The Miracle of the Breath
By Roger Jahnke, OMD
You can live for days without food. You can live for hours without water. But you can only live for moments without breath.
The breath is the key to dozens of the most important doors in our lives – from stress mastery and childbirth to healing and enlightenment. Take a deep breath. Notice that it is easy, notice that it costs nothing – the breath is FREE.
Think of it. The breath, an inhalation is the first thing you do in this life. And the breath, an exhalation, is the last thing you do in this life. From moment to moment the breath sustains us. And in an ultimate sense our life is what happens between our first inhalation and our last exhalation.
Some people say, “I am already breathing, it’s how I stay alive.”
Obviously, this is true. Through the breath we sustain life. But here is the big question: Are you satisfied just to be alive, or do you want supreme vitality? Are you satisfied to be at the level of survival or do you want peak performance? Are you satisfied to operate at the level of usual consciousness, or do you aspire for enlightenment?
If you say “yes!” to stress mastery, healing, peace of mind and enlightenment, then this will be a powertool for you. When you evolve your relationship with the breath to a more conscious level a wide range of special abilities are cultivated: vitality, healing, peak performance in business, athletics and sexuality and even spiritual enlightenment.
The Chinese believe that energy and breath are one thing known as Qi, that is responsible for everything from healing and longevity to spiritual immortality. Taiji and Qigong are based in the regulation of the breath along with body control and mind focus. In India the Yogis believe that breath focus is a key to boundless energy known as Prana. Prana cultivation leads to clear mindedness and spiritual enlightenment.
Science has demonstrated that careful modification of the breath has a positive effect on brain function, immune potential, pain tolerance and the body’s natural mechanism of self-repair and healing.
So, both ancient and modern sources confirm that the breath is the key to a large array of personal benefits.
The breath is so simple that we have found it difficult to believe that it could have such incredible power. Deepening the breath and focusing the mind only takes a moment of time and requires very little effort. And yet an immense number of things occur when you take a deep, slow, relaxed breath. The breath itself is comprised of several components that most people have never stopped to notice.
So, take a deep breath, inhale slowly in through the nose. And then exhale slowly out through the nose. Notice that it takes about ten seconds. Notice that little effort is required.
Let’s break this simple breath into its component parts; it will astound you to realize how much is going on.
First, you must decide to focus on the breath – it is an act of consciousness
Think about it, you never take a deep breath automatically. Only little babies who have absolutely no cares spontaneously breathe deeply, using the diaphragm – the dome shaped muscle at the base of the ribs. Maybe if a lion appeared in the doorway you might breath in deeply as you let out a startled “ohh!” or “yikes!” And of course if you run or dance for a while, you will begin to breathe deeply.
Otherwise, we do not spontaneously breath deeply. To take a deep breath, you must decide to. When we make a decision to do or not do something it is an act of consciousness. Therefore, taking this deep breath is consciousness practice. This is the key reason for why breath practice is associated with so many skills, from the practical to the enlightened. Breath practice is consciousness practice. As consciousness practice, breath practice is spiritual practice.
In stress mastery, childbirth, healing, chanting and meditation – all acts of purposeful and conscious self-control – the practice is initiated by the breath. And the breath is initiated when the individual elects to, decides to deepen the breath.
Before the first breath is taken, this act of conscious awareness must occur.
Second, you must relax
Have you ever remembered to breath deeply when you are tense? Have you ever seen tense people remember to breathe? No, in both cases. It is impossible to take a deep breath unless you purposefully relax.
So, before you begin breath practice you have to have a relaxation practice. This is the immensely profound nature of the simple act of breath practice. It is not just the breath alone, but the breath in relationship, first to consciousness and the to relaxation, that creates the magic.
Third, now you actually breath deeply
Finally, you actually take in the breath – deep and slow and relaxed. This is the most effortful aspect of the breath, the inhalation. If there is any work that occurs in breath practice, this is it. Notice that little effort is required. You can either fill to the top and hold for a moment or fill to the top and spill into the exhalation.
Forth, exhale and relax again
Here you simply let go and allow the air to escape from the lungs. It is a second relaxation. Now there is absolutely no effort. This is simply like falling into a state of deep relaxation relaxation. It is here that the great benefits of the practice are gained. This is the jumping off point for performance enhancement, healing or transcendence practices.
Amazing – so simple yet so profound
All of this happens in the simple act of breathing. The seemingly inconsequential act of taking a deep breath is actually a multi-faceted act. Each piece links the act of breath practice to a number of meaningful sub-parts. As we will investigate later, these components activate neurotransmitters, circulatory potential, nutritional resources, self-healing mechanisms, brain wave changes and much more.
At the same time, by beginning the practice in this way you have consciously separated yourself from the complexities and tensions of life, elected to focus on some act of personal improvement and entered into a conscious state that creates the foundation for purposeful self-empowerment.
You have stepped up to the doorway that leads to greater personal potential in both the practical and spiritual arts and sciences of personal empowerment (TWO TIMES). In your grasp, you hold the key that will unlock the door. The key is the breath.
Decide to breath deeply, now relax, take a breath in and then fall into a deep, purposeful moment of relaxation as you exhale. Notice, you can feel your internal environment shift into an altered and potentiated state.
That is the power tool of all ancient cultures, the starting point in all empowerment practices, the first act in all self-healing methods and the initiating gesture in all spiritual practices.
The breath is a golden key to personal transformation. Notice, your breath is never not there. From now until the conclusion of this life, you can use it anytime, for no cost to open the door to your own more empowered self.
Dr. Roger Jahnke, OMD – has practiced clinical Chinese medicine for over 30 years. He has traveled to China 8 times to research Qigong and Tai Chi. He is a co-founder of the National Qigong Association and is director of training and research at the Institute of Integral Qigong and Tai Chi IIQTC, http://IIQTC.org and http://FeelTheQi.com. Dr. Jahnke is the author of The Healer Within, which is widely used in wellness and health promotion programs, and The Healing Promise of Qi, which became an instant classic of mind-body practice and energy medicine. He, along with his colleagues have recently published the most comprehensive review of the Qigong and Tai Chi research literature in the American Journal of Health Promotion (AJHP). The Integral Qigong and Tai Chi Teacher Training program at the IIQTC is considered by many to be among the most credible Teacher Training programs outside of China.