I have been thinking a lot about breathing lately. Part of this is certainly because I am getting back to my yoga classes, during which I lie on the floor in the dark and take directives about exhaling and inhaling. I’m not really very good at it yet. I find that whole synthesis of thought and action and meta-thought more than a bit intimidating. And then I tend to think myself into circles, and tightly wound ones at that. I have a feeling this is not the goal of the exercise.
But I have hope that I’ll get there. Tonight our teacher read us something about breathing being the link between the mind and the body–how being conscious of this simple and constant activity can, and I quote, however irresponsibly, this monk whose name I cannot recall, “make life more vivid and enjoyable.” I’ll buy that.
The thing is that, of course, we don’t have to think about breathing.
Breathe. Just breathe.
Isn’t that what we tell people who have suffered some terrible shock or catastrophe? It’s possible that in such moments our bodies could fail us, but on the whole this constant process of breathing in and out happens entirely without our awareness.
And therein lies its mystery and its beauty. As I’ve been thinking about breathing lately, it’s not been in any kind of tantric way (though I don’t deny the benefits of such practice). Instead, I try to think consciously about what is happening in my body as I’m breathing. I think about air filling my lungs, all the way down to my miniscule alveoli. I think about the steady drumline of my heart, pumping blood to every corner and crevice of my body. I think about my bones and muscles that know instinctively how to walk, how to stretch themselves, how to hug and to hold. It’s an incredibly majestic thing, this human body. I am fully aware that even as I type this, there are more processes occurring in me than I could fit on this page. People who study and know the body far better than I do must feel these sensations all the time—they must think about their joints and tendons as they are tying their shoes, consider how their eyes were moving and their synapses firing as they wake from a vivid dream, comprehend how moisture moves through the body as tears dampen their lashes.
Even with the very little bit I know and recall about how the body works, I still catch myself staring in awe sometimes. When I’m lying in bed, I rest my finger on my pulse; when a tiny cut produces an equally tiny red drop of blood, I think about how it was blue until it hit the surface; when I breathe, I try to imagine my lungs expanding and contracting, safely hidden away behind the bars of my ribcage.
I’m not really sure that this is what the monk had in mind, but I do find that it deeply enriches my sense of myself, that it binds my mind to my body, even just a little bit, to think about things that do not require thinking.