Thought, Time & Breath

Have you ever experienced your breath stopping completely while in a very quiet state of mind and felt you didn’t need to breathe, lose the sense of time and be cool with it? I have.

When we are lost in thought, time seems to pass by inadvertently, we almost feel like a floating sensation and we momentarily drift our awareness from our physical body. This happens during meditation. By meditation I mean any altered state of consciousness when we are not focused in the physical now, which can be while we are driving on a traffic-less road, going for a walk lost in our thoughts, washing the dishes while not really looking at the dishes, and any task we do automatically that allows our mind to wander until it goes silent and loses external focus.

In these states of calmness, the mind is eventually quiet. And it is then when our breathing slows down at the same time our thoughts slow down, until there may come a time when there is no thought and often no breath, or very shallow. From a physical perspective, the brain waves go into their lower alpha/theta states, where the breath naturally gets slower. Research (and also here) says that these states also produce a decrease in muscle tension, heart rate, blood pressure and respiration, all of which are stress-reducers, so it’s all very good for our wellbeing.

Twice it has happened to me while practising my breathing exercises that I was so relaxed that breathing wasn’t needed. At first, as time passed by I got concerned, so I willingly inhaled – just in case. But the second time I decided to go on in that state of quietude and see how far I could go. I could hear my heart beat calm, an eternal present and no thoughts. I timed it, it lasted almost 1 minute, until my mind got in the way and screamed: “you need to breathe! you need to breathe!” I almost wanted to tell it to shut up and leave me alone, but it overtook my stillness so I inhaled again, however if it wasn’t for this annoyance, my body could have easily continued to not breathe. Even so, when I returned to breathing, it was shallow and it needn’t be deep to “compensate” for the lost time of oxygen intake. How weird. How magical. And how simple. It was a few minutes later, when I ‘came back to this world’ that my body naturally took a deep breath.

There is a fascinating relationship between the perception of timelessness and the cessation of breath. Taoist, Yoga and Egyptian teachings allude to this suspension of breath and link it to deep meditation practice where everything is possible Read here, for example, about the Breathless State. As long as we are breathing, our spirit is bound to the matter of our body. However when the breath stops or gets very shallow, we can enter timelessness, which doesn’t mean material death.

I once went unconscious due to an emotional event. A few interesting things happened to me during this experience, but I’ll focus on the timelessness of it for the purpose of this article. It seemed to me that I had been in another world for several hours – I recall every detail of it – when in our time it was just under a couple of minutes, as later on I was told. During this time, my breath stopped, and I was in the most blissful state I’ve ever been. I didn’t have the need to breathe and I even didn’t like it when I came back into consciousness. It was ugly and noisy.

Have you ever experienced this too?

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