Master of natural breathingOne community to which I belonged had a pet cat. It wasn’t the sharp-eyed fleet-footed type, but a massive black and white neutered male. Dinky was everybody’s pet, about as peaceful and inactive a creature as you could find.

Most of his daylight hours were spent curled up on a couch in the hall. As he slept, the regular movement of feline lungs would from time to time produce a contented sigh. Occasionally, if I had to comfort a stressed visitor, the first thing I did was invite him or her to sit for a few moments and just watch Dinky – if they liked cats, that is! Usually it was a much less stressed individual who sat down with me a short time later. Dinky knew all about relaxation – as do most animals.

Children up to about the age of five have one special thing in common with animals - they are masters in the art of natural breathing. Without being taught by anyone, they allow themselves to be breathed, and have been breathed in this natural way from the first moments after they were born.

Quietly sitting and watching an infant sleeping is instructive as well as relaxing. It can teach us how to let go and allow the breath to flow naturally. What is striking is how free the awakened child is from all inhibitions, and how its belly expands to the full with each in-breath. Without a socially acquired self-consciousness, the breath flows freely, naturally and fully. If we could only receive the breath as children do! The words of Jesus: “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18.3) take on a new meaning when read in the context of breath.

Some who have quietly watched a child sleeping, in reality or in their imagination while meditating, have been helped to recognize how much they tried to control the breath. One woman told me: “The image of my sleeping child helped put me in touch with the more trusting child-like part of myself.”