Pause and take a breath. Now tell me, did you inhale or exhale first? Almost always when I ask somebody to take a breath, they inhale first no matter where they’re in their breath cycle. Many people relate to their exhale as secondary, or irrelevant, but I believe that if we really want to know what’s true for us and define success on our own terms, then it’s crucial that we pay far more attention to our breath, and particularly our exhale.
There are two reasons we treat our exhale as irrelevant: The first is greed – for breath, for life, for experience, etc. The second is an unconscious belief that the inhale is where the action is, where life is, which I think is connected to a fear of, or slight aversion to death or dying. Most people use their inhale to lift them up (and often out of whatever they don’t want to experience), which many people prefer to down (and into whatever they are experiencing). This is actually a misuse of inhalation, but it is another reason I believe people ‘prefer’ their inhalation(s).
The truth is, we all begin life with inhalation and we all die with a final exhalation. Every time you inhale it’s an opportunity to remember you aren’t dead yet! And throughout our lives, our exhale is the place where we can practice dying. Anytime we hold onto our breath, are grasping for more inhalation, or aren’t allowing for our most complete exhalation is a place we are afraid of death and letting go (watch the video for much more detail on my own experience with fearing death and how to use your exhale to work with this). Bringing our attention to our exhale is a way of practicing letting go.
I’ve been working with my own breath in this way: Anytime I bring awareness to my breath, no matter where I am in my breath cycle, I consciously exhale first. What this does is actually call my inhale into being. Rather than forcing more breath in, focusing on my complete exhalation creates the space in which my inhale is always fuller. By exhaling first, we create a massive amount of space for our inhalation. This is an invitation for life to fill us. This way of allowing life to flow into us, rather than trying to grab life, or force more in, is directly related to creating space to hear and understand our true desire, our true calling, and our true purpose in life.
Most of the time, the broader overculture defines success for us – whether it’s making $100,000, or getting married and having kids, or climbing the corporate ladder. You may believe you are exempt from this because you’re part of a subculture that doesn’t define success in those ways, however, most of us actually are allowing our subcultures to define our success as well. In the case of your subculture, success may be defined as rejecting social norms altogether, or NOT working a corporate job, or traveling the world. While many of us might agree that these speak more closely to our hearts, the truth is that anytime we take something external and react to it – either by taking it on or pushing it away – we are allowing it to define us. I see this often, people ping-pong’ing between subscribing to and pushing away from a cultural norm, without realizing that either way the culture is still defining you (watch the video I share much more deeply about this.). When we allow for full exhalation, we build our capacity to feel what is actually true for us. From that place, whether everybody loves it or nobody loves it becomes irrelevant – we become able to make a conscious choice about what feels right in our body.
Learning to regulate your inhale, exhale and the transition in between.
Throughout the day we each have a natural rhythm of inhale-exhale – not just in our breath, but in the rhythm of our life. I learned about regulating this rhythm so beautifully from my kid’s preschool teacher. She showed me how she created this throughout the day during preschool, and also taught me how to continue this, not only for my children but for myself, throughout the day. Being aware of our rhythm (which is different from ‘schedule’) is important because we live in a society that’s inhale-inhale-inhale and does not naturally offer any space for our exhale, which we deeply need in order to experience flow.
Creating space for your exhale.
There are things we can do to create space for exhale in life, like fasting from social media and news media or turning off our electronics one day a week. Going outside, anywhere from your backyard to as far as you can from anything man-made, is also one of those exhales. This is why I take women to Mt Shasta for Return to Source – because taking time for ourselves, away from all the distractions life, allows us to touch the eternal source within each of us which is where our deepest Truth resides.
Our true, deep exhale calls forth something else to “breathe us.” When this happens, it’s not the overculture or our automatic reactions to the overculture, or even ourselves trying to discover our life’s purpose – it is something much greater, universal and true – that we can rest into. We all have this source within us, and it never goes away. Sometimes we don’t pay attention to it, but it’s our eternal wellspring that’s always there ready to nourish us. Taking time out of ‘normal’ life and time in nature allows us to (re) connect and be nourished by this source in a profound way.
If all you take away from this is to bring attention to your (physical) exhale first when you breathe, that alone will change your life. You can take it to the next level, and figure out the inhale/exhale rhythm of your day, your year, your life, and then, find ways to create space for intentional exhales in your life. We rarely give ourselves a real experience of exhalation and it’s one of the most simple, yet profound ways of finding our truth.
Women, join me in May for Return to Source to practice finding true success through breath!
Want more? Watch the full video here: