Learning about breath came to me early.
I practiced in Acting Class when I went to college. Did it with my voice teacher, Joy McLean Bosfield. Did it as I figured out my rhythms as a swimmer. And heck, I did it big-time when I found yoga back in the 80s, before yoga became an industry.
But the person who really got me to understand the power of breath is Eric Butterworth. Not a body guy. A back-to-center guy.
Eric Butterworth was one of the giants of spiritual thought in the 20th century. He is utmost on my mind on this year’s Easter Sunday as I jot down my thoughts. When I found Eric in the 1990s in Manhattan, he had been a Unity minister for over 50 years. By then Eric was well into his eighties, and every Sunday morning he and his wife Olga lead a quietly inspirational service at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in Manhattan.
Eric’s instruction on breath:
On the inhale, say to yourself God is.
On the exhale, say to yourself I am.
Keep repeating: God is/I am. God is/I am. God is/I am.
If you’re an agnostic or simply allergic to the word God, no worries. Substitute God with another word that represents a positive universal force which matters to you: Peace, Energy, Love.
Breathe down deep. Say it quietly. Repeat the words on each breath. So simple. I call this my “Eric breath.” It’s the English-language version of a beloved Sanskrit mantra, so hum. Same meaning, same impact, same intent.
Back to center. Always back to center.
The words focus my attention on my breath. And because the words are so laden with energy, they magnify my breath. They return me to my place of inner calm.
I tend to be an instant gratification guy. Here’s the beauty of this magnified breath: It shifts my energy, instantly, every time. I do my Eric breaths at night when I cannot fall asleep. I do them in a crowded room when the social energy feels frenetic. I do them in a meeting when a conversation is getting on my nerves.
The key, of course, is to remember. As your buttons get pushed in the midst of a hectic day and you feel like you’re “losing your mind,” stop. Return to center. Your center, as you know it.
I took my mom to one of Eric Butterworth’s Sunday services, back in the 1990s. Mom is a devout agnostic and has absolutely no interest in the notion of God. Mom is also a deeply caring and compassionate person. After a few rounds of God is/I am with her eyes closed, Mom cried like a little baby.
Yes, it’s that powerful. Center is a very nice place to be.