The closest I ever came to labeling myself is right before your eyes: a gluten free yogi.
But if I had the nerve to label myself, I would see the term Taoist float to the surface.
Since high school, whenever Taoism came my way, I thought, “Yes, I follow something like that. That’s my inner-philosophy.” The Chinese Way of living in harmony.
Once I experienced some life changing Spritual Shifts, the Taoist teachings felt as if they were explaining my viewpoint. My seemingly strange, pointless viewpoint.
Why Taoism is so kickass is because it is experiential. It’s yours. It’s not just 2,000 years old, and someone else’s. It’s your practice.
So an overly simple way to define Taoism is that Taoists follow the Way. Some people see how we follow the way of Nature: the seasons, the flow.
I began this practice five years ago, in the season of Autumn.
And Now, we find ourselves in Autumn.
Sighhh: Lovely Lovely Autumn.
Autumn is the season:
to clear out the lungs,
to clear out the cob webs.
Did you know that we traditionally did our Spring cleaning in Autumn? Kinda makes more sense, huh? “Bye bye bugs and dust, I’m about to settle down in this room, and this room is rather filled with nasty summer bits. And I’m booming with Late Summer Energy, not like Late Winter Energy, when I’m more cocooned.” Even my gut would tell me each Spring, “You know, it’s like the first nice day in five months. Screw cleaning. Take a hike!”
My Brief Autumn Guidelines in the Taoist Belief System:
-Early to bed, early to rise (Ben Franklin must have read the Nei Jing)
-Eat grounding, nourishing foods. Do grounding and nourishing yoga.
-Decorate with orange. Enjoy this beautiful color this time of year, keeping the brightness alive inside.
-Open your lungs deeply to remove stale energy and absorb fresh air. Deep Belly Breathing should be practiced everyday (see below).
-Allow what no longer serves us to leave us with the winds. Let it go!
-If it’s below 70 degrees, keep your throat and upper chest covered (with a light scarf).
-If you can handle thermogenic (heating) herbs, use them: cinnamon, cayenne, ginger, turmeric, black pepper, etc. If you should refrain from affecting your heartbeat, then be careful with these herbs, or avoid them altogether.
-Ask: “What are my gifts?” The answers that come to you is your Harvest.
To Practice Deep Belly Breathing Now
Begin by noticing your breath. The quality of your breath.
Is your breath short, and in your chest? Most people are chest breathers. Without awareness, we use the secondary muscles of the upper chest and back to breathe, taxing these weaker muscles. Also, you might be surprised to hear that many people only use one third of their lung capacity.
Feel your belly expand with your inhalation. This allows space for the diaphragm, the large dome shaped muscle beneath the lungs, to lower, giving the lungs lots of space to fill. Know that your lungs aren’t doing the work, it’s the diaphragm and the intercostals: the muscles of the ribcage. These are the muscles that you want to do the breathwork: the diaphragm and intercostals.
Let the belly deflate fully on your exhalation, feeling your diaphragm gently pressing up on your lungs, squeezing the air out. Wow! Look at that! My lungs aren’t doing a dang thing!
Repeat this breath for minutes upon minutes. Or just a couple of minutes if you are new to breathing practices.
Follow the lure of your exhalation.
Fall into your rhythmic breath cycle.
Feel the intercostals, the muscles of the ribs, aiding in the gentle compression of your ribs.
Come back to a natural rhythm of breath.
Feel the difference. Compare your breath to how it was when you started.
Deeper Wisdom: My Bye Bye Breath Story
All season, I’ve been doing this belly breath deeply: deeply, daily, deeply, daily.
The other night I spooked myself:
In my years of reading, study, and research on all matters of the Spirit and Consciousness, I had read something along the lines of “The Great Exhalation” of the great yogis. That you don’t get “it” until you find the great exhalation. There will be no need for an in breath once you are there. My take was that it was almost as if you were being breathed into.
This idea paralleled my own Personal Practice, and one of the major spiritual experiences of my life, so it was something that caught my eye, but I had never heard of it again.
For a while, I kept this idea loosely in my mind. Breathing out, imagining myself losing my sense of I, but I would always feel this intense fight to Breathe! Oh, how I frantically needed a breath.
However, the other night, this all changed.
I followed the lure of my out breath.
I kept following it.
Until I felt the need to no longer breathe, whatsoever.
I completely detached from my experience of breathing: I saw my lungs as places that had air coming in, and air going out. Nothing else. I saw this process as totally meaningless. My lungs, my body; everything became meaningless. Not in a bad way, but in an extremely liberating way.
I accessed a space where I existed, and I had no need for air, whatsoever.
I smirked! I giggled to myself. My eyes opened wide!
“Wow! Look at this, no need for air! Holy shit, THIS is crazy!!! Oh man, I want to show someone because THIS is unbelievable! I absolutely don’t feel the need for air! Oh my god, The Great Exhalation! It’s breathing into me. I don’t need to breathe!”
I easily, and comfortably remained in this space, with wide eyes, in complete astonishment. It had been years since I even thought about the “The Great Exhalation,” and here it was!
Luckily(?), I had enough wits (or fear) still with me and they said, “Hello! Even though you feel no ounce of stress from not breathing, what if you really do need air? You tested this long enough, alright? It’s been a while since your last breath. Just breathe.”
“Okay, okay,” I thought. “I don’t need to be found dead, hanging off my meditation cushion. That would be a shame. A big, dumb whoops.”
As any Practicing Person knows, what happens on the small scale, affects a larger one.
This deep and long, exhaling breath latched it’s grip into me. I now feel how deeply I can fall into my exhalations without feeling the need to rush my inhalation. This creates a slow rhythmic breathing, a calm state of mind…
Ready to face whatever the wind may bring.
“Change your breath and you can change your mind.”
-the late & great, Mukunda Stiles
Just this morning, I shared with a Loved One, “You know why I write, right? I like the surprise. It’s like teaching a rogue yoga class. It’s like an Alan Watts lecture. The way it comes together is MAGIC. How it comes together is more astounding than what I thought I could create. When I add one piece, then another, they blend together in such a way that it even blows my mind! And people probably think I did it intentionally. I’m just open to the flow.”
So… after writing and editing this post, I Googled Mukunda Stiles, to possibly put a link to his name in that quote from above. Well, I found this:
While in the army, a friend shared a book on Yoga. It described how to slow down your breath and leave your body. Mukunda decided to try. He lay down on the floor and slowed his breath. Suddenly he was out of his body, floating just below the ceiling. It felt completely natural. Just as quickly, his mind took over and he was back in his body.
Maybe you read my post from last month Up & Out of Body Experience?
To refresh: I left my body, floated just below the ceiling, and once I got back into the mind, I was back in my body.
Oh Mukunda, thanks assuring me, even from beyond the grave, that that Extended Exhalation was something to die for.
Just kidding, I have lots to learn.
A necessary note to the reader: I Am in no way recommending you try an Extended Exhalation. I’m just here to share my story.