What happens when we do less to try and steer a situation in the direction that we want it to go? Lately, I have been noticing what happens to my experience of myself and how I am relating to others when I just allow a situation to unfold as it is. I, for one, am inclined to want things to work out my way, and I often am inclined to want to actively influence a situation to this end. I constantly confront these inclinations while parenting my 12 yr. old son. For me, parenting is a constant balancing act between knowing when to say something and when to keep quiet, when to assert the family values and when to let my child assert his desires. In so many situations, when I remember to just allow him to be as he is, who and where he is at this moment, I am more often than not pleasantly surprised.
This experience with our son is the same thing I experience in my practice, especially in regards to my breath. Can I allow my breath to be as it is, where it is, how it is without controlling it? What happens when I just become conscious of the fact that I am breathing in and breathing out? Can I become curious about the movement of my breath without putting any manipulations or instructions on top of my breath? What if the definition of pranayama was not practices of breath control, but actually a practice of breath observation in which the breath was allowed to be without doing something to it?
When I am not working to control my breath and am instead experiencing the pleasant surprises that come with watching things as they are, I often am able to tap into a sense of the bodies diaphragms. Our bodies have many diaphragmatic structures that modulate the flow of things; life energy, fluid, vitality, and general movement. Diaphragms are a source of support that are continuously moving in various rhythms and that move based on both voluntary and involuntary responses. We have many diaphragms in the body, a thoracic diaphragm, a thoracic inlet shoulder girdle diaphragm, a pelvic diaphragm, a vocal diaphragm, a cranial diaphragm, upper palette diaphragm, a urogenital diaphragm, hands and feet have diaphragms and many other diaphragms not listed here, as well. Becoming aware of the very existence of these many dome and bowl-like structures inside the body helps me awaken to areas in myself that might be holding on too tightly, becoming rigid and restricting the flow of breath to travel throughout my body more freely.
How do you begin to allow the breath to flow more freely or become more natural through the diaphragms without controlling and telling your diaphragms what to do and when to do it?
Below is a practice that might help you get to know your breath and diaphragms more intimately, a perhaps that might allow you to experience more ease with yourself and with the people around you, and might even allow you to find one of those golden pleasant surprises.
Get what you need to be comfortable and lie down on your back. Perhaps place a bolster under your knees or a blanket beneath your head. Take a few moments to settle and yield into the earth.
Watch yourself breathing in and breathing out. Begin to notice what is moving as you breathe in and what is moving when you breathe out. Don’t try to control, manipulate or make the breath any different than it is. Allow the breath coming in and going out to be as it is, however it is at this moment. Observe how is the breath responding, as opposed to engaging in the predictable inner monologue of telling your breath how it is supposed to respond. This could be enough of a practice. And, if you want to explore your diaphragms, please continue.
Place your hands on your pubic bone and bladder and continue observing your breath in and your breath out. Begin to move your pelvis side to side, down and up, try making gentle circles with your pelvis and allow your pelvis to move in anyway it desires. After a moment, quiet this movement and observe your in breath and your out breath. You have a pelvic diaphragm that attaches behind your pubic bone to the front of your coccyx and between your two sits bones, shaped like a bowl. Without telling your pelvic diaphragm to do anything, just become aware that it exists and see how this changes your breath? What do you notice?
Place your hands on your low ribs, on the front and then on the sides, if comfortable, and observe your breath in and your breath out. Begin to move your bottom ribs side to side, then down and up, then in gentle circular movements. Finally, allow your ribs to move in anyway they desire. Quiet the movement and observe your in breath and your out breath. The edges of your thoracic diaphragm attach to the interior of your bottom ribs, all the way around this elliptical form. When you become aware that you have a thoracic diaphragm, shaped like a mushroom cap, and you don’t tell it do anything, what do you notice about the movement of your breath?
Cross your wrists in front of your chest and place the heel of your hands on your collar bones and breast bone area and fingers drape over the top of the shoulders. Observe your breath in and breath out. Begin to move your shoulder girdle area side to side, down and up, and in gentle circular movements and allow your collar bones in front, breast bone, thoracic spine and shoulder blades to move in anyway they desire. Quiet the movement and observe your in breath and your out breath. You have a thoracic inlet, shoulder girdle diaphragm that attaches behind the top of the manubrium to the front of the spine at T1 and T2, and to either side at the acromioclavicular joint ( often referred to the AC joint). Without telling your thoracic inlet diaphragm to do anything, just become aware that it exists and put your attention there; how does that change your breath? What do you notice?
Take the next few moments, if you desire, to move in micro or macro movements continuing to observe your breath moving in and your breath moving out. As you breathe in how does your body want to be moved and when you breathe out how does your body want to be moved? Does it want to curl into a little ball or open into a wide X shape or maybe it wants to rock, sway, jiggle or be still? Does allowing the breath to move the body have an effect upon how and where your breath is traveling? What does it feel like to allow your body to have an experience of being moved by your breath, moving freely without telling it do something? You have so many possible pathways in which your body can breathe. Can you allow all the ways your body can breathe to be experienced, to be discovered in a pleasant surprise?
The more we learn about and allow the structures of our diaphragms to become conscious and part of our breathing choices, our tissues become more resilient, and our responses to ourselves and the world around us become more resilient, too. Continue to follow the natural movement of your breath without doing something to it and see what happens; see what happens to your breathe, see what happens to your sense of self, to the relationships in your life, to your perception of your 12 yr. old child. Be pleasantly surprised.