Early in my asana practice, I encountered difficulty with taking the oft-instructed “deep inhale.” It felt forced and counterintuitive to my body’s wisdom and capacity to draw air into my lungs. What resonated more with me was to develop an intimate understanding of my breath (rather than changing or controlling it through pranayama, specific yoga breathing exercises) as I’d learned through my Buddhist practice of mindfulness.
Spending quiet time witnessing my breath, I came to understand how it moved through my body and how my body, heart and mind responded to the movement of each breath. I experienced the multidimensional aspects of breath: the nurturing, energizing, and replenishing qualities of my inhale; the centering, soothing and relaxing qualities of my exhale; and, in the nearly imperceptible pause between the inhale and exhale, where breath organically and effortlessly transforms, I discovered the sensations of steadiness, equanimity, and surrender.
The more I relaxed into the rhythm and flow of breath, the more I came to cherish the cleansing, clearing power of the exhale. It, in fact, created space for my inhale to arise completely without restraint. A deep sense of ease prevailed, bringing with it the wisdom of the exhale–to soften all forms of gripping (muscles to bones, ideas, feelings, thoughts) and to release whatever did not serve me in the moment.
Embodied Practice: Touching the Wisdom of the Exhale by Chanting Aum or Amen
Sit with the breath,
Noticing the exhale arising from the pit of the pelvis.
Invite its embodied wisdom to permeate every cell and fiber—
It is the vehicle through which we release
the toxins/waste products of oxygen,
So too let all tension/toxins of body, heart and mind be released
Upward and outward with the cleansing,
clearing flow of the exhale.
Hear and feel the exhale take shape
as the seed sound Aum or Amen.
Chant it out loud three times, enjoying the pause in between and the sweet sensation of its release.
Abide calmly in the deep and expansive wave of relief.
Here are a few resources on the Buddhist discourses on the Mindfulness of Breathing (Ānāpānasati Sutta) and the Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta).