Last week Briana and I had a deeply gratifying experience. We led the first training of our advanced life coaches – we call them “Illuminators” – and it went amazingly well. They really lived up to their name.
Even before we developed the curriculum we had a sense that these people would be “emissaries of light” – shining light into their communities, seeing the light in their clients and calling it forth.
They were already a bunch of bright souls when they arrived, but the processes we did together helped them shed whatever veils may have been dimming their light, and they were truly luminous by the end of our time together. The biggest overall shift for the group probably happened during the breath work we did together – a technique known as “conscious breathing.”
Through simply breathing into all parts of themselves, many of our students were able to gain clarity on longstanding problems or release decades of pain. Some asked how it was possible that such dramatic transformation could be possible just through breathing. First, it’s worth pointing out that there were a few other factors: There was a safe, loving space being held by Briana and me, by our helpers, and by all the participants. There was an atmosphere of trust and an intention to heal and grow. There was music. (We should never underestimate the power of music to affect us and promote opening.) These factors amounted to a ritual – a container with a stated purpose – rather than just a bunch of people breathing.
Finally, there was the breath itself. To me, it makes perfect sense that we should all possess a profound tool for healing. The way we breathe can alter our circulation. It can change our thinking and shift our mood. It can alleviate pain. It can open our awareness to parts of ourselves that we’ve kept hidden. Plus, it’s free and it’s always available.
This is an especially good time of year to remember your breath because autumn is the season associated with the lungs in Chinese Medicine. It’s also a phase when we’re prompted to let go, like all the trees around us. Fall is such an apt name, since the sun falls to a lower arc in the sky, the leaves fall, and there’s a natural decline of light and energy around us. It’s common to feel a little somber at this time. But if we stay mindful and don’t cling to what’s changing – instead just breathing through it, watching it, feeling it without resistance, noticing its beauty – it can be a graceful process that helps us to go deep inside ourselves. During a period that may seem like a loss, there’s an opportunity to become keenly aware of what can never be lost. And every breath offers the same opportunity.
So, the next time you’re struggling with an unpleasant thought or emotion, I encourage you to try breathing into it. Take just a minute to drop into your body. While focusing on this thought or emotion, see what feeling arises in your body. Invite it to be here, even if it’s unpleasant. Try to get a sense of its shape, its weight, perhaps even its color or texture, and then take a breath into that feeling. Imagine it inflating and deflating with your breath. Stay with it for a few breaths and notice what happens. Does it change? Does it call you to look at something within yourself? Can you be brave and see where it takes you?
If you have a little more time, you could try taking ten to twenty connected breaths into whatever pain or problem is on your mind. It’s sort of like a mini-cleanse. Lie down on your back without a pillow. Set an intention to open this issue and receive clarity on it – or just to be energized and cleansed.
Inhale fully, letting the breath fill your belly first and then your chest. At the end of the inhale, without pausing, let the breath immediately fall out of your lungs (rather than pushing it out). At the end of the exhale, again without pausing, immediately start the next inhale (belly to chest). When you’ve inhaled fully, without pausing, let the breath immediately fall out of your lungs again. And so on. As you breathe, imagine that you’re drawing light or universal life energy into yourself, pulling it deep into every cell, into all parts of your consciousness, and into any hidden nooks and crannies.
This style of breathing is called “connected breathing” because each inhale is connected to the next exhale, which is connected to the next inhale, without any pausing or holding. You can do this form of breathing either through your nose or your mouth. Mouth breathing tends to be stronger, and may have a greater ability to help you access old information and emotions. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that on your own, have a friend join you, or stick to nose breathing. After ten to twenty breaths, return to normal breathing. Since you’ll be hyperventilating, it’s possible to feel a little woozy, so stay reclined until the feeling passes. Notice what shifts or arises as a result of this opening process. Are there parts of you calling for even more opening, or even more light?
Meanwhile, during this season of diminishing light, I encourage all of us to consciously notice all the light that remains. When we pay attention to it, it grows. Not just sunlight, lightbulbs, and candles, but also the moments of grace that appear – like the flipping of a light switch that brings insight during a time of confusion. And the luminous people we encounter, who brighten our day. And most importantly, the light within ourselves – our inner Illuminator – that fuels our passion and lets us see through the drama to the deeper story of love throughout our world.