Friday, December 24, 2010

Take A Breath

“Take a deep breath and count to ten,” is the advice we give to someone who is getting angry.  Practices like yoga and meditation use breathing as a technique to achieve a relaxed and balanced state.  Exercise, singing, and intimate relations all incorporate deep breathing and have been shown to be very helpful for emotional and physical well-being.  Studies have proven that proper breathing positively impacts the heart, the brain, digestion, and the immune system.  It’s the easiest thing we can do -  but it is often a neglected and underutilized tool.

Take a moment right now to breathe deeply five times.   Don’t you feel better?

The Tanya, which is a central text in Chassidic philosophy, stresses that G-d did not breathe life into Adam, but rather, G-d blew the life-force into the first human.  Therefore, if we are to access the full power of G-d’s essence throughout our days, we must emulate the Creator by expelling our breath with great force.

A Kabbalistic text called the Bahir uses an analogy of a glass blower to explain the five levels of soul.  The breath that the artist blows into the tube is associated with the Neshama, that part of our souls that contains the ability to talk and reason.  The air that reaches the molten glass and produces the desired shape is related to Ruach, the aspect of our souls that animates and moves us.  The created glass vessel itself is our Nefesh, the dimension of our souls that sustains our physical bodies.  The breath that is inside the artist before he blows is our Chaya, which represents our higher souls residing with the angels in the upper worlds.  Finally, the artist’s desire or will to blow is our Yechida, which is intimately connected to G-d’s Infinite Self.  We can experience our entire souls simply by consciously filling our lungs to capacity and breathing out completely!

Shallow breathing is our normal state and is good enough for our continued existence, but deep breathing is vital to our achieving greatness.  We must intentionally override the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates our normal body functions, in order to access the tremendous G-dly energy that is inside us.  The vitality produced by forceful breathing can push us out of mundane routines in pursuit of something higher.  Therefore, we should institute a daily regimen that promotes deep breathing.  For example, the Jewish cycle of praying three times daily is an opportunity to focus attention on our breathing in a consistent and sustained way.  The afternoon prayer especially interrupts the frenzied activities of everyday life and creates the opportunity to reflect and refuel.  

We can also learn to use the power of our breathing when faced with difficult or anxious situations.  With practice, stressful moments can automatically trigger deep breathing instead of the shallow, rapid breathing typically induced by the fight or flight instinct.  This will give us the wherewithal to react to the situation in a balanced and measured way rather than panicking and making mistakes.  

Each of us possesses this key to accessing G-dly energy but often forget to use it.  We should challenge ourselves to learn how to consistently breathe properly.  This will give us the energy and balance needed to achieve the greatness for which we are destined.

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