Thursday, October 29, 2015

Mindful Breathing

"Holy Ground"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

Yesterday I came across an article about mindful breathing – a story about being aware of every breath you take in and breathe out as you sit quietly and meditate. Actually I think this well- intentioned article totally “missed the boat” by essentially suggesting that mindful awareness of breath is a “relaxation technique,” it relieves stress and calms you down.

As I see it mindful breathing is far more than a stress reduction technique. In each breath we take we breathe in the universe and when we breathe out we connect ourselves with the cosmos. Far more than a technique for relaxation, “breathing” is a holy action, awareness of breathing is a way to be in tune with the fact that we belong to everything and everyone.  

I remember a fascinating scientific article I read a few months back about the “argon atoms” that we breathe in and breathe out in every single breath we take:

Every saint and every sinner of earlier days and every common man and beast
have put ‘argon atoms’ into the general scientific treasury.
Argon atoms are here from the conversations at the Last Supper,
from the arguments of diplomats at Yalta, 
and from the recitations of the classic poets.
The next breaths we take will sample
 the snorts, sighs, bellows, shrieks cheers and prayers
of all who came before us from as far back as prehistoric times.

I am actually quite moved by this observation. When we inhale we “literally” breathe in the cosmos, all that ever was, all our ancestors who have gone before us as well as everything that “now” exists; and when we breathe out we each put something of ourselves into that wonderful and sacred cosmic mix.

It’s no wonder to me that many if not most spiritual and religious traditions have emphasized the holiness of breath.

The word for breath among the Navajo people is “Holy Wind” which is literally translated as: “the wind of creation that pervades the cosmos.” In the Hebrew scriptures, “God’s” prevailing spirit is likened to a “Holy Breath.” In the Christian tradition, after his resurrection Jesus breathes his Holy Spirit upon the world and he proclaims that this spirit will be always among us. And of course, Buddhists over the ages have focused on “mindful breathing”- not as a relaxation technique but as a vehicle for connecting our minds to universal awareness

A while ago I read about some Hebrew scholars who claim that, in the Bible, the revealed name of God, Yahweh, is actually a reference to breathing.

According to the biblical account, Moses goes up a holy mountain where he encounters the Holy Presence of God as a “Burning Bush,” and Moses asks if  “God” has a name. The answer that comes back to him is Yahweh.  People often translate this “name” as “I am who I am,” but many say that this word Yahweh actually cannot be  translated because it is not a name so much as it is a description of the process of breathing.

I breathe in Yah and I breathe out Weh. The first breath any of us ever take is Yah  and our last breath is Weh. The name of God is the sound of breathing.

Today as I sit in my garden I am keenly aware of my breathing. I breathe in Yah and the universe fills me up -  I breathe in those atoms of my ancient ancestors, I inhale the planet over the ages, I breathe in the cosmos.  Then I slowly and mindfully breathe out Weh, and I connect my “self” to the great mystery of it all, exhaling “me” into all that yet will be.

Breathing is such a sacred act.


  1. Gosh...I've never read anything like that before. Sharing all those breaths. Amazing xx

    1. Yes, it's pretty awe-inspiring isn;t it?