with one of the huts you might see in an African village, you can see how the process and materials used has transformed the end product. At various points along the way various breakthroughs occurred in the process which allows us to create structures in a way that our ancient ancestors could never have imagined. So it is with life.

As I’ve said before everything that has manifested in the physical realm in which we exist is in the process of evolving. This is constant. For static structures such as buildings, equipment and other non-living entities, their evolution is to slowly decay and ultimately be destroyed or disintegrate. This is change which we can easily go out into the world and view. Just look at any old house and you can see how it has deteriorated, decayed and is slowly falling apart yet you know that when it was newly built it was in pristine form. If completely left alone, the house would fall apart, collapse and eventually decay into a pile of rubble. That pile of rubble is a quantum transformation from the new house that had been built in its place. Slow, incremental change occurred over many years until the structure could no longer support itself and then quantum change occurred.

If you consider for a moment the entire history of our planet you can see quantum transformations easily but the key is that you have to be willing to examine it with a very high-level eye. Looking back billions of years into our history, our Sun was born. As it exploded into existence it spewed forth the original building blocks of life which would eventually become our planet and us. All of the particles slowly began coalescing into lumps, clumps and rocks until enough of these rocks formed what we now know as Earth. Slowly over billions of years the Earth boiled, cooled, froze and melted and slowly became a nursery for life. Single cell life dominated the planet until a crisis point hit and those single cell life-forms began to work together to form multicellular life. Multicellular life eventually gave way to complex life-forms. These life-forms eventually became prehistoric plants and animals. The evolutionary processes continued until we arrive at the planet as we know it today.

Only by looking at that history can you really begin to see where the transformations occurred. First there was no planet then there was. There were no life-forms then there was life. Next came plants, then animals and finally humans. If you were alive through all of that and could only see the day to day miniscule changes which were occurring without considering the history you’d probably not see these quantum transformations. Each of these evolutionary changes occurred because of some need which arose within the species until it could no longer survive and was forced to radically transform in some way.

In addition to those types of changes, mutations also emerged. As other stars throughout our galaxy and other galaxies use up their fuel, the collapse inward and when they do they emit extremely powerful bursts of energy called “gamma ray bursts”. These are some of the most powerful bursts that we know of throughout the known Universe. Because of that power their effects can be felt billions of light-years away from the original collapsing star. These bursts can and do cause genetic mutations in DNA. Also, our star, the Sun, also emits solar flares as it burns its nuclear fuel. These solar flares can also trigger genetic mutations. These mutated species then begin their own slow evolutionary journey until they hit a quantum transformation point and make a shift. These shifts are the basis for the remaining three lessons which I will discuss in the few blog entries so please stay tuned.

I know that Evolutionary theory on the surface seems to fly in the face of Creationism but to me they support each other energetically. There is clearly a difference between an inanimate piece of metal and a living, breathing animal or human. That difference is the life that existed in those early single-cell life-forms. It is that consciousness which animated those single-cells and ultimately led them to work together to eventually become us. Where that consciousness originated is where the Creationism comes from but how that evolved into us is where evolution comes in. In fact our very birth process directly demonstrates that history. A sperm and egg merge to form one microscopic cell which grows and divides until it becomes a tadpole. That eventually grows into something that resembles a miniscule human baby and finally one day, as if by Creationism magic, a baby is born. The ability to consciously create life is an attribute that we assign to God, yet here we are doing it via the God-force within us.

What quantum transformations have you seen in your life and across the planet in your lifetime?