The workshop was conducted with young nuns aged between 6–15 years in a nunnery in Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, India.
The nunnery follows teachings of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Chanting, recitation and philosophical debates constitute their main practice. Practices like breath awareness and sitting still everyday for few minutes are generally not taught.
This workshop is a small initiative to instill the correct sitting and breathing practices to young nuns from an early age. So that it can enable them to sit comfortable during their longs hours of chanting and prayers and encourage meditation too. Moreover, living in a high altitude region where oxygen is relatively low, deep breathing can be really helpful for maintaining an overall health.
The workshop was spread over 3 days with a morning and evening session each day. Walking in open grounds amidst the mountains and sessions of drawing and coloring were also included in between.
Art & Science of Breath “The breath is the bridge or link between the body and the mind. Inhalation and exhalation are the two guards of the city of life. They remain awake doing their duties during all the states — waking, dreaming, and sleeping — and their behaviour changes instantly according to one’s thinking. Inhalation and exhalation are the vehicles through which the vital life force — travel in the living mechanism.
The most important aspect of breathing is diaphragmatic breathing. The average person uses his chest muscles rather than his diaphragm when he breathes, and such breathing is usually shallow, rapid and irregular. As a consequence the lower lobes of lungs, are not adequately ventilated, and the gas exchange which takes place between the air in the lungs and the blood is inadequate. With diaphragmatic breathing such inequalities between ventilation and perfusion are minimized. Diaphragmatic breathing is very simple, easy and beneficial, the habit of doing it has to be consciously cultivated before it can become automatic.”
— Swami Rama of the Himalayas (Swami Rama is a Himalayan sage who re-introduced the centuries old yogic teachings to the modern world in a systematic and scientific manner.)
How to sit
- Sit in a comfortable, steady position on floor or chair
- Keep your head, neck and trunk in a straight line
- Don’t overstretch the spine
- Keep the body relaxed
How to Breathe
First we identified if anyone was doing chest breathing as it leads to a shallow breath and many diseases. Then abdominal breathing was introduced with a correct breathing pattern for exhalation and inhalation.
We formed teams to check each other and give feedback.
Over the 3 days we practiced to gently transition to abdominal breathing by learning to engage diaphragm. And those who were already doing it, worked on deepening their breath.
Initially it will require a conscious effort to work on the breath and change the faulty habit patterns, so practice according to one’s own capacity.
We also had outdoor sessions in the fields where the nuns enjoyed some drawing and coloring.
Here is a link to short film that we prepared on the last day of the workshop. Hope the young nuns here will inspire you to attempt and experience the simple yet profound practice of Breath Awareness.
Originally posted on Medium.