Calm: Self-Care and the Breath
by Alan C. Haras
“In many ways, psychosynthesis is self-care. It is both learning to care for yourself and allowing your Self to care for you. It is both learning how to consciously do the things that build confidence and trust in yourself, things that are nurturing, self-affirming, and self-clarifying, and letting go to the love and guidance of a deeper Self and to the healing forces of the universe.” ~Anne Yeomans
The Irish philosopher John O’Donohue once said that “there is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there’s still a sureness in you, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you.” For me, just to remember this gives some consolation. I may not be able to steady my mind in perfect equipoise throughout the day, but somehow, if I can periodically recall that there is a place in me that is already at rest, this does seem to create a little more space in my awareness for me to empathically hold whatever it is that is arising. In Psychosynthesis, this “place” is known as the ‘I’ – which is situated at the center of the Egg Diagram, and defined as “contentless awareness and will.” Returning to this center is an important component of our journey to wholeness. After all, if we are going to move toward wholeness, we need an authentic center around which the various parts of ourselves can gather, integrate and harmonize.
The Bhagavad Gita imagines this calm center as a candle flame, set within a windless place, where the flame of consciousness never flickers. The various techniques in yoga are designed for us to discover this windless place. One practice that facilitates a calming of the mind is pranayama – skillfully working with the breath to bring about a shift in perception. Through careful observation, one can become aware of the special relationship between the breath and mind. When the breath is smooth, even and rhythmic, the thoughts tend to flow in a smooth, even and rhythmic fashion. Or, if the breath is choppy, stunted or stopped, the flow of thoughts tend to follow suit. When I am stressed and my breath is out of rhythm, I might not be able to change my thoughts, but with some awareness I can consciously choose to shift my breath pattern. One useful self-care practice is simply called the Calming Breathing Technique, and it is useful for calming the senses, reducing cravings and preparing for meditation. Here are the basic instructions:
- Take a moment to come into presence. Find a comfortable seat with your spine upright, but not rigid. Allow yourself to feel the full weight of your body on your chair, and the chair’s reverse pressure holding you up. Feel that you are completely supported and held within an atmosphere of unconditional positive regard.
- Begin the Calming Breathing Technique by inhaling through both nostrils for about 4-seconds – in smooth, even and rhythmic fashion. Then, gently hold the breath inside the lungs for 2-seconds, and exhale through both nostrils for 4-seconds. (Those with any heart condition can skip the inhale retention and work with the 4-count inhale and 4-count exhale.)
- Continue with this 4-2-4 breath count for 2 minutes. Gradually you can increase your time of practice to 5 or 10 minutes.
One is dimension of self-care is application of the skillful will, which Dr. Roberto Assagioli describes as “the ability to develop that strategy which is most effective and which entails the greatest economy of effort”. This technique is one such strategy. As you move through the month, perhaps you might consider what strategies are most effective and efficient for you, and discover ways of integrating some of them into your daily routine.
 Yeomans, A. (1984), Psychosynthesis – In The Helping Professions: Now and for the Future. Toronto, Ontario: The Department of Applied Psychology / The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education., p. 65
 Srimad Bhagavad Gita 6.19 – Translated by Swami Mukundananda. Retrieved from http://www.holy-bhagavad-gita.org/chapter/6/verse/19
“Just as a lamp in a windless place does not flicker, so the disciplined mind of a yogi remains steady in meditation on the self.”
 Assagioli, R. (2010). The Act of Will. New York: Association for the Advancement of Psychosynthesis., p.35