- the quality of being pleasing, agreeable, or enjoyable;
- giving pleasure;
- being and feeling amiable;
- a sense of agreeableness.
Empowerment and integration give us an internal feeling of pleasantness no matter what is happening around us.
Impatience, anger, frustration are way too common in today’s world. We often feel either ‘on edge’ or depressed. We may be wound up by that irksome colleague, a critical and demanding loved one, or the state of the world. There is no shortage of things to get wound-up about. If we feels powerless against what’s happening we may get depressed. I view depression as a state of mental, emotional, physical or spiritual overwhelm. Depression depletes life energy. It makes action more difficult. We have all experienced feeling this way at some point and we can’t avoid it.
- Write a list of 10 things that make you feel on edge or depress you.
- When you finish, go over your list one item at a time.
- For each one, notice how you feel in response to it; what thoughts, feelings, body sensations can you pick up?
The pursuit of bliss
What we want instead is to feel pleasantness.
- Consider the last time you felt calm, collected and deeply content?
- Where were you? Who was with you? What was around you?
- How did this impact your body, mind, heart and spirit?
The basis of empowerment rests in choice and breath
Contemplate for a moment the quality of the following two possible responses. One that comes from a place of calm and collected self and another that originates when you’re feeling aggravated or upset by something. Which one would you choose to act from, if you could choose?
The key question then is: how often are you actually choosing?
Rushing about seeking, searching, and doing things in the shallow pools of daily business makes it harder to stay centered and grounded.
- Imagine each moment of life being like the giant lake in the photograph above: a picture of incredible beauty and calm, as well as a paradox of hidden complexity.
- Take up the invitation to be with it, being fully present to it for a minute or so.
- Notice how this makes you feel. What’s happens to your mind, heart, body, and spirit as you look at the picture?
Each moment arrives in our senses with incredible depth of a still lake. When we’re rushing about, we tend to blink it or dismiss it. In the process we disempower ourselves by becoming scattered.
People are like lakes too. They show up to us with needs, we can easily miss.
Is there any wonder we struggle to connect with others considering we often find it hard to grasp our true needs?
Blocked energy creates dis-ease we can sense in the body
I often begin our integration retreats by telling participants that the easiest way to learn about someone’s state of mind is to watch their body. The same is true for getting insights into your inner workings.
Posture, movement, tightness, aches, stiffness signal energy blockages. Places where conflict hides speak their truth loud and clear.
- Tight shoulders often signal great weight of burdens.
- Stiff hips may tell us about deep-seated fear of moving forward and facing change.
- Bloated tummies may give clues to serious anxiety that has taken root in the autonomous part of the nervous system and possible past trauma.
- Headaches, skin problems, and general lethargy may be the body’s way of telling us that our current life is not serving our spirit.
Bodies speak loud and clear. All we have to do is pay attention.
In my upcoming book on the mind-body connection, I explore this link and a healthy state of integration. The book includes many practical exercises and a regular body-mind connection practice to help you realign within. Sign up to our monthly newsletter to learn when the book comes out and for selected excerpts.
Connecting with the breath is a natural integration practice
The foundation of integration and empowerment is breathing. Breathing is simple. We do it all the time without really paying much attention to it. Yet, breathing is a key empowerment tool.
Breath gives life. It moves energy. This is why countless spiritual practices and healing rituals make use of conscious breathing. Where stress and anxiety may send the mind into spirals of further anxiety, conscious breathing reconnects us with the present moment in which we are safe enough to breathe. Just a few deep, slow breaths activate vital brain pathways that help us feel grounded, calmer and more in control.
Helping energy move well
Taking a few moments each day to breathe with more attention and self-love has incredibly profound consequences for:
- our state of mind
- our way of being,
- our performance,
- how we connect with others,
- our ability to respond to life.
Breath helps move energy. When we breathe molecules literally vibrate in our bodies, pressure changes, our muscles and blood vessels alter their shape, the level of oxygen changes and our heart rate fluctuates.
It’s easy to dismiss the power of the breath
When I used to come across calm and collected people I would put them into one of two categories:
- People “with privilege” I felt I did not have. This could be health, money, fame, status or some other condition that make it easy for them to be well that I also perceived I lacked.
- Fakes. People who appeared calm and collected on the surface but whose reality was far different.
The third category of an enlightened master I reserved for the few. While attending a weekend retreat with a great yogi master I really looked up to, I saw him lose his cool. In an instant, he was consumed in anger over something rather trivial. Seeing him battle his sacred yogi status privilege having hundreds of devoted followers and seemingly needing to mask his true emotional reality was helpful to my spiritual journey.
It helped me forgive myself and others for being human, laugh at my judgmental self and connect with the power of breath on a deeper level.
I began to pay more attention to the moments of daily life where I could benefit from breathing more consciously.
The foundation of integration and empowerment is breathing
Developing my integration practice over the years helped me realise that poise and grace were at my fingertips. No matter how hard life seemed in a given moment, focusing on my breath connected me with my privilege: I was alive, able to self-care and point me towards more elegant choices. Paying more attention to my body and breath also helped me face and work with the truth of my experience. The more permission I gave myself to feel, the more it pointed me towards what my heart, body, and spirit needed most.
“When you own your breath, nothing can steal your peace.” – Unknown
In his book Stepping into freedom: rules of monastic practice for novices, Buddist monk, global spiritual leader, writer, and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh, writes “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
One of my favorite breathing spiritual practices
When I want to return to feeling calm and grounded, I turn my attention inward, close my eyes or softly gaze forward. I imagine a calm lake and I begin to breathe with it.
I inhale the gentle calm air from its surface and swallow it deep into the pit of my belly without forcing it.
On the exhale, I notice the breath leaving me visualising it stroking the lake’s surface.
After a few surface breaths, I begin to draw energy and breath from deeper layers of the lake.
Sometimes I will breathe the very bottom of the lake: the dark, still and cooling breath enters my body. It feels spacious and without boundaries.
Wherever I breathe from, I exhale back to the same place calmly, with reverence for the practice and in unity with the lake.
After a few minutes, I feel incredible levels of calm.
I invite you to try it or develop your own version.
A powerful breathing technique from Max Storm
I really like Max Storm’s work. His TED talk is incredibly powerful and a must see if you have the time. In it, Max shares a simple breathing technique he uses to help clients stay responsive to life and in a place of choice. And if you come to our retreats, you will learn other forms and patterns of breathing to help you:
- clear your mind,
- feel grounded,
- reconnect with your body,
- feel your spirit,
- heal and locate your inner grace.
Last piece of advice from author and songwritter
“Take a shower, wash off the day. Drink a glass of water.
Make the room dark.
Lie down and close your eyes.
Notice the silence. Notice your heart.
Still beating. Still fighting.
You made it, after all.
You made it, another day.
And you can make it one more.
You’re doing just fine.”
Resources to explore further
- For the mind and heart: A life worth breathing by Max Storm – to understand why breathing is important and how it helps raise awareness and empower.
- For the body: Yoga with Adriene
- For the spirit: nature. Find it. Breathe it. Be one with it.