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I’m reading a really interesting book called, Learning to Breathe by Alison Wright. Alison is an international photojournalist who was working in Laos when she was in a terrible bus accident. She had glass imbedded in her arm and face, her pelvis, back and coccyx were broken, her diaphragm and spleen were injured, her left lung collapsed and was filled with blood and liquid, and her bowels, heart and intestines were stuffed up near her right shoulder. It took 14 hours for her to get to a hospital that could deal with her injuries properly and she had to endure a bumpy ride in the back of a pickup truck to get there.
She wrote about focusing on breathing—using her meditation practice to breathe through the pain as she waited for help—or for death.
I can’t begin to imagine what pain she was in. She heard people talking about her, saw them grimace when they looked at her, and she felt certain she was going to die before she could get sufficient medical attention.
She had a difficult time breathing—understandably with her diaphragm punctured and her lung collapsed—but she focused on what she could do. Somehow she was able to look at the pain and panic that could have bubbled over, and return her attention to her breathing.
It’s gotten me thinking about how incredibly powerful breathing as a form of meditation can be. I used it when I was in labor with my son and breathed through the contractions—even when they were less than a minute apart.
Breathing meditation is doing what the name implies: focusing on your breath. In a previous article, I wrote about how to do just that and provided some meditation tips on helping make the experience more successful.
One of the really important ideas in meditation is to notice thoughts, feelings, or sensations without giving them energy. For example, when I was going through contractions, I noticed one coming, and would return to my breath and my hands on my belly. Instead of thinking, “Holy sh–, this is a big one!”, I gave the contraction less power by turning my attention to my breath.
When it was helpful, I imagined I was in the ocean riding a wave. The top of the wave might be pain, but I knew I would eventually get into the valley of the wave where the pain would be less. I didn’t struggle, I just focused on my breathing.
Have you ever heard of someone caught in a rip tide? The more you struggle to fight against it and get back to shore, the farther it takes you out and sucks you in. But by stopping the struggle, letting it carry you out, the faster you’ll get back to shore. The current loops back to the land.
Fighting against thoughts, feelings, or pain is the same. By taking the struggle out, noticing the pain or thought, and returning to focusing on your breath takes the energy out of it and allows the pain or thought’s hold on you to dissipate.
I’m not suggesting it’s easy. It’s not. It takes practice. But as my introductory story suggests, breathing meditation can literally save your life.
I welcome your comments!