Not only is our breath where the voluntary and the involuntary nervous system intersect, but also more deeply there is a connection to our soul. The flow of the breath is more than merely the physical intake of oxygen with the air – vital energy, qi or prana flows through our energy system in rhythm with the breath. This flow of prana increases in a direct ratio to the intensity of our awareness while breathing. When we visualize and begin to ‘feel’ the qi-flow in rhythm with our breath, qi fills our energy field increasingly.
Similarly the place from with the flow originates cannot be grasped by the physical senses or the mind: it is a mystery. WE inhale, pause, exhale and pause. Each active phase of the breath-flow is preceded by a lack of activity, or emptiness. We can say that the in-breath comes from emptiness and flows into emptiness, and the same for the out-breath. This emptiness in the pause between each active phase of the breath is the Unknown. Herein we find the soul connection.
I don’t know what the soul is. Many say that the soul is our individual stream of consciousness that has continuity beyond the physical death and that this “soul” merges, so to speak, with a new physical body at each re-birth. I am aware of the power of our concepts to create reality and thus I do not discount those experiences of re-birth of a ‘soul’ throughout repeated incarnations. I am also aware of the stasis of the ground of Being that is free of participation in incarnations and yet is connected to all physical experiences while at the same time being absolutely unattached. This Ground is of a dimension beyond being and non-being and yet is not different from both of these. Thus it is called Mystery within Mystery.
Nonetheless I do experience a soul connection when breathing mindfully. For me this soul connection has the quality of opening myself up to the influx of the vast spaciousness of the Mysterioso, as a friend of mine is fond of calling It. Thus, “soul-breathing” entails putting my attention on the felt connection to the Unknown, the Mysterioso, and the unlimited vastness that accompanies that quality from which all existence is sourced. Others may say that this is the direct connection with Source or with our own Heart. Whatever words are used, the essence for me is spaciousness. Perhaps most suffering in human life comes from a lack of spaciousness, a kind of congestion on a very deep soul level. If we are able to breathe from our soul, from this place of Mystery, then everything around us opens up, even when in the midst of seeming turbulence and conflict.
The practice is then to put all of my attention, all of my mind-body-spirit on the breath and to accompany the entire flow of the in-breath from beginning to end with my complete attention. In this way there is no place for anything else in my mind. Then I remain with my full attention on the breath while in the space of emptiness between the in-breath and the out-breath. I then am merged with the flow of the out-breath from beginning to end, keeping my attention alive more and more deeply and intensely. With this increased intensity of awareness I experience the pause and the space between the out-breath and the beginning of the next in-breath.
If I am able to keep my attention on the breath for five whole cycles, or the count of the fingers on one hand (touching each finger with the thumb to keep track), I will have consciously opened up to the influx of the soul into my energy field and a deeply restorative spaciousness will permeate my perception. I will begin to feel how the breath has a life of its own and it is not ‘I’ who is breathing, but I am being ‘breathed’. I begin to simply release more and more tension and so I allow the body, the rib-cage, the diaphragm etc. to open and make space for the breath to fill me. Then I release again and allow the physical structure of my body to ‘collapse’ and contract naturally and effortlessly more and more, releasing the flow of the breath until completely emptying itself again. In this space after the out-breath there may appear a longer phase of ‘no-breath’ and of effortlessness. Just watch for it and be happy when that happens. If it does, allow this space to expand as long as it feels comfortable. Enjoy, for that is the space where you sit uninterrupted alone in the company of your soul!