Try this today: Breathe in a nice, full breath. Immediately, before exhaling, invite more breath. If you want, do it once more. Your body will have had to make some changes in order to accommodate the extra breath. Now, see if, when you exhale, you can retain some of those changes that happened in your body.
By inhaling this way, you are stretching your body and increasing your capacity. This is change, and change can be uncomfortable, even when it leads to expansive growth.
On the exhalation, your body will most likely want to "collapse" back to its previous state. That makes sense. Familiar is comfortable. Just try again. Practice.
Both halves of this exercise are important. We don’t stretch for the sake of stretching; we stretch to become more open in life. Likewise, we don’t practice for the sake of practice; we practice to build new habits—to change our "familiar"—so that, eventually, what we practice is automatic.
So in this exercise, it’s important not only to stretch our capacity for more breath, but also our ability to retain an open posture when the breath leaves us. Breath is like a teacher, showing us where we have room to grow, then stepping back to allow us to try it on our own.
Rather than thinking of this "retaining of openness" as "holding a posture," we can think that we are not actually holding anything…
We are stopping ourselves from grabbing back on after we have let go.
That feels relevant in so many other areas of life where we might want to expand our capacity and openness.
For example, in marriage, I feel a "grabbing on" that happens when certain topics or tones or situations come up. And eventually I feel myself let go. I can notice those contrasts ("oh, I just felt myself grab on" or "oh, I just felt myself let go") and I can begin to find a coordination around that "grabbing" and "letting go," and start to explore retaining the "letting go" posture longer each time. If I practice this enough, I will change my "familiar" so that, eventually, my openness towards my wife is automatic.
This applies everywhere. "Grabbing on" to money, to work, to relationships, to reputation…
As a musician, I have found that practicing a posture in one area benefits other areas. So every day I practice letting go of my breath. It's a basic human function that occurs whether I grab on or let go. And it’s something which benefits me more deeply when I do let go. This may be true in all areas of life.
One important clarification: Letting go does not mean caring less deeply. Or not working hard at something. It just means that a posture of "grabbing on" tends to diminish freedom, resonance, and life while letting go allows them.
I can care deeply and work hard while letting go. Even now as I write that, I feel overwhelmed at how complicated of a process that seems to be. How can I let go while caring and working hard? In most areas of life, I don’t know.
So I start with the breath. I can practice here, and trust that as I learn to open up to breath—the most fundamental source of life—I will open more to all of life. 🌊
* For those who use religious or spiritual language, we can swap the word "breath" for "Spirit" every place in this writing.