Finding Our Spiritual Nature
by Aaron Hoopes
Everyone has had moments in life when everything became bright, clear and alive – everything was perfect. There was a glimpse of pure awareness, when past and future no longer existed and total attention was focused on the moment.
At that one point in time you were aware of your spiritual nature. Your aches and pains vanished. Your worries and problems faded away. All of your wants, needs, and desires disappeared. For that moment you weren’t just experiencing life – you were the experience. Your body and mind were in perfect coordination, and you were completely open to your spiritual essence.
It is easy to define the body. It is your physical presence. You can see it when you look in the mirror. The mind is not as tangible but it is also ever present. It is the conscious essence in your head that defines who you are in the physical world. The spirit, however, is more elusive. It is not easy to put your finger on because it is much more than the in-the-world entity you define yourself as. Your spirit is connected to the infinite essence of the universe, and trying to restrict it and define it is as futile as trying to grasp water. However, by concentrating on the parts of ourselves we are able to discuss we can allow the spirit to arise of its own accord. A healthy, happy and energized body and a calm, clear, quiet mind offer fertile ground for the spirit to grow and flourish. By combining body awareness (through conscious breathing) with mind awareness (through meditation), we can cultivate a state of being that is in the highest degree receptive to the spirit and capable of experiencing the ultimate fullness of existence
Concentration is at the heart of all breathing and meditation exercises and is the pathway to putting your mind in tune with your body. Body and mind reflect each other. As one calms, the other relaxes and vice versa.
There are three essential keys to concentration. These keys identify qualities of conscious breathing and mental clarity that provide a framework connecting to your spiritual nature. They work in two ways. First, by bringing an awareness to the breath and making it important, we cause the body to relax and enhance the effectiveness of breathing. Second, focusing on the keys helps calm the mind and brings your thoughts into harmony with your breath.
Deep and Long
Deep and long breathing draws the air fully and completely into and within the body - not in the sense of inhaling to the maximum and tensing up the muscles, but in the sense of actually feeling the breath reach all of the deepest recesses within. Keeping the chest and surrounding muscles relaxed allows the breath to fill the lungs to their ideal capacity. Lengthening your inhaling and exhaling allows your body time to adapt to the deep expansion within. The longer and deeper the breath, the more in tune you become with the natural world around you.
Silent and Slow
Silent and slow allows even more relaxation. The silent breath is felt with the whole body instead of being heard. We become aware of the sensation of breathing. We begin to feel the lungs expanding and contracting and the breath flowing through us. Slowing the breath relaxes the entire breathing process and extends the length of the breath to a point where it reaches a calm and natural state
Soft, Even and Continuous
Soft, even and continuous breathing brings completeness to the breath. Soft breath loosens the mind’s control over the breath allowing it to reach a more spiritual level. Keeping the breath even brings the mind into a meditative state where thoughts flow with the breath. Continuous breath is like a circle. Inhalation creates exhalation which in turn creates inhalation.
As we move toward awareness of our spiritual selves, the coordination of body and mind is essential. It may seem impossible at first. The body is tangible. It has shape. The mind has no shape. How can we bring these two opposites together? The answer is that they are already together. It is our natural state to have body and mind functioning in harmony. But the rigors of daily living fracture our attention and disrupt our awareness. Our mind is scattered and our breathing is shallow. Our spiritual nature is blocked and remains unable to develop because body and mind are not coordinated. Coordination and harmony can be brought about through the principles of dynamic breathing combined with the essence of meditation and the serenity of mind that results. In doing this we break down the barriers between body and mind and allow them to unite again and form our Spirit. By coordinating the body and the mind we lay the fertile ground for our spiritual nature to grow and develop. Each of us has the potential for spiritual self realization, but without the connection between body and mind it is very difficult to get a clear sense of out spirit.
In the end your spiritual nature is unique and it is up to you to discover it on your own. Getting the body breathing and the mind calm gives you the opportunity to explore that. I offer you blessings on your journey.
Aaron Hoopes is the founder of Zen Yoga and the author of Perfecting Ourselves: Coordinating Body, Mind and Spirit as well as a DVD series and a deep relaxation CD program. His new book Zen Yoga: A Path to Enlightenment through Breathing Movement and Meditation is out now. For more information please visit the Zen Yoga website: www.artofzenyoga.com.