Breathing in Ecstasy
by Arno Nistal Ten Veen
Breathing in Ecstasy
In this article, Arno gives you some insights into how the way you breathe is directly related to how you feel, and how you exchange energy with life itself with all of your life. May this article inspire you to keep breathing all the time.
Inhale and Exhale
Whether you experience stress, relaxation or happiness, your breath is always a reflection of you. Just for a moment, observe your inhale. How is your inhale? Can you easily and freely take a deep and nourishing inhale? Your inhale stands for how you can let life in, or take life in. Are you allowing yourself to be touched and nourished by life experiences, by people, by nature? Do you have the feeling that you can take in enough air or is it blocked somewhere?
Do not judge yourself! It will inhibit your breathing. Just observe as neutral as you can. Now, let’s observe the exhale as well. The quality of your exhale reflects the quality of your letting go, your relaxation. Can you let go on your exhale, does it feel it effortless? Or are you pushing the air out?
Maybe somehow you do not really want to exhale, some people keep a lot of residue air inside their lungs (a little is “normal”). Can you allow the exhale to happen completely by itself, without your control?
Also, on your exhale you give expression of yourself into the world by your voice or any other expression of your energy. Good breathing means a good balance between inhale and exhale. In my workshops and individual coaching, most of the time I have to work on both sides of the breath… And also a lot on the pause between the inhale and exhale. A lot of people stop the breath after inhaling or exhaling.
When you do a difficult yoga pose…
If you stop breathing, you will die. If you breathe deep, you will feel alive! It is that simple. Everybody can understand it. And we all know it deep down: when we’re stressed out, we hold our breath. When somebody criticizes us, we minimise or hold the breath.
When we have a conflict with our partner, we minimise our breath. When they yell at us in frustration, we hold our breath. When we do a difficult yoga pose, we hold the breath. What’s going on here?
All-day, every day, there are many circumstances in which we minimise or hold our breath. We do this out of fear. Fear of feeling overwhelmed, fear of hurt. It is a survival mechanism. And we have become really good at it. Modern-day man has become so afraid of pain, of feelings, of emotions… We don’t want to feel any ’negative’ feelings and we all want instant – and constant – pleasure.
By breathing less, we feel less. By controlling the breath we think we can control ourselves. We repress our painful and unwanted feelings in our bodies, into our cells and organs, deep into our musculature. We inhibit the free movement of our most important breathing muscle: the diaphragm.
The constant denial and repression lead to the numbing of our senses, (which is why we do it in the first place). This in turn leads to more suffering and more repression and bad breathing. No wonder we feel lost, cut off, lonely and disconnected.
The pattern of holding and minimizing the breath is called sub-ventilation. In average, people use only about 30% of their maximum breathing potential. That is so little, considering that the breath is your most important source of energy. To sustain yourself, you need water, food, sunlight, love and air… Just a few minutes without breathing and it will all be over.
This situation of constant sub-ventilation creates a constant alarm in your whole system because you need Oxygen, you need Prana (life force). It leads to constant alertness, nervousness, anxiety and fear. And this is the situation of the world, of humanity… There is far too much fear around. And fear can make people do crazy things.
During sub-ventilation, your brain will interpret your situation as very stressful. It sends signals to your glands, that in return produce stress hormones: Adrenaline and Cortisol. These will have a deep effect on your Body-Mind-Spirit.
Fear, anger and anxiety go up even further, the hormones will make you breathe specifically with your secondary breathing muscles. Together with the fact that we don’t want to feel all that anxiety, fear and frustration, this will result in even more stress and shallow, irregular and chaotic breathing, probably mostly in the chest.
So, more fear, anxiety and bad breathing is the result. Over some time this can lead to all kinds of discomfort and disease, like hyperventilation, burn-outs, depression, cloudiness of Mind – not being able to concentrate or focus - and a lack of purpose and belonging.
Reconnecting Body, Mind and Spirit
We need to reconnect with our bodies, our minds and souls. We need to go deeper inside ourselves. We need to learn to relax in the face of fear. We need to keep breathing, with everything - with all our feelings and situations… We need to become friends with ourselves again. Friends with our bodies, friends with our breath and friends with our feelings.
