The Breath and Faking It
Article ID: 13605
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: November 1st. 2009
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A few months ago, I had a break-through in my meditation practice. It was one of those “duh” moments when I finally realized and 'grokked' something that now seems so simple and makes me wonder why I didn’t know it all along.
I’m a periodic insomniac. It’s nothing new. I remember being 3 years old and unable to fall asleep. As an adult, once every five or six weeks it hits me for several days. Nothing I do or don’t do helps.
My husband is the opposite. He can announce that he’s going to sleep and within 90 seconds I hear snores from his side of the bed or the sofa or the car. Over the years, he’s told me how he does it, but his advice had never helped. It never made sense to me.
One night, a few months ago, I was wide-awake around 3 a.m. Everyone in the room, but me, was asleep. We co-sleep, so both babies were in the room with us. Imagine being immersed in the thick alpha waves of three deeply sleeping people and not being able to join them. I admit I was jealous of their snores. Relaxation techniques, meditation, visualization and even making up stories did not work, and I knew I was in for a long sleepless night. Since our youngest was only two months old, I couldn’t even get up to read. My movement would waken him, and he needed his sleep.
I lay there, not sleeping, listening to the deep breathing of the baby. If you have ever watched a baby sleep, to say that a sleeping baby breathes deep is an understatement. A baby breathes with his entire body, and even more so in sleep. His belly fills up like a balloon and empties out as if deflated. “A complete breath” is the expression that comes to mind. To me a baby has a more natural breath than an adult. They don’t carry as much stress or tension in their bodies. Their diaphragms aren’t constricted and tight from lack of use. There are not tension knots in their throats. Their breath, I would think, is closer to how our breath is supposed to be.
That night, I started noticing the pattern of my babies’ breathing. There is no interruption or pause between the inhalation and the exhalation; it is a smooth in and out. Then there is a slight pause before they draw in another breath. Their breath goes something like this: in and out, slight pause, in and out, slight pause. The pause is not long, maybe a half a second to a second at most.
Babies are nose breathers, inhaling and exhaling through the nostrils. The breath is deep, expanding both the lungs and diaphragm completely. Their entire body moves up and down with each breath.
Now, I’m not a person who naturally breathes deeply. A friend of mine has said that I merely ventilate myself. My breath, I admit, is generally shallow. It takes an hour of yoga or thirty minutes of deep meditation to make my diaphragm relax and my breath deepen without force or focus.
Lying there that night listening to my babies breathe, I don’t know why, but I forced myself to imitate them. At first it was hard. I was using parts of my lungs I don’t normally use and stretching my diaphragm more than it’s used to. After a couple of minutes, it grew easier, sooner than I had expected. I lay there, breathing in and breathing out, as deep as I could. Breathing in and breathing out, mimicking the breath of little babies.
Next thing I knew, it was morning, and I had slept through the rest of the night. Wow, I thought. What happened? The next night, still sleepless, I tried it again. And again, I feel asleep.
I had always thought that deep breathing was a product of physical and mental relaxation brought on by meditation or yoga. When I forced it, as I did, it was neither comfortable nor relaxing. It did not feel natural. Rather, it was strenuous, awkward and difficult. Why, I used to wonder, would I begin my meditation by doing something that is physically hard. It was easier for me to enter an alpha state through mental focus and relax my body, which naturally deepens my breath, than initially to focus on breathing deeply. Was I wrong?
Over the next several weeks, what I discovered with my nightly experiments was that, while forcing my breath to mimic that of a sleeper, even though it was not occurring naturally and was uncomfortable and awkward, it forced my mind and body into a sleep pattern. Faking the breath faked out the mind and body and produced the mental state I wanted.
I tried this new outlook on breathing in other facets. Paying attention to my breath while I was meditated, I noticed how it was different from the breath of sleep. When meditating, there is an added pause, at least for me, between inhalation and exhalation. It went something like: in, pause, out, pause.
My realization made me think of the meditation guides I read long ago saying to focus on the breath. I thought they meant as a foci, as something to concentrate on in order to relax the mind. I didn’t realize it was also a way to learn what your breath is like while meditating in order to reproduce the physical and mental effects using only the breath – no foci necessary.
During ritual I can use my breath to force myself into a deeper alpha state, which is better to feel and control ritual energies. During trance work, when I find myself distracted, the utilization of breath can bring the mind back to the trance.
My discovery that deep breathing, even if awkward and uncomfortable, still leads the body and mind to the desired destination has deepened my meditation practice and trance-work. I am now able to meditate, even when my mind, at first, does not want to focus. An added benefit is that my breathing is now naturally deeper than before, which has physical as well as mental and emotional advantages. Plus, my sleepless nights are now rare – well, except for when the baby keeps me up.
Copyright: Written in 2007.
Also published as MotherBear in ADF's Oakleaves #43 Winter 2008.
Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
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