Before you can breathe in again, you have to release your breath in the exhale. Have you ever thought about that? If you breathe all the way out, blow all the life-giving air out of your lungs and hold on empty, what does that feel like? Can you surrender to that feeling? It’s probably uncomfortable for you. “It doesn’t feel right,” your monkey mind tells you. You want to control that situation, fight that feeling. After all, we need air – oxygen – to survive.
When we push all the air out of our lungs and hold on empty, it doesn’t feel good and we struggle to hold on to the emptiness. When we release the hold, our bodies do an interesting thing. Without any effort at all, we inhale. Air floods back into our lungs naturally without pushing or struggling because we made space for it. It’s a pleasurable, life-affirming experience.
So, why do we push and struggle so much in life if it’s uncomfortable?
We humans get into funny habits. We’re in a constant state of “fight or flight” survival mode which pumps adrenaline and cortisol into our system and makes us feel fatigued and stressed out. We feel like we have to fight for survival all the time. We cling to things that cause us pain. Our minds whirl in a constant chatter about all the negative things that might happen or all the negative things that used to be. We create attachments to people, ideas, and emotions that don’t serve us. This fearful struggle about the past and the future causes us great suffering.
What if we just surrendered to the struggle and made space for the good things in life? What if we acknowledged the past and the future without judgment and focused on the present moment? What if we let it all go and gave ourselves a break? What would that feel like?
Once upon a time, there was a young monk. One day, he was leading his water buffalo to a drinking hole, when the creature tried to escape. The young monk held onto the rope in a death-grip, but the water buffalo pulled the rope out of the monk’s hands and ran away.
In the struggle, the rope tore off the tip of the young monk’s finger, so he returned to the monastery for medical treatment. An elder monk heard what had happened and admonished the young monk for struggling against what he could not change. He told the young monk that when you can let go, life will be less painful. “Give yourself time to rest and heal,” he said. “Then go back and find the water buffalo.”
The young monk followed the elder’s advice and took some time to rest. Then he went back and found the water buffalo at the watering hole enjoying a drink of water.
When we take time for ourselves to exhale, create space, release, and recharge, when we let go of things that don’t serve us and live in the present moment, we put our pain and suffering aside.
Give yourself a break. Put down the rope. Let go of the water buffalo and surrender to the joy of living life in this moment. After you’ve healed, you can return to your work.
Diana Osberg is a certified sound therapist and Yin yoga instructor and is trained in mindful breathing practices. She leads mindful breathing and sound bath classes and events at Bindupoint Center for Presence.