If you are not feeling good at the moment, then you are truly blessed! Your body gives you a clear signal! How beautiful is that? Learn to embrace and appreciate all signals (all feelings) because they give us information. Our breath, our feelings and emotions will always give us direction in our lives. They give us a clear sense of who we are, what we like and dislike, they give us a clear sense of what makes us healthy and happy.
Conscious breathing will surely bring you higher up on the emotional ladder. Conscious breathing will reconnect you with your physical body and your energy body. Creating vitality and sufficient energy for all the things you want to do.
You cannot be deeply relaxed and simultaneously have shallow breathing. You cannot have deep rhythmic breathing and at the same time feel stressed.
Shallow breathing makes you rigid, stiff, stuck! Not just in your musculature - in your body - but also your mind and spirit. Creating all sorts of discomforts and diseases. Proper breathing, on the other hand, leads to fluidity, flow and flexibility in Body, Mind and Spirit. It will lead to an overall sense of health and well-being.
Healing yourself is easy! The breath is so deeply connected and intertwined with all processes of your Body, Mind and Soul. If you heal your breathing patterns you will heal on many other levels as well!
So, whatever happens, keep breathing. And if you do so, you will stay centred, relaxed, at ease. You will remain the witness, the meditator. Detached from all the dramas and illusions that surround us, and that is inside you as well.
Harmony: Oneness of Body, Mind and Spirit
The more you breathe, the more you will feel. The more you will feel alive. Deep and regular or rhythmic breathing results in the opening of all your senses. Your energy starts flowing freely and easily in and out again. You become fresh, alive and sensitive to yourself and others. All of the systems in your Body-Mind-Spirit start working together as one. You no longer deny and repress your feelings. Instead, you embrace your feelings, you expand your awareness of your physicality: You incarnate in your body, meaning you penetrate your awareness, your presence, deep into your body. Body and Mind become as one. You experience Harmony within yourself, and also in the outer world, things will fall into place. This way of breathing results in ease, flow, wellness, vitality, strength, centeredness. and happiness!
Deep rhythmic breathing is healthy for you! Your brain will reward you by making the glands produce endorphins for you. They are natural happiness hormones. They are also natural painkillers. You will feel just great, happy and connected if you breathe properly.
Breathing Exercise: Pure Consciousness
During my coaching and in the workshops I teach, I offer a different breathing technique than the one in this blog article. This one is a very good basis for deepening the breath and learning to decondition the breath. This technique is the Alpha and the Omega. It is the beginning, the basis, but also the end. You can practice this always and everywhere.
Here we go:
Sit down in a quiet place, with a straight spine. For the next 5 – 15 minutes observe your breath as it is. Remember: observing is not analysing and is also not judging. Be neutral… Follow your breath with loving and kind attention. Thoughts will come and distract you. Just bring your attention back to the breath. Again and again.
Sometimes this might be needed every other second because the thinking is fast and chaotic… Instead of stepping on the train of thoughts, going along with it and losing yourself in it, just stay focussed. Focus on the breath, focus on your feelings, on your physical sensations. Feel the breath moving in and out of the body.
Feel how your belly, chest and sides of the ribs are expanding on your inhale. Inhale without much effort. And feel how the exhalation is a deep letting go, a surrender, a relaxation. Let your exhale be completely effortless. The longer you will observe the breath, the easier it will go and the deeper and fuller it will become… Relax! It is through your relaxation and loving and kind attention that the breath will slowly expand, that the stress on the breathing muscles will soften.
Allow this shift to deeper relaxation and deeper breathing over the 5 -15 minutes while you do the exercise. Make sure that you are not the one doing it. You are allowing it. You are not doing anything. You are just pure awareness. Pure Consciousness.
- Arno ten Veen
Want to read more from Arno? Good news!
Arno wrote a book: Adem en Extase - de Bevrijding (Dutch only). His book is available in our yoga schools at the Nieuwe Achtergracht in Amsterdam and at the Scheveningseweg in Den Haag; or get it online here. Explore the possibilities of your breath in one of Arno's workshops Breathing in Ecstasy or The Pranayama Journey. Want to get introduced to Pranayama? Join Marilou in her Introduction to Pranayama Practice workshop.
Arno began with meditation and self-healing at the age of 16. By the age of 23 he was fully on the path of personal growth and spirituality. He has trained in Rebirthing, Massage and Meditation and has studied for 17 years with his spiritual guide Osho.