Breathe! June 11 2019 
Five Extraordinarily Vital Items of Note about Breathing
I suppose it was inevitable, after yoga and sort of in the middle of meditation, that breathing would become the next fashion. We are on the verge but you see the idea burgeoning everywhere replete with knock out words like Vagus Nerve (which doesn’t stay in Vagus but wanders through your entire body) yogi, (who wouldn’t want to breathe like a yogi?) counting (ahh, sounds like I can control breathing) controlling breathing (see?) and of course the promised land, the outcome of “feel better right now no matter how little effort you make or how little you understand.”
Now that I have that off my chest, which rises and falls quite naturally and I must make this point here all on its own here are the Five Extraordinarily Vital Items of Note about Breathing promised in the title above.
Vital Item Number One: You know how to breathe. You have been breathing since you first sashayed onto this planet covered in a matrix of thick skin to protect you, ready for mama’s nipple to supply immunity along with nutriment, every cell of your body knowing how to grow and way way way before your sense of self and self needing to be in control to prevent chaos took over. You breathed in air. It was one of the first things you did and because you are reading this, I KNOW without doubt you’ve been successful ever since.
Vital Item Number Two: You do not want to breathe like a yogi. Real yogis still live. They live in caves. They live in caves in the high Himalayas in part because after they ticked off the box marked ‘yogi’ on their high school What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up sheet, their parents abandoned them to a cave. Their parents took all the wifi (as far as I know) but left a carpet and some food thingies, enough to have lasted until the youthful yogi found living on nettles (read the story of Milarepa) more conducive to yogi lifestyle.
I know many people here in the west refer to themselves as yogis but that’s kind of like calling those three wheeled vehicles for old people “motorcycles.” It’s close but not exactly what the originators had in mind. Real yogis don’t live in their culture never mind in ours. Caves, remember?
If you met a real yogi you would not like him. Or her although the hers usually frequent the streets of Delhi, or Calcutta disguised as beggar women. True story. They are called Chodpas and are likely to scream invectives at you if you try to offer them help. They practice magic and don’t like their mantras to be interrupted. Again, true story. And if you’ve been screamed at by a Chodpa, you know how wrath feels.
Finally, yogis are filthy dirty from not washing for many, many years, their teeth have softened and fallen out (nettles, remember?)they rely on rituals for their information and practice breathing so they can master walking six feet in a single step. Or heating their bodies through Tdumo, a form of intense heat rising from the very bottom of their spines up through their flesh, hot enough to dry a sheet wrapped around their bodies when they dip into one of the freezing cold streams of the Himalayas, hot enough to dry that sheet and to keep themselves from hypothermia. That is the test. Their teacher will test them by dunking them in a stream and they have to be able to breathe enough to heat their bodies to dry the sheet and prevent…see? So that kind of breathing is not what you need/want unless you intend to stand upon a street corner in the NorthEast of the US or anyplace in Canada in February with nothing but a sheet on. But I don’t recommend this since you’ll find yourself far from a stream but very close to a padded wall. Or three.
Vital Item Number Three: Counting. Counting is used by yogis to learn to control their breath. Why? Because they want to be dunked in cold water…see above. Counting their breaths allows them to learn things like how to fly. Or at least how to step six feet at a single step, thereby moving through the entirely rugged and inhospitable land of their home, India or what used to be called Tibet. And still is but we know differently. So unless you plan to spend all your time learning about how to use breath to allow you to move six feet in a single step it’s a waste.
Counting your breath, either in or out, is dangerous. Why? Because it keeps you focused in your head and not, please read this next bit carefully, not inside your skin which is what gentle focus on breath is for: to learn how to sit gently and easily on the inside of your skin. What does this mean?
It means that most of your life you live above your eyebrows, considering how much in control of life you are: if you are in control you may allow your mind to let you feel good. For a moment. If you feel out of control, maybe like kicking something, or crying like a baby, you feel shame and somehow less human or at least less of what you were taught being a grown up requires.
Luckily for you, I have always refused to grow up. Having spent much time in India and in Tibetan temples and meditating and discovering a great deal about breathing here’s a secret: when you cry like a baby you are breathing. Breathing heavily. And breathing very well. So learn to cry like a baby.
The other part of that baby stuff is if you start to breathe with intense conscious focus you will cry like a baby. Or as is the case with many meditators in the East, you will crack open like an overripe chestnut and your insides will leak in what is known as a breakdown. This is because you are not supposed to try to control your breathing through your conscious mind. You’ve been breathing all your life, remember? And without control remember? You know how to do it right?
Vital Item Number Four: Then what is all this stuff about breathing? Here’s what—stop reading and bring your mind gently to wherever your breath is right now. Well, you had to keep reading, so that was a trick direction. Just let your eyes wander these pages and let your mind sink into where your breathing is already taking place. That’s it. Stay for a few seconds (you won’t be able to stay longer at first because your mind wanders faster than a toddler in a toy room. Let it. That’s its purpose. Your purpose is, like a kind parent, to watch it and gently bring it back to where your breathing is. This wandering and bringing back is called meditation.) Then return to your breathing, gently letting your mind rest on wherever your breath is.
If you continue in this way your breath, as though it takes the hand of your mind and becomes its friend, will relax and grow more deep. You will naturally then inhale and exhale a little more. Keep doing this.
If you keep doing this, sometimes you will cry. Sometimes you will feel sad. Sometimes you will get giddy and laugh. Yes, emotions will erupt.
Vital Item Number Four: Breath connects us instantly to our emotions. Yes, those horrible rolling expressions of intensity that you have successfully remitted to the basement of your life, contained in a small box in the corner of that dark basement, those expressions will out the box, leap across the basement and run up the stairs to exit through your face and belly and eyes so know that if you gently bring your mind to your breath on a regular basis, you will experience emotions. That is because you are supposed to experience emotions and learn to surf them, let them roll through you and please, don’t get caught up in a long dialogue about “my pain” or “my sad” because none of it belongs to you! Hooray! All the emotions you’ve been refusing all your life do not belong to you anyway. They belong to the sun and the moon so let them loose, let them go away into day and night where they can play and let them out of your basement. Through breathing and gently focusing your mind on your breathing you will naturally experience emotions and they will leave. If you let them.
Vital Item Number Five: Anytime someone else tells you what you should be doing around your breath, ignore them. Just let go, bring your mind into wherever your breath is right now, and experience a second or two of living inside your skin.
Now that you know how to breathe and what all the fuss is about remember to not ever pay anyone to tell you how to breathe. Not necessary. Read a few books from your library if you like. I suggest “Accessing the Healing Power of Your Vagus Nerve” by Stanley Rosenberg as a beginning because he writes simply, and he offers several simple fast exercises to support your nervous system.
So go get a good book like that one, sit down and breathe. Just breathe.

Podcast: Guided Meditation for Home 
March 15 . 2019

I've been teaching meditation for over thirty years and have often been asked to create a podcast so people who want to meditate at home might be able to follow similar instructions to our meditation sessions, Mondays and Wednesdays at Stouffville Yoga Life in Stouffville.
Here is the podcast. I hope you enjoy it and if you hav any suggestions for ways to improve this podcast, or any other ideas, I hope you'll connect with me at

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