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Sunlight streaming through the trees on a wooded path


Science for the Journey
Volume 2.02

photo of orange butterfly on hot pink bougainvilla bractsJust Breathe

What does that mean anyway?
We are all breathing throughout the day but there are actually breathing exercises that help us do it in a way that will clear our minds and energize our bodies.

I have long done these exercises and have enjoyed the results. A recent trip allowed me to see how appreciating the breath can also connect one to the universal power where all of our needs are met. Read Universal Love for a description of this realization and Pranayama Technique to do it yourself. Trust me. Try it at least once. You will feel the difference.

To your journey,

Alicia Ruelaz Maher, M.D.


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bamboo pathUniversal Love

You'll be given love
You'll be taken care of
You'll be given love
You just have to trust it.

Maybe not,
From the sources you've poured yours into.
Maybe not,
From the direction you're staring at.

But take a look around,
It's all around you
Love is all around,
It's all around you.

Love is all around,
You just aren't receiving
Love is all around
Your doors are all closed
Love is all around
Your phone is off the hook
But love is all around, love is all around.

The words of this song by Bjork are so beautiful. Not just as something to calm one looking for romance but as a reminder of the abundance of the universe in general. I've just returned from another journey, this time with a friend to Norway. Though we had a few items on our agenda, we were mostly content just to go with the flow. Doing this allowed me to see, once again, how perfectly everything works out. How the universe is set up not just to provide the sunlight and rain required by a flower, but also the more complex needs of us humans.

Perhaps it's easiest for me to see this while out of my element on a trip, rather than in my daily life where I feel I know the actions required to make things happen. It's not that I make it easy for the universe to take care of me while traveling. I once disembarked a train without my suitcase. I didn't even notice my lack of baggage until a kind stranger tracked me down on the street to give it to me.

Despite such examples of this benevolent caring universe, I still find it hard to trust in this universal principle.

Why would the universe, or God, take care of us? Why do we take care of each other? Why do we take care of our gardens, our pets? That brings us back to the song of the beginning. Love. It may be hard to imagine some unseen force loving us. I like to think of it as a recognition of oneness. We recognize something of ourselves in others, or in our pets or other life forms. We reach out because we're needed by the hungry puppy, wilting plant or hapless traveler sans suitcase. I imagine it in the same way for the universe. We are part of life and the universe provides for all of life because the universe is life. It recognizes the oneness of our life-force with the force of life that flows through all of that which makes up the universe.

For this month's focus, we will begin to appreciate this universal life-force through focusing on the breath. In a time of loss or hardship, it may be difficult to see that the universe is providing for us. If we can see nothing else of how the universe is taking care of us, at least we know that we are provided with all of the air that we require. Even if everyone in a crowded area were to take a deep inhalation in the exact same moment, there is still plenty of air for each of us. The plants take in our carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. We breathe together. It may seem like such a small thing, but there is nothing more important than breathing. We can live far longer without water and food than without air.

Despite breathing being so important, most of us don't know how to adequately use this vital resource.

Going through the business of living exposes you to various tensions and stresses. One of the casualties is the quality of breathing. Most of use only about 20% of our lung capacity on any given breath. This prevents the vitality that one can have through taking in the energizing oxygen while releasing the carbon dioxide. Deep breathing not only calms the body and mind but also rejuvenates the skin and energizes the whole body.

The universe is freely giving us such a powerful resource. Doing yogic breathing practices, like the one described below, will expand your lung capacity and allow you to experience this benefit.

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Pranayama Breathing Exercise

Breathing exercises are often called pranayama. Prana means life force and yama is an action. So, it is an action of the life force, a drawing in of the life force and engaging with it. There are many different types of exercises but my favorite is alternate nostril breathing. Alternate nostril breathing is designed to get us to focus on the breath while balancing our breathing between the two nostrils.

The hands are held in what is called 'mudras'. The idea of a mudra is to lock in the sensation or benefits of a practice. The theory goes that you can capture it so well within the mudra that doing the mudra alone can give the benefits of the practice. That may require more years than most of us have but I like the thought. The mudra for alternate nostril breathing is to fold the first 2 fingers of the right hand downwards toward the palm. The interesting thing about this position is that the fingers are touching at the lung point in Chinese medicine. Though this is a practice originated in India in ancient times, we begin to see how it all fits together.

  • The left hand is held with the tip of the thumb and first finger pressed together and resting on the knee. Close your eyes and get ready to relax.
  • Using the thumb of the right hand, press the right nostril closed and take a deep breath in through the left nostril. This is usually done to a count of 4. (see the first photo below)
  • After counting to 4, close both nostrils by bringing the pinky and ring finger of the right hand to press against the left nostril. Hold your breath in this position for a count of 16. (see the middle photo below)
  • At the end of 16 seconds, release the thumb from the right nostril and breathe out to a count of 8 seconds. (see the last photo below)
  • Continue to do this process by then leaving the thumb off of the right nostril so that it can breath in.
  • Hold both nostrils again and then release the left nostril to breathe out.
  • Breathe in through the left nostril, hold, and breath out through the right.
  • Breathe in through the right nostril, hold, and breath out through the left.
  • Continue to do this for 9 rounds.

Doing these counts (4-16-8) may be hard at first. I would encourage you to start by counting 2-8-4, and build up. So long as the proportions are the same, you will incur the same benefit.
Try to do this at least once per day and notice the calming effect.

sun setting over a dark ocean

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