Another piece of advice that can help a person achieve mindfulness and composure is breathing. Breathing with the intention of getting to know our Creator, thanking Him for each breath, and giving ourselves the quiet to hear ourselves, to try to hear our own true voice. Some might be surprised by the power of it and its positive effect on our emotional as well as spiritual state, but I have personally found, as well as friends whom I have learned the subject with, that just a few minutes a day of quiet breathing meditation really makes a difference to our emotional and spiritual state!
A special Breslov rabbi and teacher here in Israel, Rabbi Yisrael Yitchak Bezenson, may he be healthy and well, published a short booklet two years ago called Neshama Nishima- literally Soul Breathing. I bought a copy in Uman not really knowing what it was about, and began learning it with a friend. In this short book, he explains the spiritual aspects of breathing and how they are brought to light in the Chassidic teachings, specifically in Rebbe Nachman’s teachings. He explains that what prevents a person from actualizing the talents and abilities that they were blessed with is simply a lack of self-knowledge. Most people do not truly know how special they are. We are foreigners to ourselves because we do not know our essence, our souls; we only know the external clothing (so to speak) we are dressed in. Hashem gives us life from the very first breath we take in this world, however immediately after we are born our souls are swallowed up (in most cases) by our physical strengths and desires. What becomes the ruling force over a person? Their external self, who is turned outwards to the outside world. Our external self is how we learn to act and survive in a competitive world in order to find favor with others, whether for personal goals or for friendships. These external forces rule over us so much so that we identify them as ‘us’. That is who I am and it is impossible to change, people think to themselves. However, deep inside, our Godly soul is buried and hidden. How do we reveal our true self, the beautiful soul that God brought into the world?
Rav Bezenson teaches that a person who begins to practice deep breathing, just in a simple way, without complicated techniques, will quickly begin to discover signs of their true self, their soul begins to reveal itself. Our soul screams from within, ‘listen, it is me! Your true self!’ We begin to recognize our true essence. We begin to hear our own voice. This is the beginning of actualizing our true selves: separating ourselves from our external perspective, the external self which society dictated to us. (pages 25-26)
Not only due to we begin to hear the voice and discover the light of our soul through deep breathing, Rebbe Nachman teaches that a person becomes like a new creation, they can renew themselves in the most powerful way! He teaches in the book Tsaddik- the life of Rebbe Nachman, that a person who wants to return to Hashem, certainly needs to make themselves into a new creation. We need to know, that by taking a deep breath, we can transform ourselves into a new creation. A person never stops breathing, every moment he is inhaling air and exhaling, this is his main source of vitality. This breath that has the power to transform a person has a spiritual source above: there is a good source of breath that is drawn down by the tsaddik, and there is a negative source of breath that is brought down by a wicked person. The tsaddik is constantly drawing down the vitality of breath from holiness, and the wicked man is drawing his breaths from impurity. Therefore, when a person wants to return to Hashem he needs to make sure that he disconnects himself from the negative source of breath of the wicked person. We find, Rebbe Nachman says, that by taking a deep breath and sighing over their sins, someone can disconnect themselves from the source of impurity and connect themselves to the source of holiness. A person then receives a new source of vitality, and even their body becomes renewed. (Tsaddik, teaching 37) We see from this teaching how powerful breathing is, when we intend to connect to Hashem in a deeper way.
How does the concept of breathing connect to mindfulness, to meditation? Firstly, when we take time to slow down and focus on our breathing, when we slow down to take some deep breaths, it helps us become calmer and allows us to observe our thoughts and feelings. We can observe them without judgement and ask ourselves questions. What do I feel right now and why? It is a gateway to our inner world. We take time from the rush of the day to give ourselves the space to breath, and to be aware that Hashem is giving us this breath of life. We can thank Him for every breath. I try to set aside time every day for breathing, usually 5 to 10 minutes per day before personal prayer. I have found that allowing myself to take deep breaths and trying to release the stress of the day and connect to a deeper place inside, helps me be more connected in personal prayer. Many times, it also helps me continue the rest of the day with a feeling of renewal and positivity.