the invisible work

practising breath & accessing a precious part of yourself

swami radhananda

Swami Radha once wrote that, ďAs you keep practising, the channel will become clearer. This is a form of selfless service.Ē In my own practice, Iíve been investigating what this could mean. How could my commitment to a personal practice open me to more clarity? How does being clear help me in my work with others? After thirty years, I still go back to the basic practices, the building blocks of yoga: breath, visualization, relaxation and concentration. The simplest exercises access the power of more complex practices.

Breath is a good starting place, because it is so available. There are all kinds of pranayama exercises you can do, but you can begin with the simple practice of observing your breath. You donít need anything really. Itís just there; itís the rhythm of life. You can see different rhythms in your breath when you are in different states of mind, and if you turn your awareness to that interplay, you start to learn whatís happening between body and mind. You begin to realize how breath can be calming and connecting, and can bring stillness in a moment.

You can also begin to question your practice: you question because you are questing, you are looking for understanding; you are not just doing the practice mechanically, pretending that something is happening. It has to be real. So you can ask: What is it that comes in on the breath ó what is that life force? When I stop breathing, what isnít there for me? What am I connecting to when I breathe?

Breath can enter very deeply into your body, as it supplies every cell. Can I stay with my breath and expand it by bringing in the mantra or visualizing the Light with the breath? Is there an awareness of tension and relaxation, depth and fullness? When I can build my awareness on many different levels, I can shape my responses of my mind and emotions, building a firmer foundation for self-control. There is space for the possibility of being free from many limitations and eventually reaching a place of peace and harmony. This is helpful for the health of the body and mind.

If you think of breath on another level, you can follow that pathway in, and access a very deep, precious part of yourself. We have a visible part of us, the concrete and physical, and we also have this other part that is invisible. With an awareness of breath, we let the body and the mind become more familiar with the inner, less obvious place, where an inner knowing and clarity can come through. There is a freshness of insights that makes me realize that breathing is a devotional practice as well.

When there is clarity of mind, selfishness disappears. There is another part of us that can arise in that clear space. One that is intelligent and able to listen to someone else and give them space, which is very helpful in a work situation, a family situation or an emotional situation. So in that clearing of the mind, we connect with some inner wisdom and can let go of resistance, which opens us to possibility. Itís like the way the breath goes: it inhales something and it exhales something. And so breath is a practice of being able to let go and a practice of being able to draw something in.

Everyone in the world is breathing the same air, and if we canít work together and be generous, give something back, because weíre too afraid that there wonít be enough air for us individually, what happens? It puts up barriers between people, barriers created out of fear and greed. When we actually begin to think of other people and do work for the joy of doing, and doing what needs to be done, then thereís something that starts to happen ó we are working together, for a purpose. And our work becomes meaningful.

The work is never only physical work. Itís also the invisible work. So a simple practice like breath may not seem like much but, for me, it was the saving grace in my work that I had practices that I could go to and they were invisible practices. I could prepare my work, but I would also prepare myself with the practice. And so then I could go out to a meeting and know that that was the best I could do, and that I gave what I could. I put the effort in on both levels. A practice manifests in many ways, in our physical work, in our daily tasks or studying, but there is also the invisible work of breath and light, of clearing the mind, connecting with our inner wisdom, an ability to listen, of letting go of resistance and selfishness.

Even after years of practice, the power of breath still inspires me. And the more I practice, the more I see what it gives me, and the more I can do in my work with others. By breathing, I can make something softer happen. So then the simple practice of breath really becomes a selfless service.

Swami Radhananda is president and spiritual director of Yasodhara Ashram in British Columbia, Canada.

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