DAY 37: Practice Breath Awareness From an Early Age For a Healthy Mind
by Rajbir Kaur, Spiti, Himachal Pradesh (high altitude Himalaya), India, 1 August 2017
The workshop was conducted with young nuns aged between 6–15 years in a nunnery in Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, India.
The nunnery follows teachings of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Chanting, recitation and philosophical debates constitute their main practice. Practices like breath awareness and sitting still everyday for few minutes are generally not taught.
This workshop is a small initiative to instill correct sitting and breathing practices to young nuns from an early age. So it can enable them to sit comfortable during their longs hours of chanting and prayers and encourage meditation too. Moreover, living in a high altitude region where oxygen is relatively low, deep breathing can be really helpful for maintaining an overall health.
The workshop was spread over 3 days with a morning and evening session each day. Walking in open grounds amidst the mountains and sessions of drawing and coloring were also included in between.
Art & Science of Breath “The breath is the bridge or link between the body and the mind. Inhalation and exhalation are the two guards of the city of life. They remain awake doing their duties during all the states — waking, dreaming, and sleeping — and their behaviour changes instantly according to one’s thinking. Inhalation and exhalation are the vehicles through which the vital life force — travel in the living mechanism.
The most important aspect of breathing is diaphragmatic breathing. The average person uses his chest muscles rather than his diaphragm when he breathes, and such breathing is usually shallow, rapid and irregular. As a consequence the lower lobes of lungs, are not adequately ventilated, and the gas exchange which takes place between the air in the lungs and the blood is inadequate. With diaphragmatic breathing such inequalities between ventilation and perfusion are minimized. Diaphragmatic breathing is very simple, easy and beneficial, the habit of doing it has to be consciously cultivated before it can become automatic.”
— Swami Rama of the Himalayas (Swami Rama is a Himalayan sage who re-introduced the centuries old yogic teachings to the modern world in a systematic and scientific manner.)
How to sit
The first step is to learn to sit comfortably with a steady and aligned posture. We practiced to sit on floor as well as on chair keeping the spine straight and body relaxed.
Quick Tip —
Sit in a comfortable, steady position on floor or chair
Keep your head, neck and trunk in a straight line
Don’t overstretch the spine
Keep the body relaxed
How to Breathe
First we identified if anyone was doing chest breathing as it leads to a shallow breath and many diseases. Then abdominal breathing was introduced with a correct breathing pattern for exhalation and inhalation.
We formed teams to check each other and give feedback.
Over the 3 days we practiced to gently transition to abdominal breathing by learning to engage diaphragm. And those who were already doing it, worked on deepening their breath.
The same practice was done in lying down position also called ‘shavasana’. In the beginning it is easier to adopt and practice the correct breathing pattern in this posture compared to in a sitting position.
Bring awareness to the Breathing Process — Exhalation & Inhalation
Engage Diaphragm and Breath Abdominally
There should be No noise while breathing
Minimize the pause between exhalation & inhalation
No jerks & No irregularities in the breath
Keep the breath deep, smooth & continuous
Initially it will require a conscious effort to work on the breath and change the faulty habit patterns, so have patience & practice according to one’s own capacity.
We also had outdoor sessions in the fields where the nuns enjoyed some drawing and coloring.
Thus we ended our 3 days of playful learning by making a short film for everyone out there who may be inclined to experiment and experience what we did in the mystical Himalayas.
Here is a link to short film that we prepared on the last day of the workshop. Hope the young nuns here will inspire you to attempt and experience the simple yet profound practice of Breath Awareness.