Bismi’Llāhi ir-Ramān ir-Raīm

In the Name of God, the Universally Merciful, the Singularly Compassionate


[This entry builds on post 13: Mindfulness and Meditation]

Breathing  is one of the sublime miracles and mechanisms of the human BodyMindSoul experience. It is not accidental that the Arabic words for breath (nafas) and soul (nafs) share the same root (n-f-s). Nor is it accidental that Allāh ﷻ uses the breath in relating the creation of the human being to Himself ﷻ—via the agency of His Spirit ﷻ (Ruh)— when He ﷻ says in the Holy Qur’ān: “Then He formed him and breathed into him from His Spirit. And made for you hearing and sight and feeling. Little are you thankful” (Al-Sajda, 32:9).

The entire universe is, in a sense, breathing. It cycles through phases of contraction and expansion. Indeed, everything in creation is breathing, from the macrocosm of the universe and celestial bodies to the microcosm of cells and subatomic particles.

Breathing is a key interface between the body, mind, soul, and Spirit. It follows that breath regulation would have a direct impact on your state of consciousness. Your breath is a God-given means by which you can be interiorized. Interiorization is the process in which attention is withdrawn from the outer world of forms —when the senses are turned to gaze inward through the cosmic gateway of the heart— to the Divine Reality ﷻ that is formless. One cannot be intimate with Allāh ﷻ without being interiorized. This is one reason why your breathing is so important.

In order to develop a relationship with Allāh ﷻ, it has to matter to you. If it does, you will devote time to it. If you take the time to show up for this most essential relationship, you must be fully present to it. To be fully present to it, you must develop single-pointed focus. In order to focus in this way, you must develop stillness. In order to develop stillness, you must first establish your position (sitting is ideal). Once in position, you must let go of tensions —they will occupy and distract your attention. To the extent that you are caught up in your head (the discursive mind), you will subconsciously hold tension in your body. Whenever your mind is troubled or occupied, the breath is one of the first things to be adversely affected. Your respiratory diaphragm —a central, core muscle— tightens and your breathing is compromised. To let go of tension, you have to consciously withdraw your investment from the tensions that you notice. Then you must monitor your self, at which point you will notice the chatter of the mind. The very act of thinking changes the rhythm, length, breadth, and depth of your breathing. It is usually truncated so that life is not flowing freely through you. To perceive the subtle, you must tune in to the subtle. When your awareness rides the breath, you are immediately attuned to the subtle. To be freed from the chatter of the mind, you must not get caught up in the content. With the addition of breath regulation, you can  more easily be liberated from the chatter of the mind. To regulate your breathing, you have to monitor the ways in which you are getting in its way. As you breathe, minimize your interference. Once you get out of the way, your breathing will flow naturally and regulate itself. This is the physical dimension of the practice of surrender. This exercise will draw you out of the past and back from the future —too often the primary concerns of the mind— into the present moment. Breath-practice develops your subtle sensory skills, and this will serve you well in the task of becoming a mindful, conscientious, sensitive, and considerate human being.

An essential breath practice can be summarized as follows. Go to a quiet room. Minimize distractions. Sit in silence. Allow your breath to move as it wants to move. Follow it with your attention and without interference. Finally and most importantly, listen. When you are ready and the space of your heart has been prepared for Him ﷻ, He ﷻ will come. While there are many physical benefits derived from breath practice, the goal of the seeker is nothing short of the Divine Presence Itself ﷻ.

There is much more that can be said about breathing, such as the significance of the space between the inhale and exhale, how to facilitate a release by consciously contracting and relaxing the diaphragm, breath extension, and breath counting. Regardless, one is unlikely to master breathing by simply reading a book about it, but at least this presentation might get you to consider its importance in spiritual practice. Naturally, further instruction from a qualified guide is warranted for those who would like to cultivate the skill of breath regulation and ultimately realize its spiritual benefits. And Allāh ﷻ knows best.


© Ḥakīm Ilyās Kāshānī