Take a long look at the swirling stars at night and you can see the universe is breathing.
The breath, in its entirety, is the animating force; quantum level particles are here AND there...inhaling/ exhaling – wave and particle; all vibrating with possibilities.
We can breathe with that energy now! We only need to get out of the way of ourselves.
A Taoist proverb says: “ empty the mind and fill the belly” . Can you really do that? Are you breathing in to your fullest potential without over thinking or being emotionally attached? Can you breathe out, letting go and allowing yourself to resonate with the universe?
Healthy breathing works every cell in the body. It helps absorb nutrients and expels waste, creating a more energy efficient cellular respiration. In biology, it is represented as ATP and the Krebs cycle and this extrinsic energy exchange happens at the cellular level working on the intrinsic energy.
Breathing is our life and it is who we are. We need clean air, water and food containing proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Breathing helps with the elimination of waste products through inhalation/exhalation, urination, perspiration, defecation.
In Taoist alchemy, correct breathing helps you achieve optimal health and longevity. It begins by becoming aware of the lower abdominal area called the lower Dan Tien or 'field of elixir'. By concentrating on the movement and relaxation, the breath eventually gets smoother. And with sustained conscious awareness, a pumping action begins to develop, condensing chi energy to the area. This pumping improves circulation and allows the body to create more internal“space” or “air”.
Our vitality is directly dependent on correct breathing, but what about our emotions and mental health? The breath must be the center of study because it is the center of self. Practicing mindful breathing helps us connect to the inside and outside world. It gives us opportunities to receive insight into our habitual mental patterns. Overtime, breathing becomes easier in times of emotional crisis, pain, and despair.
Correct breathing, or mindful breathing, affects our whole body system. When we practice mindful breathing, we are practicing a state of mind and body. This is where the two connect to become whole; we need this in order to survive the journey of selfhood.
Change brings discomfort and a feeling of defeat. We try anything to help release emotional and physical pain but still feel anxious or depressed. We can be over the hurt but our body is still holding onto the injury- 'memory pain'.
Memory pain is when we continue our habitual patterns of reactions to stressors. This directly affects the way we feel about ourselves and others- mind, body, and soul. In order to begin to change, we need to allow ourselves to let go of memory pain. By letting go, we allow opportunity to change our neural connections that allow us to adapt to new circumstances in a healthy way.
The development of memory pains is unconscious. An example would be the demands of work or school create neural networks, and these networks are important to get the job done. The problem is when the demands are finished and we continue to live in this unconscious mental habit. We've conditioned our mental neural habits that can't be let go or changed. So much of life does not require these kinds of connections, but we end up using these same patterns to try to change. We have created dominant patterns based on stress and when things change, as they inevitably do, we have a nervous system attuned to a specific way of functioning.
When we try to change, like taking up a new exercise regimen or diet, we encounter an internal struggle that limits our ability to adapt. During stressful periods, we eat in certain ways and move or not move in certain ways - we have trained our nervous system for stress. In cases of abuse, injury, or PTSD, the memory pain is there; always influencing how we perceive and respond. A stress pattern is always ready for more stress - it's like a hammer that treats everything like a nail. The hardest part is most of the stress pattern in our nervous system is beyond our conscious control. The pain however can be very real!
So how do we make good neural connections that enhance feeling good and reduce those based on stress and memory pains??
The first step is taking up a practice of mindfulness, not just meditation but observing. Practice seeing without judgment, observing the memory pains and stress response. This is challenging because it makes us uncomfortable to the awareness of the problem but the practice and diligence of mindfulness begins to define the boundaries between how we feel and how we react. By practicing awareness we have more control of our choices to our response.
How do you know if you are practicing mindfulness? Besides meditation,Yoga and Tai Chi, or any number of mindful exercises, they require 3 things:
relaxation, breathing exercises or breath control, and correct postural alignment. Mindful massage/bodywork/acupuncture are essential modalities directly affecting memory pains because the nervous system is immediately aware and responsive to the changes.
We may not be able to adapt to every change that we want but we can choose to not be a broken record repeating stress.
Thai Massage Art
I grew up in a Thai/French family, where massage was a normal way to relax tired muscles and to give and receive metta; meaning compassion in Thai. Then I got into researching on Thai Massage. These are the things I learned:
The foundation of Thai Massage begins with mindfulness; the seed of beginning and being.
The importance of mindfulness allows one to bring awareness of what they are giving and receiving in the world. Compassion is the ultimate goal in Thai Massage. To give without judgement - in the end we are all human souls who need to heal. Good, bad, guilty, innocent, spontaneous, or addicted; we all need each other to heal.
From this basis, we move into the 5 precepts or “training rules” of the Thai Massage Practitioner, taken from Thai Yoga Massage Lotus Palm, Kam Thye Chow, ppg. 31-36, 2009:
1. “To undertake the training to avoid taking the life of beings.” This means recognizing all beings have a right to life and respect.
2. “To undertake the training to avoid taking things not given.” The practitioner deals with this through observing their daily actions, whether through interacting with others or what they eat.
3. “To undertake the training to avoid sensual misconduct.” This not only covers any misconduct of a sexual nature, but any over indulgence to the senses such as gluttony.
4. “To undertake the training to refrain from false speech.” This means honoring our spiritual growth and to always be engaged in actions that promote metta.
5. “To undertake the training to abstain from substances which cause intoxication and heedlessness.” This means to not indulge in substances that can cause one to the break the other precepts.
A Thai Massage Practitioner not only tries to embody these precepts through daily observations but also through physical training, such as daily yoga, meditation, tai chi and exercise. The physical health is important because the quality of energy comes from the practitioner and if one doesn't uphold their health and intentions, the person receiving bodywork may not get the utmost good energy. The practitioner also has to be aware of the energy they give and take. This is why yoga, meditation and Tai Chi are really important training tools. It helps develop mindfulness.
What one eats is also important because it has a direct effect on how we process life and energy. The precepts and physical activity are the roots to a healthy mind of metta.
“In Buddhism, there is much talk of a skilled mind. A mind that is skilful avoids actions that are likely to cause suffering or remorse.” Kam Thye Chow, founder of Lotus Palm