Breathe! You are Alive by Thich Nhat Hanh

Sutra of the Full Awareness of Breathing

This book had been lying on my shelf for a long time. I gave precedence to more juicy titles than this one. And then came the day of closure of schools, the lockdown and the never-ending buzz created by the Online Classes. I am a teacher and with lockdown in place, we were devoid of any peace. We had to learn new methods of teaching through numerous training sessions, attend meeting to streamline work and get a grip of things. The endless hours of screen-time made me listless and I started to lose focus. The feeling of panic due to COVID#19 was pent up and brewing constantly, the unfamiliarity of Online classes scared the hell out of me. I felt choked. I could not set my mind on any task. I had not read for almost a month.

This book kept staring at me all this while. It is when I could take no more, I picked up this book because “I wanted to BREATHE…once again!!” “I wanted to feel alive.” “I wanted to overcome the fear which remained unaddressed.”

And I am glad that I started to read this book. Like I said, I had lost focus, so my pace was extremely slow. Sometimes it would be just two to three paragraphs before I slept. Fortunately, this is what the book requires; you slow down, steady your pace, embrace the teachings in the book and practice mindfulness.

In this book, the Zen Buddhist Monk, Thich Naht Hanh, outlines the methods of conscious breathing taught by the Buddha and offers exercises for practicing them Right Away. You do not require any training or Apps to get in touch with your breath to feel alive.

For first few days, I clung to merely (basic) two breathing exercises:

  •             “Breathing in a long breath, I know I am breathing in a long breath. Breathing out a long breath, I know I am breathing out a long breath.”
  •             “Breathing in a short breath, I know I am breathing in a short breath. Breathing out a short breath, I know I am breathing out a short breath.”

And they did what they were meant to do. These exercises of fully aware breathing helped me to return to my body in order to look deeply at and care for it. It created harmony between my body and my mind.

Slowly, I graduated to next set of exercises:

  • “Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body. Breathing out, I am aware of my whole body.”
  • “Breathing in, I calm my whole body. Breathing out, I calm my whole body.”

As simple as that, yet it did wonders. To begin with, I did these exercises for maybe 5 minutes or so. I, now sit and concentrate for a longer duration and feel the profoundness of these breathing exercises.

As I read on, I became aware of my fear, I nourished my awareness through breathing. I understood my feelings and then with patience dealt with them.

According to the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing, there are 16 exercises. These can be done in any order. The author explains each exercise in detail. The Zen monk, not only enumerates the benefit of the specific exercise but also describes the method in detail. The book provides the historical background too of these exercises and the way they were practiced by the Buddha and his bhikkhus.

Along with the Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness and the Sutra on knowing the Better Way to Live Alone, the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing is one of the three most essential teachings of the Buddha, which this book offers.

In these unprecedented times, if you need to get a grip of your life, or if you need to reach out to your inner depths to draw strength, or to be aware of your body, mind, surroundings and seek harmony, read this book and practice mindfulness (a way of meditation) because “By observing the true nature of any feeling, we can transform its energy into the energy of peace and joy.”

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