I think it’s finally time for us to allow ourselves a little break. Many of us have definitely earned the rest, but every one of us needs it. And although I say ‘let’s take a break’ I don’t mean flip on a YouTube video and tune out for fifteen minutes – an escapist’s abandonment of reality and responsibility. I intend merely to redirect your awareness towards your breath and your will in order to offer a few minutes of physical, mental, and spiritual refuge.
To begin, I ask that you join me in a simple breathing exercise. The purpose of this exercise is primarily to gently separate your present, conscious mind from the ‘monkey mind’, a Buddhist conception of the restless and agitated mental condition which concentrates both too hard and too fleetingly on sources of anxiety (bills, the current socio-political situation, school, personal and communal health, etc.). By separating the two minds one can find a tranquility that continues after the practice.
Here is the exercise:
Slowly and naturally deepen your breath. As you do so, find the path of the breath as it travels through your body. You may observe this current in a few different ways: traveling up and down your spine, rising to the chest and returning to the stomach, or as if your whole body expands and contracts along with the pressure of the breath. Follow the current and let that cool sensation of calming energy spread throughout your entirety. Allow yourself to receive and experience any impulses, whether it be a tingling sensation, a color, or even a sound. Once your concentration has been embedded in this flow, try to preserve this feeling for at least 10 breaths. You need not maintain rigid concentration upon the breath, but you may enjoy or even feel the need to prolong this super simple breathing exercise to further calm the mind.
Although usually associated with traditions of the East such as Buddhism, Sufism, and Daoism, cultivation of the breath is found in most spiritual traditions, including that of Native Americans and early Christians. In the Yogic tradition, out of which the western world’s trendier hatha yoga practice arises, pranayama (breath control) is a method to purify the body, mind, and spirit. In my own experience, pranayama has been the most effective method for immediate stress relief as well as prolonged mental acuity and vitality. This is because the breath affects us on our physical, mental, and spiritual levels. Physically, the breath oxygenates the blood, causing our heart and brain to work more efficiently. Mentally, controlled breath can trigger cognitive states through the synchronization of the breath and brain waves. In practice, one can control their mental states through breath such that it is possible to self-induce feelings of calm and alertness (delta and beta brain waves respectively). Spiritually, the breath is the current of life from which we are animated. Controlling this breath unifies the mental and physical, and also beckons the transcendental. This breathing exercise is not an instruction for enlightenment, rather it is an invitation of divine healing forces through the acknowledgement of the self.
So if you found that worthwhile, or maybe surprised yourself at the power of focusing on your breath, feel free to supplement your interests with these films:
“Yoga is the challenging study of consciousness itself, understanding one’s body, understanding one’s emotions, understanding one’s mind and beyond that, understanding one’s true self. Conquering the fretful disturbances of the world around, great thinkers researched deep into the self. This was an epic project, spread across many centuries. A science of life was developed. To help us to know ourselves better. To help us to attain the peace and joy which can be found within. Yoga quite literally means to unite our self with the higher self, which is in us and is all pervasive. It means to join the subject with the object. To do this, we have stripped away the many layers of momentary sensory perceptions, which assail our senses. These keep us forever bound to the material world. Our perceptions must be detached from the external world, to look within.”Yoga: The Divinity of Grace. Films On Demand. 20 November 2020, https://fod.infobase.com/p_ViewVideo.aspx?xtid=128488
“The city of Rishikesh, a center of great spiritual energy, is home to the renowned yogi Swami Chaitanya. This program introduces both hatha and raja yoga while observing Chaitanya meditate; perform a fire ritual by the Ganges; engage in shatkriyas, internal purification methods, including sutra neti and dhouti; and visit with sadhus and other spiritual seekers. He also warns against false asceticism. The goal of yoga? To make contact with the inner self and enter into the ultimate state of peace in which the soul rejoices.”Yoga: A Voyage in Search of the Self. Films On Demand. 20 November 2020, https://fod.infobase.com/p_ViewVideo.aspx?xtid=33904
“This course will enhance conventional therapeutic approaches and provide alternative methods to treatment. Course content includes breathing techniques, muscle strengthening and re-education techniques for the entire body, as well as pain and anxiety management techniques. These techniques are geared for clinical application, rehab clients, wellness programs, and home programs for many others.”Yoga: Mind and Body, Parts 1 & 2. Alexander Street Press. 20 November 2020, https://video.alexanderstreet.com/watch/yoga-mind-and-body-part-1?utm_campaign=Video&utm_medium=MARC&utm_source=aspresolver
“Namasté Yoga Flow presents a workout that features a fluid integration of meditative motion with the creative energy of breath. The DVD enables practitioners to experience a unique and dynamic presentation of enhanced sun salutations that combines ways to strengthen and lengthen the body, and stimulates the mind to be alert, creative, and focused. In addition, the DVD explains and demonstrates that elements of the practice can be fused into a healthy, balanced way to function in all dimensions of the human experience.”Namasté Yoga Flow. Alexander Street Press. 20 November 2020, https://video.alexanderstreet.com/watch/namaste-yoga-flow
I love this movie because of how authentic the life and teachings of Yogananda are. Somehow, documentaries, and this one especially, are able to capture the divine grace of people like Paramahansa Yogananda. This film details his mystical life and teachings, as well as the results of his work in bringing the ideas of Yoga to the western world.
“Becoming Nobody is the quintessential portal to Ram Dass’ life and teachings. His ability to entertain and his sense of humor are abundantly evident in a conversation that brings us around to address the vast question of ultimate freedom. Becoming Nobody represents the core arc of Ram Dass’ teachings and life: whether as Dr. Richard Alpert, the eminent Harvard psychologist, or as Ram Dass who serves as a bridge between Eastern and Western philosophies, he has defined a generation of inner explorers and seekers of truth and wisdom.”
Coming soon: In Part Two of Taking a Break, I will offer some lighthearted, forgiving, comfortable, enjoyable, and pleasant movies to watch if you need a longer break or a hearty laugh. Stay tuned!
This blog post and the upcoming “Taking a Break, Part Two,” are brought to you by guest student blogger and IU Media Services student staff member Duncan Hardy.